Is texting good or bad for relationships? Sure, it’s lovely to check in with loved ones during the day, send a little digital cheer and some emojis. But instant communication can also really mess things up when sometimes a little space is necessary — say, when there’s a fight between lovers. Anyone who’s watched Facebook’s three dots “(typing indicatoin bubbles”) with great anticipation knows what I mean.
That’s the topic we explored in the most recent episode of our podcast, “So, Bob?” Alia and I bounced around a lot of theories, and I think you’ll find the discussion fun. I do think the ability to keep a heartbeat of connection alive all day with loved ones — even if they are half a world away — is an amazing feat of technology. But as is so often the case, when you peel the layers back on this topic, you find a lot of tech-driven troubles, too.
To help us dive into this deeper question, Alia talked with two fascinating experts: Love Letters host Meredith Goldstein and therapist Aida Manduley.
In this first excerpt of the epsiode, Meredith talks about how texting and technology have changed the nature of breakups. I think this is really imporant
Meredith: “I always say that one of the most universal timeless letters is the breakup letter. The letter that says, I feel pain about a loss of a person in my life. How do I feel better? You know, that that letter was written a hundred years ago and will be written forever.
“But it’s different now because there are ways we can have to suffer through seeing our exes or knowing that they exist in the world that even 15 years ago we didn’t, we didn’t have to know all of these things. So one of the best blessings I’ve had was that the most recent ex I had when I started Love Letters was not on Facebook, nor did he ever join it.
“So that was very special gift he gave me, not existing in that forum, which was so important at the time. So I just think that technology has really messed with our ability to move on. And I think it’s also … duped us into thinking that we’re supposed to be connected and friends with someone, even if it’s just online to prove that we can, to prove that we’re mature. When in fact, often the mature answer is to not see that person. And by not seeing them, I mean, block them. It’s not rude. Uh, you know, we can curate our emotional lives to some extent and technology really, has forced us to pretend in some ways that we’re comfortable when we’re not.
This second excerpt is a dialog among me, Alia, and producer Kelly about the various instant conversation tools we use, and why.
Bob: One thing that I’m fascinated by: there are multiple platforms, all of which we would throw into the same category of instant messaging. There’s texting, there’s Facebook messages, there’s chat rooms. What I find is that everybody has their favorites and their favorites for certain circumstances. So, I mean, Alia, you and I have never had this conversation. But there are certain things that I type to you in a private Slack message. There are certain things I email to you. There are certain things I text to you. And if you made me, I could probably give you some rules around why I choose which one of those methods. Basically texting is for personal stuff. Or emergencies.
Alia: There are friends that I only speak to via Instagram messenger. And I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you why. That’s just like where our relationship lives, you know?
Kelly: The people you talk to exclusively on Instagram Messenger, were there people you know in real life, or the people you met via Instagram?
Alia: There are people that I know in real life and knew in real life before we were Instagram friends, and for whatever reason, like that’s just how we communicate. It’s really strange and it’s, it’s usually because we’re commenting on each other’s stories or each other’s posts, and that’s sort of how we keep up with each other’s lives. But I find it to be really delightful.
Kelly: So then it becomes the only way you interact with each other.
Kelly: It’s like, oh, I can talk to this person I know and like, because I have something to say about what they posted.
Bob: There’s a little bit of Marshall McLuhan in this, right? The medium is the message. Certain tools are conducive to writing three word sentences. Certain tools are more conducive to writing longer things. I have a lot of people I only communicate with through Rusty’s Instagram account because I met them because of Rusty, you know, and we swapped Instagrams. So I, in that case, I sometimes switch back and forth between Rusty, my dog’s voice, and my own voice too. And they’ll do the same thing.
Alia: That’s amazing.
Bob: So, this spins wider and wider and the more you talk about it.
Alia: And you know, as we’re talking about this, I’m realizing that texting is where I have all of my most personal conversations, all of my most intimate conversations. I don’t think I do those on other platforms because I’m sort of aware that maybe it’s a place that isn’t… maybe a platform isn’t a place that is as safe as say, my text chains. I don’t know that that’s actually true, but that’s sort of how I feel about it.
Kelly: So let’s pivot to then maybe romantic relationships. Alia, what are your thoughts on technology and romantic relationships? Has It really changed the landscape for you?
Alia: I think technology has changed the landscape of romantic relationships. There’s the obvious side of this that I think we’re not really talking about today, and that’s like dating apps, right? But one thing that I know technology has done for me in my romantic relationship with my husband is… texting is so important to our relationship. And I was thinking, we had a fight the other day and I explained how I was feeling and why I reacted the way I did. And it was really nice to actually have the space to like be away from him and to have a place that I could put these thoughts and communicate them to him, that wasn’t a phone call, that wasn’t … live, you know? I was struck by how texting actually helped me work something out with my husband in a way that was really healthy and useful. And I don’t know how else we would have done that besides like the obvious conversation in real life, but maybe that wasn’t what we needed in that moment.