When I first heard about texting, I shuddered. I didn’t understand the appeal of shooting short messages via cell phone when one could use that same device to speak to a human. Why send an electronic burp when one could compose a more thoughtful and thorough e-mail? But consideration takes time, and in a culture that worships speed and instant connectivity almost more than anything else, sometimes even more than life itself, texting took flight.
The more popular it became, the more stubbornly I refused to participate, like the last bastion of deliberateness or the final firewall against frivolous exchanges. Several years ago a gentleman friend, not taking my stated preferences seriously, texted me at random moments. I felt like a doctor on call, except that these messages lacked urgency and the beep jolted my highly sensitive nervous system to unpleasant levels of arousal. If the text arrived while I was trying to run errands or sustain a train of thought, my annoyance grew. There was something masturbatory about these texts; they gratified him, not me, the unwilling recipient of electronic ejaculate. While this person is still a part of my life, he is now just a friend. Gentlemen, as far as I can tell, don’t impose their desire to constantly communicate on ladies.
People have tried to explain to me the advantages of texting. It’s faster than a phone call, they say, which assumes one’s fingers are nimble. But it’s also one-sided, a unidirectional communication rather than a dialogue. It’s less disruptive to text if you’re in a meeting, they say, than to leave and make a call. That sounds logical, except the thought of people texting while sitting around a table depresses me. What has happened to focusing on the people with whom we’re sharing space? Is there always something or someone more important that captures our attention? And what’s with the widespread belief that texts should be answered immediately? Being tethered to an electronic leash is not my idea of fun.
In the last year, realizing that I’m in the rapidly shrinking minority of texting holdouts, I’ve tried softening my stance. While walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I sent occasional texts to family members; it was less expensive than a phone call and, given the time difference and my exhaustion, more convenient. I’ve learned that sometimes texting is more effective when making time-critical plans with a busy person. For me, texting is like a specialized tool, used when routine implements fail to do the job or are unavailable.
In recent weeks I’ve received more texts than in the preceding months. Some came from my friend who’s undergoing cancer treatment out of state.
“I hope you’re a texter!” began the first one.
Given her challenging circumstances, I wasn’t going to get peeved. And at least she spelled you’re rather than using the shortcut ur. She’s a writer, too, which could explain why she spent those precious extra 2.73 seconds to honor all the letters AND the apostrophe. When I see ur, I’m reminded of the ancient Sumerian city, once believed to have been the location of flooding described in Genesis.
Other texts appeared sporadically from a new romantic possibility, a fellow several years younger than I am. As a practice in acceptance, I let them be rather than imposing a strict no-text zone. I mostly responded by e-mail or phone, honoring my preferred modes of communication while respecting his choice. One hilarious text arrived at exactly the right moment, all words spelled in their full glory. As I laughed aloud, I wondered if I might be converted to texting after all. Perhaps its immediacy could, in some cases, foster intimacy rather than irritation. Other messages, alas, referenced the ancient Sumerian city or used “U”, which reminds me of a horseshoe. I tried to focus on the friendly intention behind these texts, rather than their form. But “U” is also the first letter of “Ugh”, my gut response when I see words castrated for the sake of efficiency. It’s a feeling I’m learning to pay close attention to, regardless of the context in which it arises. “Ugh”, along with that inner “Yes!”, contains clues as to what I hold dear. When “Ughs” start to outweigh “Yeses!” in a given situation, it’s time to reassess and figure out what will bring about more of a “Yes!”. Sometimes that means finding a new situation.
In the case of this possible romance, during the second date I became aware of several “Ugh” producing red flags (unrelated to texting), including unease that I was repeating some old karma. A few days later, after much reflection and soul searching, I politely and humbly retreated. I wished him well. He sent a gracious e-mail and wished me happiness. I thought that was the end of it, except he sent a gratuitous “P.S.” that seemed based on a misunderstanding of something I’d written. Feeling a familiar and powerful urge to set the record straight, I started to reply. Then I remembered Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s advice to not bite the hook. I breathed into my agitation and released my desire to correct his impression. I deleted my draft message. I thought that was the end of it, except my beeping phone startled me awake the other night. Was it another emergency alert from Boulder County? I scrambled out from under my blanket and picked up the phone. A series of texts from this person, sent around 4 a.m, filled the screen.
Bleary eyed, I glanced at one, which referenced that ancient Sumerian city and something about not wanting to let me go so easily. I put the phone down. If the other texts were of similar length, the whole megillah would have been more suited to an e-mail, letter, or phone call during daylight hours. I tried to fall asleep. I failed. While staring at the ceiling, I struggled to not curse myself for letting down my guard with texting. And even if I had figured out sooner how to silence texts on my non-smart phone, I can’t imagine I would have been happy to see them even after a good night’s sleep. As an introvert, the more insistent someone is, the greater my need for space and distance. And, lately, I’ve simply lost interest in drama that is not performed on stage.
When I was younger, I would have succumbed to curiosity and intrigue about the wee hours text onslaught, reveling in the ego boost that a guy still wanted me or, less kindly, licking my chops at another chance to have the last word. Indeed, that happened a few years ago. Trying to extricate myself from a relationship occupied nearly as much time and energy as the relationship itself, simply because, on some level, I wanted to both be “right” and get the man’s blessing so I could feel good for being “nice” and parting on friendly terms. The fact is, it wasn’t his blessing to give or even his job to give it. In hindsight, it would have been less draining for both of us had I ignored his attempts to get me back. And he did have a happy ending: a few months later he met his next wife.
For the first time in my life, my decision to move on feels clear, not riddled with crippling doubt. That our two dates, while intense, were chaste by contemporary standards, makes it easier to keep my head straight and not conflate lust and love or confuse either with compatibility. One benefit of consistent spiritual practice is that it becomes increasingly easier to notice when I’m about to stumble into a self-defeating pattern. I can change gears more quickly without judging myself as harshly as I once did for either making, or abandoning, a particular choice. What other people might think of my trajectory no longer preoccupies me as much. It’s calming and liberating to move ahead without hand-wringing, excessive apologies or criticism of self or other. Some people, accustomed to analyzing “what went wrong”, imagining replays of “what could have gone differently” or wanting to make sure the other person is “OK” might find this approach cold. But maybe everything went exactly as it did for learning and growth, especially the oh sh*t moments when we said or did something that turned out not to be for the highest good, even if it felt damn good. As my Zen teacher Cheri Huber says, if we trust that people are adequate to their life experience, we can move on rather than hovering around to dissect a defunct romance or patch up a former partner. Which is why I am considering wiping those texts from my phone without even reading them.
Now that I’ve figured out how to mute incoming messages, I can sleep more easily. I’m open to the possibility that, one day, under different circumstances, I might even enjoy texting more than a handful of times per year. Meanwhile, the only thing I know for sure is this: I love “You” but not “U”.
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