Text Less, Speak More — Because the Break-Up Sauce Tastes Awful

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text message confusion by Hamilton Animatic
(Image/Hamilton Animatic)

I want you to imagine a person looking you directly in the eye and saying: “I’m going to kill you.”

First, I’d like you to imagine that it’s your best friend saying it with a huge smile on his or her face immediately following a joke you’d just played on them.

friends laughing together
(Image/Video Block)

And next, I’d like you to imagine that it’s a stranger saying it after breaking into your house late at night wearing a creepy mask, using an ominous tone of voice, carrying a weapon, and just looking all-around murdery.

Strangers-mask by Horror News
(Image/Horror News)

Our reaction to hearing “I’m going to kill you,” is largely dependent on what we can see and hear. On context.

What we can see and hear—non-verbal communication—is commonly called the 7% Rule, even though that’s probably not technically correct. The 7% Rule says that communication, on the whole, is 7 percent verbal, and 93 percent non-verbal.

A good example might be a person saying “I love the taste of canned spinach. I’m going to eat a bunch right now,” while shaking their head no, which we’d all safely interpret as the person NOT liking canned spinach like a smarty, and joking about wanting to eat some.

Tone of voice, facial expression, and other nuanced components of how we interpret information when someone is speaking to us play a HUGE role in our understanding of what someone is saying to us.

Which is why, other than exchanging logistical information—making plans, sharing news, etc.—we should try to avoid text messaging as much as possible.


Two Dumbass Kids and a Potentially Phantom Rivalry Over a Girl

When I was a high-school sophomore, I had a little crush on a super-attractive girl in the freshman class.

Katie. She was awesome and liked me back. We had a cute little almost-thing for a couple of months before summer break happened and I disappeared for a few months, and then for my entire junior year, because I moved 500 miles away to live with my father for the first time since I was 4.

Which doesn’t really matter in the context of this discussion.

What does matter is that I moved back with my mom and with all of my old friends I’d grown up with for my senior year of high school. And during the year I was gone, Katie had dated some other guy at school. And for reasons/explanations I was told and can’t remember, THAT guy decided he didn’t like me, and maybe wanted to fight.

We didn’t fight. We just kind of ignored each other and probably considered the other to be a huge asshole. Then I graduated and moved away and haven’t seen that guy since.

Without EVER speaking a meaningful word to him, I still have memories of us not liking one another for an entire school year. Because of a girl neither of us dated that year.

I don’t know how he remembers it. I don’t know how he’d feel about it, or me, today.

I just know I perceived another guy to be someone I didn’t like (the reason being that my friends told me he didn’t like me—not because he’d ever actually wronged me in some way), and that I spent an entire year feeling shittier than necessary whenever we were in the same place—and I had ZERO facts about his true feelings and intentions, nor had I ever attempted any type of meaningful conversation with him.

I have memories of a high school rivalry that I may have fabricated like an idiot from totally false information from other high school idiots.

I experienced real, tangible negative moments that I still kind-of remember 20 years later, and I can’t even prove whether my opinions and beliefs back then were based on anything real or true.

With Text Messaging, We Don’t Even Need the Help of Idiots to Recreate These Scenarios

This video has bad words, FYI. But it’s amazing. Watch it. (Special thanks to Becky for sharing the timely video on the MBTTTR Facebook page.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naleynXS7yo]

I don’t think we need any more examples. You get it. Not that it matters. You’ll keep on texting because you’re a masochistic, lazy glutton-for-punishment like me.

Remember when we used to memorize 30 phone numbers and politely leave messages with our friends’ parents to have them call us back, sometimes several hours later, just to ask a question we insta-text today?

We’ve arrived at the point where actually answering and speaking on the phone is an inconvenient thing we have to do—like laundry. Texting feels easier, and it tickles our This Shortcut Is Awesome pleasure sensors.

But it also lends itself to a crap-ton of misunderstood messages—things intended to be benign but that angered someone or hurt their feelings. Things that read like a joke through our current emotional filters, only to respond in a way that feels disrespectful and dismissive to the person who, in fact, is not joking.

That kind of awkward, fact-deficient exchange can escalate something immaterial into a real-life problem, and a minor problem into a relationship-ender.

Because I’m a writer, I’m really comfortable texting. Because I’m more comfortable communicating via the written word, I like to try to explain myself through writing.

Sometimes, I try to do that via text message.

Rife with peril, this is.

Choosing convenience over focusing our attention on the people and things that matter is essentially the summarized theme of Shitty Husbandry, as well as being a substandard friend, family member or teammate/partner of any kind.

We struggle mightily with empathy in our human relationships. We like to think what we think and feel is right and true, while anyone bringing something different to the table is wrong and full of shit. It’s why pretty much all human conflict exists—disagreeing about something, and then being dicks about it to everyone on the other side of a debate or argument.

We struggle mightily with this even when the person is our spouse, friend, or family member of several years. We struggle mightily with this when someone we know better than anyone else is looking right at us and speaking words from the same language we speak.

