I’ve been wanting to write a post on phone etiquette in dating for a while. I see a lot of behavior that I consider rude, frankly. But I hate the idea of being Miss Manners for dating or anything else. Then I realized there was a much more useful way of thinking about the role of phone communication. What kinds of phone etiquette are strategically most likely to lead to success?
Like any technology, cell phones are a tool that can be immensely helpful but also destructive, depending on how they’re used. How Your Cell Phone Hurts Your Relationships at Scientific American Magazine describes research that focuses on how cell phones distract us and prevent us from being really present with others
Let’s consider some typical dating phone behaviors through a strategic lens.
Phone On the Table
If your goal is to signal that you’re busy and have better things to do, having a cell phone on the table and checking it frequently will communicate that very clearly. This might be a good strategy to use in an unnecessary meeting at work.
Or you might want to use this tactic to abort a date that’s going poorly. A good strategy in that case would be to excuse yourself to the restroom, text a friend to call you with a fake emergency, and return to the table with your phone in full view. “Whoops! Gotta go!”
But if you’re on a date and you’re digging the guy, silence the phone and put it away. Your best strategy is to communicate very clearly that he has your full attention, and you don’t intend to let random texts interfere with this important opportunity to become better acquainted.
Consider the analogy of personal charm. It’s often defined as the ability to make someone feel like they’re the only person in the room. Charming people focus on others with great interest and convey a warm, friendly demeanor. In contrast, having a conversation with someone who constantly glances around or keeps saying “just a sec” as they turn away is offensive. The same rules apply here.
Texting Response Time
Nothing is more manipulated in phone use than the decision about how long to wait before answering a text. Text back right away and we fear we’ll be perceived as desperate and overeager. None of us wants to send a text and get a 5 ping response within seconds – it’s creepy. So we’re very careful to avoid doing that, but we often dial it down so much that we wind up coming across as not very interested.
We figure that by waiting a bit we will seem busy, popular, independent. But when a person always makes us wait two hours, we ask WTF? You know this guy is not always sleeping, driving, working, etc. The habitual delay is just rude. It’s also a transparent tactic designed to make you feel anxious.
The most effective strategy to signal disinterest is to simply not respond at all. We don’t demand that people pick up a ringing phone or welcome a stranger into their home just because the doorbell rings. A text is an invitation to connect, not an obligation. If you need to make your disinterest clear, texting a simple “No thank you” right away is the best practice.
But what should you do if you like the guy and want to communicate interest without scaring him off? The best way to respond to someone you’re dating is to treat them exactly the same way as you would a friend or sibling. In other words, in a totally natural fashion. Respond quickly when you’re available, delay when you’re not. Simple. Sometimes you’re on a date and won’t respond until the next day. Other times you’re hanging at home and can respond immediately in the moment. This is what people do when they’re not worried about how they’re being perceived. And that’s how you want to come across.
Texting to Avoid Risk
Texting is a great tool for making a move without risking face-to-face rejection. Especially if the person is someone you just met, texting to express interest is a no brainer, because you’ll never have to see this person again. But there are some problems with this:
Texting makes it easy to feign confidence. That’s good for getting the first date, but if you can’t back it up in person, it’s deceptive at best, terrible strategy at worst.
Conveying or interpreting emotion is very difficult via text. Emojis are a poor substitute, and the potential for misunderstanding is extremely high. Is that sarcasm? Teasing? A joke? Anger? We resort to “Ok.” when what we really want to say is “I’m pissed off.” These confusions are common in the early stages of dating and relationships.
Navigating difficult issues via text is the worst strategy ever. This is like #2 squared. I’m frequently amazed to see couples fighting using nothing but texts! Not only is this rife with misunderstandings, it prevents any conciliatory physical gestures, like a hug, taking a hand, or just a loving look that says “It’s OK, we will work through this.” Having a fight over text is like walking a tightrope without a net.
Texting to Check In
It’s a great feeling when someone you like:
Texts a funny tidbit
Asks you how your day is going
Says they had a wonderful time with you
Makes sure you got home safe
Texting is an awesome, low-commitment way to say you’re thinking of someone. It’s a way that both sexes signal that they are interested and would like to keep the thread of conversation going. These sweet or jokey texts are a bridge from one date to the next. They serve to keep the other party engaged until you can see one another in person again.
Texting to check in is always good strategy, but remember. If you get no response or a “no thanks” let it go. Double texting is aggressive, and is not be necessary if the other person is interested. If they’re not, aggressive texting signals hostility and a lack of self-respect – not a good combination.
Texting to Coordinate Plans and Other Logistics
This is the best use of texting. Whether it’s letting your mom know when you’re arriving for the holidays, letting a guy know you’ve arrived at the bar, or telling a friend you’ll be 10 minutes late for coffee, texting updates shows your concern for the feelings of others.
Never. Very likely to wind up on the internet.
It’s not easy but it is simple to practice good phone strategy. Don’t use it in the presence of the other person more than necessary, but do use it to communicate appropriately when you’re apart. Bad dating phone etiquette is often cited as a relationship dealbreaker.
By the way, people seem to hardly use the phone for real conversations anymore, but women love getting phone calls from men they like. You can make a great impression by taking the time to chat on the phone.
You can also build trust by texting in a way that is clear and consistent. Emotionally healthy people don’t like being jerked around or kept guessing. Good texting strategy increases your chances for success, reducing the number of flakes and other seemingly inexplicable fails that are a result of clueless or manipulative texting behavior.
Let’s hear some war stories. I have a few hilarious stories that mostly reflect douchebag texting – they are funny only in hindsight.
Have you encountered difficulty in this area? What’s the worst thing you ever experienced in texting? Do you agree with my guidelines? Or do you want to check your phone guilt free 24/7?