In general, men don’t know how to text. We’re slow learners. Even though we’re a full decade into the Texting Revolution, our tiny missives are sometimes rude, sometimes girly, and always confusing. We text when we should call. We forget to reply. And we’re behind the curve when it comes to texting like thissss.
This is all the more embarrassing when you consider that, with some exceptions, men prefer to text. (Phone is too invasive, e-mail is too taxing, IM is too 2003.) Part of the problem is structural. Texting is an awkward medium, stripped of the nuance of eye contact, body language, or even written elaboration; there’s a fuzzy line between friendly banter and cutting insult. Women have solved this. If a woman garnishes a text with an exclamation point or emoticon, this can lighten the tone, sell a joke, and transform caustic to playful. The smiley face, for all its ridicule, is a useful tool.
We’re not sure how to use such tools, and when we do, it often looks foolish. These are our ten moves. None of them are ideal.
Sample texts: “lol!”; “you got the tickets?! omfg!”; “thanks cutie! :)”
He’s so afraid of sounding passive-aggressive that he overcompensates. Plus, it’s artifice. A 36-year-old lawyer, who usually dates much younger women, told me with a straight face, “Yeah, when you’re texting girls in their early twenties, you need to throw in lots of smileys and shit.”
Recipient: Often younger than the guy. This is blatant pandering.
The Passive-Aggressive Texter
Sample texts: “okay.”; “that’s fine.”; “if you want.”
The default. Causes endless misunderstandings. The confusion (usually) stems from an asymmetry of information, not malicious intent. We’re oblivious. When we text, “Okay,” we mean, “Okay,” not, necessarily, “Okay, but I’m going to sulk in my corner and daydream about how good it’d feel to be single.”
Recipient: All recipients — even fellow Passive-Aggressive Texters — can be thrown by these. Texts can be cold. Terse. Brutal. A period in a text carries more weight than a period in an e-mail. Sometimes I receive these from a male friend and catch myself thinking, Why is he being such a prick? before realizing that that’s exactly how I sound. Which is why I often use the following tactic:
Sample texts: “sounds good … ”; “i know what you mean … ”; “hope you have a good night … ”
It strikes me as the least awful option — neither curt nor effeminate — and the tone is friendly but not saccharine. I now overuse the Cliff-hanger, so most of my texts sound like I’m about to say something else, and then …
Recipient: Often left bewildered, as the texts are loaded with different shades of subtext. Do you reply to “I know what you mean … ” or is that the end? This shifts the burden to the recipient. It’s sort of dirty pool.
Sample texts: “I should probably look for a new job, but if I do that, I might lose my discount at the gym. Plus, at my current gym I have a locker, where I can store my protein powder. What do you think?”; “On the one hand, Maury has a right to know about the drug problem, but on the other, shouldn’t we respect his roommate’s privacy?”; “Space is good. We need that space. But how much is too much? You had a really good point last night about—(3 of 7).”
Not only does the Gusher think his life is more interesting than it really is, but he’s the over-texter (or, alternatively, blatherer). He hates the phone, and he fails to grasp that texts should be used primarily for: (1) Logistics; (2) Friendly banter; (3) Flirting. They are not a substitute for real conversation.
Recipient: Girlfriend, friend, co-worker, mother. Anyone. It’s more about who is sending it.
Sample texts: “K, cu l8r”; “TU”; “Ur 2 funny!”
He types as if every letter costs a dollar. Not only is this lazy, it’s selfish: The seconds he saves by typing “k” instead of “okay” (or, Jesus, even “ok”) are unloaded to the reader, who is forced to spend more time deciphering the gibberish.
Recipient: Happily, there’s a silver lining: Now you know there’s no reason to waste your time on a date.
If you ask him a direct question, he’ll answer, but if it’s anything that can go either way? He’s gone. He views texts the way an Army radio operator views transmissions: Once the mission is complete, there’s no need for chitchat. Over and out.
Recipient: Maybe you texted him something funny, hoping to start some conversational pitter-patter. No response. Is he blowing you off or did he see your text, chuckle, and just not realize that he should keep the ball rolling?
Sample texts: “thanks!!!”; “dinner sounds good!!!”; “hope you had a good time at the funeral!”
A subset of the Tweener. As a friend of mine said, “Yeah, I overuse exclamation points. I’m not proud of it. But if I don’t use them, I sound like a dick.” So he, and many men, litter their texts with exclamation points in a misguided attempt to sound friendly!
Recipient: When someone texts with an Exclaimer!, he or she, subconsciously, becomes more likely to also overuse exclamation points. This causes Exclamation Inflation.
Sample texts: “SEE YOU SOON!”; “YES. SOUNDS GREAT.”; “I’M GOING TO TAKE A NAP. TALK TO YOU LATER.”
There’s a good chance that he’s actually 57. Have you met him in person? How old are those photos on OKCupid?
Recipient: Wonders how, exactly, to tactfully bring this up in conversation. (Is there a way to do this? Please tell me.)
Sample texts: “Movie. I’ll get tickets. 8pm. see you there.”; “I had fun.”; “I liked meeting your parents. good people.”
Models his texts after Raymond Carver short stories. Pithy. Choked of emotion. Stops just short of being rude.
Recipient: Probably overcompensates; asks her friends “what it all means.”
Sample texts: “What are you wearing?” “What are you doing right now?” [at 2:07 a.m.]; more?
No straight guy has ever texted “What are you wearing?” curious whether the answer is Betsey Johnson or Alexander Wang. For the Sexter, maybe not every text is a sext, but he skews NC-17 and reveals too much, too soon. Creepy at best and Senatorial Scandal at worst.
Recipient: The only true difference between whether something is Creepy or Sexy is whether the recipient likes the guy. If there’s good chemistry and he’s hot? You’ll probably give him more rope. If you’re lukewarm? Then the exact same text will be viewed as sketchy.
Jeff Wilser is the co-author of the upcoming It’s Okay to Sleep With Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating, Debunked.