I’m usually a very even-tempered guy and I can ride the ups and downs of life with confidence. I like to say I’m emotionally stable… except when it comes to SMS-based advertising.
A couple of high school buddies and I met up for a weekend trip to Las Vegas a few months ago. We’d all emerged double-vaccinated from our respective COVID blisters, and energy was high as we wandered the Strip on our last night there. That’s where I met her. She was 27, a kindergarten teacher in the Pacific Northwest who was also in Vegas for a weekend with friends. We all hit it off and the two groups became one for the rest of the night. Unfortunately for me the next day meant a flight back to Burbank aAirport and a drive home to Thousand Oaks.
When I got home later the next day (and waited a bit so as not to seem overzealous), I texted her. I wondered: was last night just the result of Vegas-induced celebrations, or did she also think we might have similar energies?
Nervous and distraught, I couldn’t wait on my phone for an answer. Everyone knows that the first text reply is the hardest hurdle to overcome. So I looked for distraction: I unpacked my suitcase and went for a walk. I’ve done a few things to prepare for my upcoming work week as a Software Engineering Manager.
I also prepared for no answer.
Finally, after what seemed like a full day, but was probably only three hours, I took the fateful leap and grabbed my phone. Lo and behold she had texted back with a selfie! It was also quite flirty at her pool.
So she looked for a game. See if I could flirt back and match her style. It was a playful challenge. She was interested. And she would make me work for it. That’s flirting, isn’t it?
In the days that followed, we continued to text back and forth, trying to dig a little deeper into each round of conversation. What are your favorite trips you’ve taken? What do you like about your job? Tell me about your siblings…
I thought the conversation was going well. But that’s the problem with SMS. You never really know, do you? When you talk to someone face-to-face, you have verbal cues to guide you further. The opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Everything flows naturally. It’s choreographed with SMS. You question everything. The time of their reply. The time when she should answer. The punctuation (or lack thereof). The sound. You spend all your time reading everything.
I was emotionally torn, vacillating wildly between the ecstasy of seeing her text and the agonizing mystery of waiting. Every time I texted, I worried that I would be ghosted, that this would be the text that would end it all. My fear would go away when I received an answer, only to come back after my answer.
It was starting to worry me more and more; I didn’t play this game to win, I played not to lose.
We’ve been days into this texting game now and this should certainly be seen as a positive development; If she wasn’t interested, we would have fizzled out. Even so, I became more and more moody for fear of screwing up something potentially good. The longer the conversation lasted, the more desperate I became.
But what else should I do? She lived in another state. And I would soon be moving to the east coast for grad school. I’ve had a few relationships in my life that ended prematurely for various reasons, mainly due to the usual relocation that occurs after college for far-flung job opportunities. Would this be just another relationship that would end before it could even begin?
Each text felt like a false peak where you think you’ve scaled the top of the mountain only to realize there’s more to do. It took a series of positive responses from her to move our conversation forward, while all it took was one negative response to end it. And therein lies the rub of SMS. It all boils down to a series of phrases that are exchanged one after the other, each with its own ability to be lethal. Texting makes everything more final than it needs to be.
I told myself that if there was a chance to take the relationship beyond texting and into something more tangible, it would be worth the potential agony, so I made my move.
I suggested (via text message) that one of us should take a trip to see the other, then nervously awaited a reply.
That felt like a make or break moment.
A few hours passed. Nothing at all. No Answer. I was running errands and still looking for that distraction. On my way home, my phone lit up with a message just as I was pulling the car into my driveway. Her answer: “I would be ready for that :)”
Yes! I felt triumphant and ecstatic again. I had thought things were going well but I didn’t really know until she agreed to meet. We started writing some options back and forth to sync our schedules. We finally agreed on an upcoming trip she would take with a group of friends to say goodbye to another friend who was moving out of town. She said I could join and there would be plenty of free time for us to hang out together.
I booked my flights and started making plans. And then she wrote back and apologized: It’s going too fast, she said, it feels a bit overwhelming.
I’m glad I booked refundable flights.
As disappointed as I was, I couldn’t fault her. In a way, I sensed this was coming. The irony was that this was the most real thing we had experienced together. How could I blame her for sharing her feelings when I was looking for more than just small talk to be sent down the line?
To be honest, I felt overwhelmed in my own way right from the start.
We kept texting, saying we’d “see where things go.” But we both knew this was the beginning of the end. Soon our SMS sending disappeared completely.
But in the end it worked out well for me. I moved to Boston and met someone, a fellow student. And now I have an absolute appreciation for getting to know someone in person, face to face.
The author attends Harvard Business School. He’s on Twitter @_neerajchandra.
LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the LA area, and we want to hear your real story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. The submission guidelines can be found here. Past columns can be found here.
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-03-04/la-affairs-neeraj-chandra Texting Destroyed My Relationship – Los Angeles Times