Suzanne Lachmann Psy.D.

Me Before We

The Do’s and Don’ts of Texting in a New Relationship

How texting can be an opportunity for misinterpretation.

Posted Sep 23, 2019

Flickr/Salvador A CC License
Source: Flickr/Salvador A CC License

If you’ve just met someone and think there might be chemistry, you may feel the urge to build momentum by sending a thoughtful text. But what if you don’t receive a text back quickly? Are you’re left feeling exposed, anxious, and vulnerable? Or, when they do text back, their text doesn’t match your expectations. Are you left feeling deflated and exposed?

If you had hopes or expectations that you would get a thoughtful, affirming response quickly, it’s easy to get stuck ruminating about why they haven’t responded, or what their brief response means. In these situations, whether it’s their intention or not, you end up feeling rejected. If you don’t know the person well in real life, it’s all too easy to assign a whole story about why they haven’t returned your text, or why their text doesn’t match your expectations.

Because you can only interpret texts through your own emotional and experiential lens, there is a high probability that you will inaccurately impose a tone onto their texts that reflects how you’re feeling, which leads to the distinct possibility that you are misinterpreting the sentiment behind the text. Benn Grodin, LCSW, and I have established the following do’s and don’ts for texting in a new relationship:

Do 

1. If you are a prolific texter or put a lot of energy into how you worded the first text you sent, try to stay open to the possibility that they may not be as comfortable as you are communicating  via text. Especially in the early stages, it’s safest to use texting practically, as a way to communicate logistics as needed.

2. Operate under the assumption that even a few words in response from them should not be seen not as a reflection of their feelings, but rather as an acknowledgment that they received your message.

3. Try to be honest with yourself about your intention in initiating a text exchange. Know that you may be making yourself feel more vulnerable to rejection when you have expectations for the quality, quantity, and timeliness of their response. If you are seeking affirmation, do you really have enough experience with them to know what their relationship to texting is? If you felt rejected in a previous relationship or are struggling with low self-esteem in general, are you using texting now to seek validation? If so, you run the risk of being even more bummed out than you were before.  

4. Call. Even though it’s old school. A call can sometimes be your best move. Unlike texting, when the person you’re interested in hears your voice and you hear theirs, you can more accurately detect their, tone, pitch, and inflection, which provides you with much more reliable information that texting can. For obvious reasons, Skype or Facetime also help you understand each other better. But, as always, communicating in person is your best bet.

Don’t

1. Don’t obsess over how long it takes rhem to respond. Texting with someone you are interested in does not oblige them to respond in accordance with your timeline. Yes, it is possible that texting a response to you is not their  priority early in the relationship. And, there are many other possibilities for a delayed response, which is difficult to keep in perspective when interpreting their intentions through your subjective lens.
 

When you don’t receive a text right away (or ever,) it is possible that the other party (legitimately) did not receive your message, or their phone was off, lost, or broken. People have problems at work or are sick. Because you can’t know why a response is delayed, it’s best not to try to extrapolate meaning based on texting response time, as it will only contribute to unnecessary anxiety and rumination.

2. Don’t text too much personal information too soon (especially not about current or previous relationships). Just because you would appreciate unsolicited personal information from them does not mean they feel the same way. Remind yourself that with someone new, you don’t yet know their boundaries, their comfort with sharing thoughts and feelings, especially by text and they don’t know yours, so there is ample opportunity for misinterpretation, confusion, or falling into a TMI trap. And,sharing  details about your past, present, or future relationships is far too complex and nuanced to accomplish via text. Save the real stuff for real life.

3. Don’t text anything too provocative. When you make the leap into saying things or sharing pics that are intimate or provocative before really knowing someone, there is a good chance that you’re not enhancing, but rather sabotaging the possibility a meaningful connection in real life, and making yourself  feel vulnerable And exposed.

4. Don’t expect a quid pro quo. When you expect a text in return for your text, you may be placing a burden on the other person to respond in a way that feels validating to you. If you do initiate communication with a text that says “just thinking about you,” Instead if expecting them to acknowledge your text, picture them reading your text and smiling. The absence of a response does not necessarily mean that the other person didn’t appreciate your message.

5. Don’t jump to rejection. If you send a text describing your heartfelt interest in seeing them again and they don’t respond, or their response doesn’t match what you expressed, do not think the worst-case scenario. Remember, you do not know this person’s texting style—they might not like texting, or they do not use texting as a tool for communicating emotions.

When a relationship is new, it’s easy to seek validation and connection via text you come up empty-handed, it’s easy to misuse or misinterpret texts in a way that undercuts your developing connection. Instead, when you put a text out there to someone new, keep it short and simple. Then, once you’ve put that text out there, try to let it go. After all, you don’t know them until you know them.