Even with all of that going for us, we still fundamentally don’t understand the other person often enough that MOST people who truthfully say “I love you” and have sex a bunch of times and share a home address end up not liking each other and divorce or break up. They don’t “get” each other, fight about stuff and hurt each other’s feelings a bunch of times, then one or both of them quits because it feels too hard.

People who share a bed and have known each other for years.

Reducing all of that to auto-corrected text and emoji is literally Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for Fuckness Casserole with Break-Up Sauce.

So please be more thoughtful about what you choose to discuss via text, and how easily something you say might be interpreted in a way that makes someone you care about feel shitty even if that’s not your intention.

Sometimes, the things that matter warrant a phone call.

Sometimes, No Response is a great choice.

Always, clear and effective communication is the greatest tool in our relationship arsenal and demands thoughtfulness and effort.

Always, the people we love and care about are worth it.

10 thoughts on “Text Less, Speak More — Because the Break-Up Sauce Tastes Awful”

  1. Matt…I will say that generationally I find myself in a quandary. To keep in touch with my kids means I have to have an infernal contraption that I would much rather throw in the Mohawk River than have at all. We , unlike most of our contemporaries, still have a land line phone ( Anne won’t give it up as it is the same number we have had since we got married), that phone is a symbol of freedom for me in a sense . I don’t have to answer it…I can have a secluded conversation if needed and only have to take calls in the comfort of my home. Having a cell immediately embodies a sense of urgency whenever it goes off…wherever I am what ever I’m doing anytime day or night….I was called on it when one of my kids couldn’t find something they had misplaced..I was called on it when my daughter had a fender bender…I just got texted by my youngest to let me know he got the job he was trying for…I got called on it when my mom drove into a ditch and had to rescue her …I was informed by cell that my dad was near passing. None of the aforementioned calls could have been possible without the cell and in most of those instances I’m grateful that I had one available. But I did live a whole portion of my lifetime doing without one. As much of a gem of a tool they are I am of the the opinion that less communication happens since their advent. Good communication is in my view physical as well as verbal. That the nuances of speaking in any language requires your attention and or presence. To look into hurting eyes tells the story better and evokes a response to make the in kind action to that hurt serious..the empathy given to a troubled individual takes on a focus when that individual pours out the physical nuances of their pain..the love being proclaimed is better in person as well. I and so many others a guilty of giving technology a ride in the front seat but in reality it is just a distractive tool of convenience that seems to make a grab for our true quest. To be there.

  2. Amen,Matt. Communication is hard. Texting is horribly inadequate. Heck, even writing and blogging can be challenging. We can even sit down with another person and still get it all wrong. One thing I have had to do is to remember that their intentions are probably good. That can be really challenging because I am a good communicator and if you are not, well….:)

  3. I found this post to be incredibly entertaining. Thanks for the laugh. Would love your thoughts on my new short called The Writers Block. Hope to see you there

  4. I agree that talking in person is often more intimate. I think in certain circumstances texting can be more helpful than talking in person.

    When you get into a cycle of frustration so your brain associates certain body language or tone of voice with many many arguments it can be helpful to communicate without body language for a while.

    To text in a friendly manner so that you can associate that person with positivity rather than hostility. I text my husband things that I appreciate that he has done. It works better by text for us. I send him funny pictures or jokes to lighten things.

    We have used that technique quite a lot with good results.

    Body language and tone of voice can be problematic.

    I also use texting when I know I will find it difficult to be mature enough to respond to a “difficult” person. I can be kinder. I can choose to not respond right away to consider my reply. It’s harder for me to do those things on the phone.

    1. One of my very long-time friends and colleagues said to me a year or two ago that she and her husband sometimes found texting a better way to communicate with each other when things got a little tense or heated. I had said, in another context, that more data channels (facial expressions, tone of voice, etc.) were better – she said that sometimes stripping all of those things out, and even going to texts (shorter) rather than using email (longer), was helpful for her and her husband.

      I think it’s the exception to the rule, but I think she has a point.

      1. I think that’s fair. I can see where two volatile people who trigger one another might be better off mindfully using the written word to intentionally avoid that component of their discussions.

        Makes sense under the right circumstances.

        1. I think “under the right circumstances” with an implied “an exception not the rule” is correct here. She specifically said that it helped when she was likely to be rolling her eyes at things her husband was saying. In a vacuum, it sounds like bad advice, but we’ve known them for almost 35 years and as an occasional tool I think it’s fine. 🙂

      2. I think if you are a skilled emotional person your experience in person AND in text or email will be fine.

        One reason why some people get triggered by text or email is because they don’t the skill of “giving people the benefit of the doubt” or “asking clarifying questions”. Instead the mind leaps to distorted thoughts.

        Also another factor might be extroverts vs introverts. In my experience extroverts seem to find talking in person superior then texting for communicating than introverts. YMMV

        I’m an introvert so I like texting a lot. Just like I liked self checks outs at stores. Ha ha.

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