Recently, international recording artist and my personal celebrity doppelgänger John Mayer dashed off this tweet that many people have found eerily relevant to their own lives.
Despite my deep spiritual connection with Mr. Mayer, I don’t follow him on Twitter. I only became aware of this tweet because it was sent to me directly, by two separate people, from two distinct chapters of my life — one was my old college roommate (a dude); the other, a woman I dated. Their collective message was clear: I am a bad texter.
This is not the first time I’ve faced this accusation. At multiple junctures in my adult life, I’ve had women I was dating tell me I’m terrible at texting, and in every instance I have dismissed their claims as ridiculous.
Me, a bad texter? Preposterous! I’d think to myself. I use emoji. I crack jokes. I send the occasional gif. I’m generally aware of most memes. Pennywise dancing to “Slob on My Knob”? I was all over that shit. No one with my level of cultural awareness and linguistic dexterity could be bad at texting.
I acknowledge that, in the past, my texts to women I’m romantically interested could be, let’s say, “clipped” in comparison to the ones I received, and it often took me hours, if not days, to respond. But I always chalked this up to some hardwired gender difference in communication styles. Women wanted to inundate me with gray walls of text and deeply prying personal questions such as, “How was your day?”
“Fine,” I’d respond, because I viewed this kind of exchange as tedious and was intent on handling it with maximum efficiency. And if my response came six hours later, then so be it — I’m a busy man. If a woman expected more from me, she was high-maintenance and unreasonable.
That was until I found myself on the receiving end of a bad texter and realized how maddening it is to casually date someone who doesn’t value the basic tenet of communication, which is that it’s all about reciprocity.
We met via a dating app (of course), and on paper she seemed perfect (so much so that I found her interest in me to be highly suspect). She’s already successful, but maintains even loftier career ambitions. And her drive doesn’t come at the expense of her wit—she is genuinely funny and engaging in conversation. And did I mention she’s stunning?
By some act of God, we hit it off on our first date. At least I thought so — because the barrage of texts I have come to expect never came.
At first, this was refreshing. Finally, a woman who doesn’t expect to be in constant contact during the day, who understands adults don’t have time for such things. But as the next few days wore on, and the texts grew even more sparse, I started to second-guess myself. Maybe we didn’t have fun. Maybe she just laughed at my jokes to be nice. Maybe my attempts to be charming made me come off like an insufferable Chad, and she’s ghosting me. How badly I wanted to be badgered with meaningless texts. And then, after endless days, she texted me a thoughtful personal question and inquired about a second date.
That’s what’s so frustrating about a bad texter: They get to have it both ways. They ignore you for lengths of time, leaving you to believe you’ve been ghosted, only to hit you with an abrupt, out-of-the-blue text and rekindle your hope, entirely on their own timeline. This is probably karmic retribution for all the texts I’ve forgotten or straight-up ignored over the years, and it’s probably well-deserved. (Because getting iced out via text sucks.)
It’s never been easier to stay in touch with someone, but this availability cuts both ways. Texting is such a cheap, easy form of communication that it’s easy to forget there’s someone out there eagerly awaiting your response. But when you’re the person not being texted, it’s worse knowing it would so easy for that person to check in with you.
This calculus changes when you settle into a relationship and grow accustomed to each other’s work schedules and particular texting habits. But semi-regular texting is important when you’re in the getting-to-know-you stage. You want to stay top of each other’s minds, lest the burgeoning relationship peter out. The best way to do that is via texting.
We typically view this kind of erratic texting behavior as a person trying to play games with the other person they’re dating. And there is a level of gamesmanship to texting with someone you’re dating. Answer too quickly and you seem too available, as if you don’t have a rich, fulfilling life of your own. The texter who waits longest has all the power in the relationship.
But I don’t think most bad texters are intentionally fucking with the other person’s head. It’s arguably even worse than that, and it occurs on a subconscious level — a bad texter just doesn’t like you all that much. At least not enough to give you lots of attention.
Don’t get me wrong: Men are still generally less interested in communicating, regardless of the medium. And women are conditioned to value and work at it. But when you’re really into someone, regardless of gender, you make an effort. You forward them funny tweets and tag them in meme posts and like their Instagram photos. You text them, because you’re thinking about them and you want them to think about and hear from you, too.
Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to hear back about that second date.