The agony and the ecstasy of texting while dating: experts weigh in

Vancouverite Vivian Dang, 26 and newly single, has been back on the online dating scene for just over a month and she already feels ready to take a break. 

"It's just exhausting," Dang said over the phone from her office, where she works in communications for a children's hospice.

First was the guy who just stopped texting her despite seeming enthusiastic — a phenomenon known as ghosting

Then there was the guy who texted her nonstop, only to come across as a completely different person when they met in person. 

"I remember just feeling so weird about it," she said.  

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The trials and tribulations of dating, particularly online, aren't new. But singles and experts alike say texting while in the throes of a new romance can pose specific problems.

Clinical psychologist Leora Trub, who researches texting and romance at New York's PACE University, says texting is a casual communication tool prone to misinterpretation and over-analysis in a high-stakes exchange like dating. 

"You think you're being affected by the communication itself," Trub said. "You're actually being affected by the communication medium much more." 

For example, one person may put a period at the end of a sentence because they're into grammar and punctuation. Another person may interpret that as a signal of gravity about the message that was sent. 

Evolving etiquette, cultural differences and unspoken expectations are some of the many issues Trub and other experts highlight with texting while dating. However, they also offer advice for those who are struggling. 

"The future of this is just more open communication about how we use technologies rather than assuming that they dictate our behavior," Trub said. 

'Go ahead and text them'

When Dang starts texting with a guy, she doesn't feel the need to follow any rules. 

"If you like the guy, go ahead and text them," she said. 

Another person, commenting on a Reddit thread CBC News posted on the topic, expressed a similar opinion. 

"I think that 'wait for x amount of days before texting' is bullshit," Reddit user victoria-n wrote. 

Unspoken rules

Yet both of them also expressed some expectations around the rules of engagement. 

For example, they agreed that a few short texts between dates can keep their interest. They also agreed that can be taken too far.  

"I mean, don't blow up my phone with quad-triple texts and get upset that I'm not responding fast enough," victoria-n said on Reddit. "Especially if we don't know each other well."

Trub says unspoken rules like these are part of an evolving etiquette that varies between generations and from group to group — and can easily be misinterpreted. 

"What rule book are we following and how do we know that?" Trub said.

'Everybody's confused'

To avoid that problem, dating coach Deanna Cobden suggests letting the other person know your texting preferences. 

"The reality is, it's up to you," Cobden said. "Because everybody's confused." 

How the other person responds to that request can be a telling sign, Cobden says. Relationship counsellor Edel Walsh agrees. 

Vivian Dang

Walsh says being able to clearly state preferences and negotiate can lay the foundation for a strong relationship. 

"This is the big thing that everybody needs to work on, whether it's dating or any relationship," Walsh said.

All three experts suggest keeping texting to a minimum in the first stages of dating, such as logistics related to meeting in person. 

They say it's always best to meet in real life to get a better sense of a person and whether they're a good match.

Red flags

Cobden and Walsh warn daters should look out for some red flags in a romantic interest's texting behaviour. 

These include include breadcrumbing, also known as simmering — when a person texts infrequently to string a person along — and icing, when someone uses excuses to slow down and eventually halt communication altogether. 

But all three experts warn against reading too much into the content and timing of someone's text. 

Researcher Trub says people can text quickly, which means sometimes not a lot of thought is put into a message. 

'We all want to be loved'

But she doesn't think being hyper-attentive to a person's cues is a problem that's unique to texting. 

"I do think that the anxiety of the early dating phase over text is just a manifestation of the anxiety of early dating phase, period," she said. 

"We all want to be loved and we all want to be cared about, and none of us want to be rejected."

How do you feel about dating and texting? Let me know at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca