Can You Fall for Someone Over Their Texts?
A fascinating new study reveals some new romantic wrinkles.
Posted Feb 08, 2016
In a previous post, I discussed the ways in which texting can get in the way of modern relationships. While texting is undoubtedly useful for maintaining relationships that are already established, I’ve always wondered: Does texting help or hurt the early progression of a relationship? Or, more to the point: Can people really get to know each other over texts?
I was interested to read a recent study by infographic maker tool Venngage—a study that aimed to answer a very similar question: Can people fall in love through text conversation?
In the author’s words:
"Can you get to know someone through text conversation as quickly as you can get to know someone in person? How much of our feeling of closeness relies on seeing the other person’s face—their reactions, their mannerisms, their movements? And how much of our attraction to a person is reliant on looks?"
To address these questions, the company took 32 participants ranging in age from 21 to 34 and paired each one with a potential romantic match. Then, without having spoken or even exchanged pictures, the pairs began to communicate over the real-time communication tool, Slack.
Their conversations were guided by the famous "36 questions that lead to love" that Dr. Arthur Aron developed in the 1990s. These questions, proven to act as “intimacy accelerators” in person, provided the basis for each pair’s 55-minute text conversation.
Did the 36 questions create quick closeness between two people over text, as they do in person? In Aron’s original study, 30% of participants reported feeling “the same level of closeness to their [question-asking] partner as they do to the closest person in their life." But in the Venngage study, only 16% reported feeling that way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 36 questions were less effective at sparking quick intimacy when discussed over text as opposed to in-person.
However, one finding from the study is quite surprising: While most participants in Venngage’s study said they still preferred in-person conversation over text, 50% said they found it easier to talk about personal things over text. Somehow, then, ease of conversation does not necessarily translate into closeness. As the author describes it:
“What I’m inferring from this is that while it may be easier to get into personal topics when you’re not facing your partner, most people would not want their interactions to stay strictly electronic.”
And more pointedly:
"[O]ur results show that text-only conversation actually acts as a barrier when attempting to reach accelerated closeness, despite making it easier for more reserved people to discuss personal topics.”
To me, this is the major take-away from the Venngage study: Intimate conversations may be easier over text, but they’re less fruitful. Texting may feel less scary in the moment than talking face-to-face (or even over the phone)—especially when you’re revealing something private. You can think very carefully about how you phrase things and avoid seeing the other person’s reaction, making personal revelations via text nearly painless.
But the painless nature of text may also be its biggest drawback, as it may be exactly the risk involved in revealing oneself in a real-life interaction that creates intimacy. Or as the old saying goes, “No risk, no reward.”