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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: March 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Texting, Or How to Cause Trouble in Your Life with A Cell Phone

Call me old fashioned. But I really think we have gone beyond reasonable usage of the cell phone. I really do understand the convenience of texting. I understand the little jolt of joy and intrigue when the chime rings, or the phone vibrates. I know that opening up the message from wherever you might be (in class, at work, the movies, your therapist's office), is something akin to having someone pass you a note secretly behind the teacher's back....but I think we have gone too far.

While I am all for efficiency in communication, I can tell you, that from where I sit, in my therapist's chair, I bear witness to any number of relationship troubles that in no small way can be credited to the hazards of texting.

So what, pray tell, does texting have to do with mental health. Consider this: Jane Doe meets John Dude at an office party. He works on the other side of the building, but has seen her a few times in the parking lot. After talking for a few minutes, Jane has to leave, to meet her boyfriend, which she tells John straight out. But John says he knows her boyfriend from high school and he'd like to meet up with them sometime, so Jane gives him her number. A few days later, John texts Jane, "Would you like to hang out sometime?" To which Jane texts him back, "ok."
This begins an innocent exchange of words which is really no big deal. In fact, Jane told her boyfriend about John, who said John was an okay guy, but he really did not care to see him again. But by now Jane has been sort of liking the friendly messages that John has been continuing to send.
Fast forward several months later, when Jane's phone jingles while she is hanging with her boyfriend. Who's that? he wants to know. "No one really. That John guy."

"Why is he texting you? Do you talk to him"

"No, he just wants to hang out sometime with us."

"Let me see the phone."

"Why? Its no big deal."

"So let me see the phone."

"What, you don't trust me?"

Okay, you know where I am headed. Fights, phone spying. It can get worse. And with troubled relationships comes compromised mental and emotional wellness. And really, that's only one scenario. The real mess of texting comes when couples, friends, parents, kids, start communication by text and something, sometimes subtle, gets lost in the translation. There is something that gets misread, misinterpreted, misunderstood, or just missed. And then feelings get hurt, ideas get started and weird stuff happens. And folks begin to get used to typing brief, or sometimes lengthy, exchanges, going throughout the day (and night too), that more often than not, cause more upset than they resolve. Frustrating at best, and damaging at worst.

Consider this text: (from one best friend to another) "Hey K, Joey said he doesn't like it when you say love ya chickie to me all the time. It bugs him. Go figure, but he's my guy, so I'm just asking you to not say it so much. You know I luv ya. Know you understand. thanx. Talk ltr. R."

So maybe some would folks would just say, sure, cool, no problem. But the recipient of this text was really hurt. Its a small example, but it highlights the fact that texting has become, in lots of cases, a substitute for a real conversation. A way to check list something or someone, and to connect without connecting.

I certainly know that talking can go south as well, but somehow, like bullets, a bad text can start a war. Or at least a battle, and I am thinking we may do well to pay attention to how and in what way we use it. At least with conversations one can try to deal in the moment, with whatever feeling comes up. When people let off on a text they are sending an arrows through the phone. And people save those arrows, and reread them again and again and again. They stick.

I will say this: words in any form are precious and carry weight. We have a difficult enough time getting things right when we speak person to person. We'd best text carefully, I think, and save the big stuff for real time talk., And perhaps use caution when starting (even accidentally) a texting relationship with "no one."
Stay tuned for the trouble with email!