Do you remember the pager? That little device you’d call, it’d buzz the owner, and you’d wait for them to call back? Mostly used by doctors, pagers ushered in a manner of communicating we’ve become all too accustomed to. We post something on Facebook or Instagram, get likes, sad faces, and ‘congratulations!’ We text into the void, hoping our partner is looking at their phone at the same time, ready to respond with clarity, understanding, and empathy. It’s like, abandoned on a desert island, we put a message in a bottle and toss it into the sea.
Many of the couples I see recount recent conversations they had where feelings were hurt and they found themselves mired in misunderstandings. The first question I ask is, ‘Was this face-to-face?’ Most say these conversations were text-to-text over the course of their day. When they are eventually face-to-face, they’re frustrated and resentful, feeling misunderstood and unheard. They struggle to communicate their feelings in person. Miscommunication isn’t new; we’ve always found it easier to communicate indirectly, become distracted, and avoid deeper interactions with each other. I imagine a caveman gazing at the latest cave paintings, then suddenly feeling his partner’s icy stare as the brontosaurus roast gets cold.
Direct communication requires us to be vulnerable, which can be hard. We usually choose an easier route. But this is where the problem lies. We want both to be heard and understood, and to protect our most tender feelings. This struggle is especially present in our close relationships. It’s easier to use the technology available to us to convey our emotions. This is problematic, because it is extremely difficult to convey how we’re feeling through technology. Emojis are meant to help us convey what we’re feeling, and sometimes they’re accurate (who hasn’t sent that vomiting one?) but many times, they’re inadequate or inappropriate.
If your friend texts that their loved one died, texting back a saddy face with a giant tear may be the correct emoji according to your keypad, but it’s inappropriate for the situation. You may actually be sad with a giant tear on your face, but in order to convey your emotions, your friend should feel this from you; hear if from you, in your voice. Just because your friend texted this information to you, doesn’t mean you must respond with a text. You have an opportunity to elevate the conversation to express how you’re feeling about their news; an opportunity to connect with them on a deeper level. I would hope you’d pick up the phone and call them.
When we text we could pause: ‘Is this appropriate to text or should I call, or wait until we’re together?’ Just pausing this way, considering an appropriate level and medium of response can help us convey what we really want to convey in appropriate ways. By doing this, our conversations can evolve quickly into feeling more heard and understood by each other, avoiding hurt feelings and connecting in ways that texting can’t provide. Elevating conversations allows more openness and vulnerability, which is how we connect with others.