As a male living in the 21st century and occupying space in a world shared with millennials who read celebrity gossip and model duck-face for the latest Instagram-filtered selfie, I have admittedly “Ol’ Yeller’ed” (A book from 1956 and a movie reference from 1957, for my millennial audience) my share of relationships, via text message.
This self-sabotaging behavior, or, “texticide” (Trademark Pending), is the process of an individual reading into another individual’s text message and inferring and/or projecting their own negativity into the sub-text. A habit which often leads to a hurt or anger-fueled response. The two then proceed to confuse the living $#!% out of one another in a futile exchange of passive-aggressive slights. Confusion that is often amplified by misspellings and an absence of punctuation.
Texticide could be described as the equivalency of a 1st grader trying to explain String Theory using only the words found in the Dr. Seuss story, Hop On Pop, and ends with both parties questioning every decision they have ever made that led them into a relationship with such an unreasonable idiot.
A shared sentiment, no doubt.
Now both parties, equally hating the other for valid, however misguided, reasons, turn to Social Media to complain to unsuspecting strangers, who suddenly find themselves wishing they used a better metric when accepting friend requests on Facebook. Each campaigning for support from their shared cesspool of mutual friends who are all too willing to feed their own narcissism from the ever-plentiful gossip trough that Social Media has become.
This might be something either party survives the first time, but, eventually, leads to the death of the relationship, like a small monoxide leak in an overpriced studio apartment.
It’s toxic and suffocating.
But there are a few simple guidelines that, if used properly, can, at the very least, crack a window in this proverbial one-room crack-house that has become your life’s obsession.
- Stop trying to discuss and simply acknowledge and/or validate. There is a time and place to get into the ceiling-gazing topics you share on your therapists couch. Text messages are not that place. So, the next time your spouse or loved one says, “Where are you, I’ve been waiting for an hour and dinner is getting cold.” Resist the urge to respond with, “Well, had you not texted me with items to add to the cart every time I got in the checkout line, I would have been back by now…” STOP! BREATHE…Breathe some more. Then say, “I understand. I’ll do my best to get out of here. Is there anything else you needed before I get back into line?”
- If you’re not certain how something was intended to be read, read it in the softest way possible. Extroverts take information like it’s an order; Introverts take orders like it’s information. In the case of texting, the introvert wins. An introvert is less likely to see an insult where one is intended and an extrovert can, at times, find an insult in a bouquet of flowers. The same can be said of insecure people. For the purpose of texting and the health of your relationships, it is always better to miss an insult than to infer one where the intension of the author is vague.
- Don’t take the bait. Texts that use absolutes, such as “You always or you never…” are easy to engage and tend to put us on the defensive, but should never be addressed via text message. I recently had an experience with an extended member of my children’s family. She began her text by applying a thick layer of guilt, reminding me how unfairly she’s been excluded from daily updates as to said children’s lives, then finished by calling my integrity into question, stating, (shortened for the sake of brevity) that I’ve essentially over-promised and under-delivered. My initial reaction was to want to explain what a stellar job I’ve been doing, and then further explain the ways in which that is decidedly true. Finally, contrasting that with their life experience prior to my involvement. This would have been both self-serving and damaging to the future of our relationship. Thankfully, I didn’t immediately respond, which leads me to my next tip:
- If you feel an emotionally response welling up, wait to respond. In the above example, nothing good would have come from my internalizing the perception of an insult, and, in turn, attempting to draw similar blood from my perceived assailant. After setting the phone down, I spent a few minutes processing my reaction, which led me from a place of anger to one of empathy. A learned response, contrary to my nature. But, I was able to see the sadness behind her words the second time through and better understand the emotion that caused her to write me in the first place. When I did respond, I acknowledged and validated her feelings of frustration and hurt, and stated that I would try harder to keep that in my mind during the week when things that might be of interest to her occur. The result was that, instead of ending up in a three hour back-and-forth, where the conversation would have become heated and accusatory, it was, instead, ended promptly with a “Thank you” and an acknowledgment of her appreciation for the job I’m doing.
- If the above is failing to produce the desired result, stop texting and call. Sometimes people are simply in a lousy mood and you’re just a punching bag. This happens often with the closest people to us and rarely with the person the frustration was caused by or intended for. In these cases, it is better to simply state, “I’m not sure I understand, but I’ll call you (or see you) as soon as I can give you my full attention…” Then let the other person calm down on their own. It’s okay if you are not in the right headspace to engage someone on an emotional level, especially if the response you’re feeling will only add fuel to that fire.
- Remember that things said or actions taken in anger can never be undone. Often times, the right response is no response at all. It’s much easier to come back from a non-response than the wrong one. When you do reply, make sure you’re responding from a place of logic, rather than reacting from a place of emotion.
- Less is more. Always keep your texts short and to the point. The longer you babble on trying to justify, substantiate, or explain, the more room there is for your intention to be misconstrued or your words to be misunderstood. Often times, the reader will latch onto a key phrase and ignore that reasoning or rationale that surrounded it. This will lead to time lost, while you find yourself arguing about something that had nothing at all to do with what you meant, or even what the discussion was about to begin with.
- Re-read EVERY text before hitting send. A coma is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack, off a horse, and helping your Uncle jack off a horse. The internet is full of examples of autofill or autocorrect hijacking a conversation in the worst possible way. As if communicating through texts wasn’t a minefield in itself, we have a little helper changing our words without our being aware that it’s even happened.
- Double-check that you are in the correct message thread before sending. Fairly self-explanatory. It happens. You open a text, then think you’re responding to another, only to get a very confused reply from the recipient. This mistake alone can cost you in ways I lack the space and time to illustrate.
- Last but not least, remember why text messaging was created. It’s meant to be a quick communication (i.e. Directions to a party, a thumbs up acknowledging that the dry-cleaning needs to be picked up, etc.), it’s not the place to deal with topics requiring any more explanation than can be summed up in three to four words. With that said, if the topic is fun, whimsical, or erotic in nature, a few more words might be appropriate, but, again, refer to rule #9 before hitting SEND.