“Did You Had Dinner?” Why We Shouldn’t Judge Romantic Prospects By the Way They Text

Love and Sex

“Did You Had Dinner?” Why We Shouldn’t Judge Romantic Prospects By the Way They Text

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Unlike conventional millennial norms that pitch dating apps as a constant carousel of never-ending sex, I think of them as the introvert’s opportunity to step out of her cocoon of geekiness. It is an opportunity to “socialise” – something I’ve never done in my life, being mumma’s favourite daughter and a former nerd. After all, who was I to reject the divine advice of Cosmopolitan and Thought Catalog urging me to “put myself out there”?

As it turns out, to reach that point of actual socialising via any such app, requires large doses of that most annoying of modern-day pastimes – texting.

Texting need not be complicated when the matched twosome have a precise command over a language, similar styles of texting habits, and are into each other with the same level of interest. But it turns complicated if any, or all of these criteria are not met – as is most often the reality. Having gone through multiple instances of promising online matches turning out to be dispiriting first dates, I’ve come to realise that it is never two people who match on these apps, it is their textual alter egos that do.

Well, how else do you explain the combined disappointment of this generation’s first dates failing to match up to expectations? Obviously, the expectations would have to be based on what our image of their textual alter ego was – not on who the other person actually was.

The flip side of this modern love story (or lack thereof) is when our expectations are indeed met, or maybe even exceeded. This, if you ask me, is where dangerous territory begins. My first experience of meeting someone off the virtual world happened some years ago, when I met X. I thought we were already off to a good start, since we had spent a lot of time texting (rookie mistake). It took me a year to figure out that the person I’d thought of as kind, gentle, and, caring – based solely on my callow interpretation of that imprudently long phase of textual affections – was actually a compulsively lying and emotionally abusive sociopath.

We’ve broken down the single most important unit of a young relationship – conversation – into countless globules of never-ending banter, spread across an extended timeline.

I’d fallen for his textual alter ego, and since that had seemed so perfect so early on in the relationship, the rose-tinted glasses never left my eyes, and it took me far too long to see the vile truth that had been gaping at me all along.

I’ve come to think that the easy accessibility of smartphones does not allow online dating to be as self-evolving as it can be. We’ve broken down the single most important unit of a young relationship – conversation – into countless globules of never-ending banter, spread across an extended timeline. Send me a cookie if you do this: When you e-meet someone new, you fill every other eventless moment through the day with blasé observations, passing thoughts about minor things, pointless whining about Uber drivers, and other mindless repartee. These are typed out for your romantic interest to devour initially (because of the exciting newness), and ignore or resent eventually (because there is such a thing as knowing someone too much, too soon). I’ve a feeling I will end up with a lot of cookies.

I suppose it makes sense. We are millennials. We see our phone screens first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We cross roads with our earphones plugged in and our attentions plugged out. We need entertainment every morning, even amid the stench of biology doing its work. Then why, oh why, must our minds not be accustomed to judging people by how, when, and what they text, rather than who they are? If there is indeed a way to really know people.

Pop psychology has already theorised about how notifications are now our everyday dopamine fix and social media a channel for our deepest insecurities. Online dating combines them both, by nurturing a rigorous cycle of chasing and being chased that lasts for almost as long as a match does.

Hence, the superfluity of subreddits that ask “is he/she into me?” Hence, our unending conversations about the nuances of Tinder. Hence, our meandering attention that, ever so often, strays from the work screen to the phone screen, in hopes of getting a response or a first text from someone whose textual alter ego our textual alter ego has deemed attractive. Hence, our faux hatred for someone appearing too keen by texting all the time – “faux” because when they stop, we miss their attention, for it was briefly fixing the bruises our impaled ego had suffered by the lack of attention from someone we do like.

The danger I see, specifically in the sphere of romance and relationships, is that we might be reducing people we meet online into blobs of binary code, instead of viewing them as the complex molecular beings we are.

Think about it. That guy you’re not responding to because his ice-breaker is a non-unique salutation could be someone with a vibrant personality or a good heart, who can’t come up with pick-up lines. That girl who seems too eager because she doesn’t wait for too long between her responses might just be a fast texter by habit. That person who occasionally makes a grammatical mistake might be a fabulous football player, or something. You get the drift.

We are doing this to ourselves and we are doing this to each other. We come up with lofty, detailed concepts of who we want, when in reality, we are letting our minds – overfed with pop culture – decide what and who is “cool” and “interesting”, and latch on to it. So someone who kick-boxes and plays the guitar and writes for the New York Times is now an object of our desire, even if they repeatedly blow hot and cold with us. We wouldn’t expect House MD or Sherlock or Light Yagami or Arya Stark to be nice and emotionally available to us. Brilliance and warmth, after all, often don’t go together. Why would we, then, expect the same of our romantic interests?

By all means, do it. Let your subliminal ideas of who is and isn’t interesting shape your love life. But maybe, sooner rather than later, give the person behind the screen, rather than their profile on your screen, a real fucking chanc…

… aaand here comes his text… bye guys!