Shoot the Messenger

I love texting. I love all its variations. I love WhatsApping and Facebook Messaging and Twitter DM-ing. At work, I love Slacking (to all the people I distract every day: I love you, I’m sorry, and you know who you are).

I love words, and I love written words especially. The urge to write is constantly bubbling up in my brain, and messaging is like the pressure valve that lets it out. If words are a turn-on, then messaging is intellectual flirtation at its best: a constant low-level stimulation, a sort of opening up of the mind to let the meanings flow — frictionless, untrammelled. There’s definitely “messaging chemistry” and God knows how it works or what magic molecules it’s made of, but when you have it, oh, it’s the dream.

I came of age in the era of MSN Messenger, so this messaging addiction runs deep. It was then that I learned how powerful messaging could be when it comes to building a relationship that might be too daunting to attempt to build “in real life”. As a shy teenager it was easier to chat to that cute boy from school on a computer than to ever, ever, ever oh god no never approach him face to face. I’m glad that I was able to grow into myself a little by hiding behind my friends, the words. And behind that shield, I grew up into a pretty confident and happy human.

And yet, I still hide. Messaging has become a prop that I struggle to set aside. Recently I’ve realised that I needed to back away from the keypad. My messaging relationships with people were threatening to develop greater primacy than the real life relationships I thought I was building through them.

This isn’t so much a problem for old or longstanding friendships. Those seem to easily morph and flow across channels, and all your interactions are so free and easy and unthinking that it barely matters whether you’re speaking or typing or just lying on the sofa reading the weekend papers.

But in new and budding relationships, everything is to play for. You barely know each other, you’re eager to get to know more, you arrange to see other at some point in the not-too-distant future and then… well, you wait. Except you don’t wait. Because you can contact them. Constantly. All the time. In fact it’s almost expected that you will. And I almost always will, because — messaging chemistry! And messaging chemistry will mean real chemistry, right?

Well, much as I hate to admit it — no. Sure, the two often go hand in hand, but they don’t always. And when I look back now I can see clear cases where I’ve had so much fun messaging someone endlessly that it undermined the times when we actually met. We couldn’t possibly maintain that fever pitch. We had talked about everything already. Meeting in person became the supporting act to our messaging relationship, instead of the other way around, and that was basically the end of that.

Recently I met someone astonishing, quite briefly and very magically. We didn’t meet and then text a lot and then meet again. We just MET. And we were together, and then the next day I left, and very shortly after he left the city entirely, and there was a before and a during and then an end, and it was self-contained and lovely and singular. And while I wanted him to know that he was on my mind and would stay so for a long time, I didn’t want that meeting to be converted into something so much less — an indefinite series of back and forth messages. That would be a sham of a simulacra for the real thing. And so we are in touch a little, but not a lot, and I am glad.

But these days we’re all messaging so much that to not message someone constantly is almost a snub. It isn’t automatically the neutral stance. I almost felt like I needed to explain this to him. “I’m not messaging you because I don’t like you. It’s because I like you so much.” But that would be messaging, so I didn’t do it. And in not doing it I realised that I was doing something else. I was learning to trust. To trust that he knew how I felt without me having to say so. To trust that I felt how I felt without needing to probe it, interrogate it or prove it all day long. And to know that even if neither of these things were the case, there was nothing I could do with a few lines of text that would change it. And this approach is proving much more peaceful and, fundamentally, much more pleasurable.

I’m not about to stop distracting colleagues and friends any time soon (sorry guys), but I have made some small but significant changes. I’ve turned off notifications for my messaging apps. I’ve hung back from messaging dates before I’ve got to know them much in real life. And I’ve tried to let that urge to write build up inside my brain without opening the messaging pressure value, until it becomes so strong that I have to write — something longer, more difficult but more finally, more rewarding.

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