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Rule of Thumbs: Love in the Age of Texting

As I learned, if emotions become involved, texting can quickly devolve into a power play. Because people usually keep their cellphones within reach, angry text forces the hand of the recipient: If you love me, you'll respond right now! It's not the same interruption as a phone call. You can work, watch television, sit in class or talk to a friend while texting.

My single friend Thomas says that "good morning" texts or short messages in the middle of the workday from a girlfriend are fine to let him know she's thinking of him. But receiving a text at 7 p.m. asking "How are you?" is a chicken way of saying "I want to talk to you without actually calling." He says the woman is probably at home willing the phone to ring. Her recourse? A text.

This deranged texting dance doesn't stop with singles. A married friend rolled her eyes as she recounted how her husband, sitting in another room in their house, sent her a sour text after an argument to cancel their night out on the town. It was widely reported that Britney Spears ended her marriage to Kevin Federline via text.

But in text, nuances in tone, mood and intent go by the wayside. Just like the pseudolives of millions of addicted MySpacers, too much texting can create what media theorists call "parasocial" behavior. This term is applied to people who believe that constant virtual contact is more than just pretend intimacy.

In an online and magazine ad campaign, mobile phone company Helio put out guidelines on social etiquette and technology, filled with pop quizzes and diagrams. It includes a primer on emoticons and abbreviations (e.g. YMMFS -- you make my fingers sweat).

The company suggests several texting rules for dating: Don't flirt too long virtually; if someone doesn't text you back in 24 hours, it's not happening; only cowards settle arguments via text, and text breakups don't count.

And the No. 1 text message rule: Keep it short.

The campaign is all tongue-in-cheek, but if you ask me, some people need to pay attention.

I now believe that texting should be reserved for the following notifications: "I'm running late." "I'm outside." "Meet me at [insert location.]" "It's noisy; I'll call you later." "What time are the reservations?"

And yes, "I love you" is fine -- but only if you've already said those words in person.

Natalie Y. Moore is a public affairs reporter

for Chicago Public Radio.

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