On our third date, he proposed something unexpected.
“Can we not text?”
We were sitting on the floor of his living room on one of the first warm nights of spring, plates of grilled chicken thighs, Greek salad, buttery pita, and garlicky tzatziki balanced in our laps. I sipped my wine, and was, perhaps, slightly buzzed. Maybe that’s why his question didn’t throw me. To be honest, I found it kind of thrilling.
Recently, I’d noticed a pattern in my dating habits. I’d meet someone, and next thing I knew, we were texting more frequently than I text my best friends. The difference, of course, is that texting your best friends is a fun diversion, whereas texting someone you’re interested in can feel exhilarating but also exhausting. Every interaction is laden with meaning: How long should I wait to write back? What does his delay imply? Is an exclamation point too much? Should I add a winking face emoji?
Avoiding all of that sounded great to me. So we began to lay down some rules. During each date, we would make plans for our next one. If we needed something in between from one another — even if that was just to say hello—we would call. We would keep texting to logistics, like if one of us was running late, or if we needed the other to pick something up a key ingredient, like limes for the gin and tonics or American cheese for the burgers, on the way over.
But the good-morning-how-was-your-day-goodnight banter — and the incessant distraction that came with it — all of that was off the table. And thank god for that; the truth is, texting had already derailed our relationship once.
It was a few days after our second date, which had been a dream. I’d invited him for dinner, something that was significant for me — both the preparation and having someone in my home. Conversation and first kisses flowed. During our meal we made plans to get together the following week for lunch in Sunset Park. I said I would do research on where we should go.
He texted on Sunday to follow up, saying Wednesday or Friday worked best for him. But his text landed right in the middle of an unexpected family crisis. Not wanting to leave him hanging, but also not wanting to share the details of my family’s situation, I texted back, “Running around text you in a bit 😘.”
But then I didn’t. For 24 hours. I was emotionally spent from dealing with my family, and while everything was, for the most part, fine, I just didn’t have the energy to reply, not to mention make plans for a date.
By Monday afternoon, he caved and sent a novel of a message. He said that he thought it was strange not to have heard from me, and that he could handle it if I didn’t want to continue seeing him, but he just wanted to make sure I was okay. I remember emerging from the subway, seeing his words fill my phone screen, and feeling flooded with both guilt and frustration. Guilt that I’d put him through the turmoil, but frustration over the responsibility of dealing with another person’s emotions at a time when I felt so drained.
On an impulse, I dialed him right then and broke things off. “I don’t think I’m a good person to date right now,” I said, which is, of course, really just the coward’s way of saying you’re not interested in seeing someone again. We said good-bye and hung up.
When I woke up the next morning, I hadn’t exactly changed my mind, but I felt that there was still something between us worth exploring, or at least talking about. So I texted him to propose the third date he had been trying to schedule when I dumped him. Not Sunset Park, just a quiet dinner at his place. And so we found ourselves sitting on his living room floor, with chicken thighs, wine, and later homemade chocolate chip cookies, discussing the possibility of continuing to see each other but ending our texting relationship.
He said he was trying to finish a draft of a book, so he needed long stretches of uninterrupted time to focus on work. Putting his phone on airplane mode wouldn’t do — he didn’t love the idea of a text from me just sitting there, going unanswered for hours on end. If I needed to be in touch, he wanted to be there. He said he wanted to find a way to keep the fire of his productivity going while also investing in me. Maybe, we thought, ruling text messages out altogether would be a weird way to do that.
We set the date for our next hang, kissed good night, and that was that.
In the past, dating someone new would leave me drained and weirdly sad. It wasn’t that I was unsure of the guy’s feelings; it happened with people who I knew really liked me. Looking back, I think the sadness came from a subconscious knowing that the person wasn’t right for me — but at the time, I didn’t have the space to fully process that, in part because I was available at all times via my phone. Even if I didn’t respond to a text right away, the message would be hanging over me and firing warning signs back in the other direction. Unlike a friendship, where not responding to a text for two hours (or two days?) is acceptable, in dating, both the act of texting and not texting communicate something. How fast or how slow you respond says something to the other person.
But this time, I felt excited and energized. With texting off the table, I found I could live my own life much more easily. I’d just made a career change and had a new block of free time. I was eager to use that time exactly how I wanted: reading, writing, eating, cooking and exploring my city on my own time. I was excited to be dating someone new, but I didn’t want that to overtake this crucial downtime for me, which I was using to gain clarity on the direction and purpose of my own life.
I spent my days exactly as I saw fit, and while I did, my mind wasn’t filled with worry over when he would text me or whether I should text him; my hand didn’t reflexively reach for my phone a dozen plus times a day. Anticipation took that anxiety’s place: I was excited to tell him about all the things I was reading, seeing, and doing. I had so many questions for him: How was his week? How was his writing? What did he eat? What was he reading? There was so much to talk about.
The less we were in touch, the better it was once we were together. Conversation poured out of us as if we had been turned upside down. We could barely keep up, often having to go back to complete a thought before jumping to the next subject. But most importantly, I could miss him. And doing so helped me understand how I felt about this person, something that had been clouded by all the superfluous, though sweet, communication in the past. I liked him, a lot. I couldn’t wait to see him again. But in the meantime, I’d focus on my own life.