I am not in a relationship – or in what someone 20 years older than me would consider a relationship – yet rarely am I definitively single. Our vocabulary is straining as much as we are to encompass the world of modern dating. Recently The New York Times questioned whether traditional courtship was over, and whether ‘hanging out’ had replaced ‘dating’. Last Friday night I met four girlfriends for drinks after work. We’d met at a mutual friend’s party around Christmas, and had seen each other a couple of times since with friends. We follow the new rules as assiduously as they do, are just as uneasy about being pinned down, just as likely to be the texter as the textee. Why make a phone-call or suggest a date when you can send a non-committal text that merely dangles the possibility of meeting?
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Yet it’s so easy to get carried away with texting or instant messaging.
Having just counselled a friend through an ambiguous ‘relationship’ characterised by furious text conversations and the occasional meet-up, I then found myself helping another friend decide what to wear when she met up with a man whose activities she’d been obsessively following on Facebook for months. ‘It wasn’t as thrilling as I’d hoped it would be…’ admitted my friend afterwards.
The I-don’t-know-what-is-going-on phase of a proto-relationship can continue far longer now.
You can become vastly experienced in the heady yet confusing dance of Early Days – I have had years of it, and know all the steps – yet remain an ignoramus about the mysterious state of proper Girlfriend and Boyfriend.
Yet even without an official ‘boyfriend’ there are normally several text conversations with potential beaus buzzing away on my phone.
I also tend to have a few guys on a low-level stalk on Facebook, and there’s always that frisson of excitement when an attractive man retweets one of my ‘LOLz-ier’ status updates. I wasn’t the only one of my girlfriends to leave early that night.
We’d made vague plans to see each other that night. Like me, you are probably so used to keeping your options open – and not deciding what you’re doing on a Friday night until about 6.59pm that evening – that the idea of ‘dating’ seems pretty foreign. Increasingly, we ‘hang out’ – and not necessarily as a twosome. The social psychologist Ben Voyer warns that while texting and online messaging are perceived to be easier than face-to-face contact or a telephone conversation, in the medium to long term they can make things more difficult. Your guess is as good as mine.) ‘Face-to-face contact is much richer.
Actually phone someone up to ask them out and agree on a date at some point in the future and put it in my diary? We have more visual and audio cues to help us form an impression of someone.’ Of course endless texting will never offer the same insight into someone’s personality as even a single face-to-face conversation.
‘I think he was a little tired.’ Such disappointment shouldn’t come as a surprise, says Emma Weighill-Baskerville, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist.