New Rules

The tech-enabled mind games of modern flirting suck. Let’s put an end to them.

Adora Svitak


“See, the thing is, he hasn’t responded to me — ”

“So send him another text?”

“No. That’d be double texting.”

Double texting…?” My voice trails off as I realize that the way my cousin said the word left no doubt that this was something I was just supposed to know. Inexplicably, memories of my cousin at thirteen years old, newly arrived from China, come to mind. At thirteen, she was a pigtailed girl more concerned about memorizing SAT vocabulary than the intricate vocabulary of modern social interactions, and I suppose that the two of us, in the odd minuet called growing up, have suddenly switched places.

My cousin — the sophisticated, eyebrows-threaded, nails-polished twenty-something — looks impatiently at her gleaming phone screen. “Never mind. He’s not worth it.” She has other prospects, after all. There will always be other prospects, for this girl with a San Francisco studio apartment more crowded by gleaming shoes than furniture. It’s 2013 and I’m a senior in high school just wondering where I’m going to end up going to college.

UrbanDictionary says “double texting” is “sending two texts without a reply in between.” It seems so innocuous, and yet I recall the way she said it — double texting — like it wasn’t just clueless or gauche, but a crime lying somewhere between death camps and enhanced interrogation techniques.

I quickly gained an education on the new rules of my interactions with the opposite sex. Don’t ever double text. Because it’s desperate. Too interested. You don’t reply to texts and Facebook messages because one, you’re not checking your phone all the time (even though we all know you are), you’re out there living a real life (which you prove by posting copious photos on Facebook while you’re pretending to be offline, whoops), and two, even when you have seen it, you don’t reply because, well, ditto. You’re out there. Not refreshing your messages every five seconds so you can see if he or she has written you. Just so you can ignore them until you’ve thought of a witty yet not try-hard, cursory yet enticing response. It should be shorter or of equal length, never longer.

Never act too into someone.

Don’t show your hand.

Keep your poker face.

Because love, like life, is a gamble too.

The summer I was fourteen, I didn’t think about these things. At fourteen, I was the butterfly who’d scratched and kicked her way out of the cocoon called Really Awkward Preteen Years (see: Facebook profile photo, circa 2008). Most days, I woke up thinking I was still a moth. As the youngest person in tenth grade, I was already resigned to the fate of being everyone’s little sister. When a kid at summer camp saw me in a dark cheetah-print dress, a few minutes before the camp-wide dance, and told me “You look beautiful, Adora!” in a tone of surprise, it was the first time a boy had ever called me beautiful. Maybe if I’d been as jaded as my cousin with four years of college and Greek life behind her, I would have tossed that casual compliment to the wayside as casually as a used matchstick into a trashcan, but at that age, it still managed to light something.

That “something” manifested itself in a heartfelt letter to my camp crush, the night I saw him perform guitar at the talent show. Maybe if I’d known the new rules of how to interact with the opposite sex, I wouldn’t have huddled over a crinkled legal pad with my cell phone screen for light, ball-point pen hovering over that “Dear A…” I wouldn’t have surreptitiously scrambled up the stairs to the boys’ floor to slip that folded-up note under his door. And if he’d known the rules, he wouldn’t have clapped me on the back the next morning and told me that my bravery had earned me “honorary balls” (we’d been making jokes about Freud and penis envy for almost three weeks, so it was OK). If he’d known the rules, he wouldn’t have written me back saying if I were two years older and lived in the right state, he would totally go out with me, signed off with the most inelegantly-drawn heart I have ever seen. Everything about the way we talked was so refreshingly innocent. We weren’t in a race to seem disinterested in each other. We knew we weren’t going to date or anything, but I could still say “I have a crush on you!” and he could tell me that I was okay — “ballsy,” even — and it was okay, and it would be okay.

Fast-forward two years. It’s my first semester in Berkeley and I’m in a room with friends eating delivery sushi at 10pm when I turn on my phone and see a text: “Want to hang out?” It’s from a guy I met at a party, not even one I particularly like that much, but I might go. I’m weighing human interaction against Game of Thrones when my roommate nudges me. “Don’t respond to him right away,” she cautions. “You have to wait at least ten minutes.” At least ten minutes? Somehow it’s happened again: new rules I never heard have been engraved into stones I never saw, and I’m left wondering who exactly my generation nominated to be our Moses.

Why do we torment ourselves with these mind games, these rules like no double-texting, no instant responding? We do all these things because we’re scared as hell. I don’t want to be the first person to capitulate. We have grown up knowing, from enough self-help books or pop culture or relationship gurus on the Oprah reruns we watched on our mother’s laps, that the person who cares less in a relationship — whether coworkers, friends, or lovers — is the more powerful one. But I know from my international relations class that arms races only ever lead to mutually assured destruction. Escalating our levels of nonchalance and apathy will only ever lead to the absence of sincerity. Honesty. Love.

And yet those are the things we all want, right?

Love is not a power play. It’s supposed to make you unsteady, weak, and vulnerable. Lose some of the ground underneath you, so you can find out who to hold onto. It is not desperate to send two texts in a row. It is not weak to say how you feel about someone. Earlier in the month I was talking with a boy I liked, someone who reminded me of crushes past in the haze of fourteen-year-old me’s rosy summer. The conversation was about how hard it was to say no to people (my “boy problems” of the time revolved around me not reciprocating feelings for someone who liked me); and then I looked at him and said, “But I’m bad at saying yes, too. I haven’t told someone I liked them since 2012. There’s something a little f’ed up about that.” Maybe, then, I already felt the ball-point pen of summer camp in my hand and heard the crinkle of legal paper underneath my elbow, because a few days later, standing outside my building talking with him at 5 AM, I said in an overly flustered rush, “Promise me you’ll either make fun of me or forget this 5 seconds — er 10 seconds — er 30 seconds — er 5 seconds — of your life ever happened, but, uhhh — ”

“Just say it,” he said impatiently.

“Okay!” I paused. “Uhhhh…Did you know I liked you a lot?”

“I did not,” he said, tone somewhere between bemused and amused.

“Well. Yeah. Good night!” I said, turning the key to the door of my building (blissfully, not fumbling it), and that was that.

I did not.

It wasn’t exactly my camp crush’s effusive letter but it seemed — normal. My adrenaline subsided. There was no end of the world. No cataclysmic foot-stomping rejection, no “let’s never talk again,” no awkward silence. Suddenly it didn’t matter that he (probably) didn’t like me that way. Just like the end of summer camp, I knew, this time without the boy even telling me, that I was okay, and it was okay, and it would be okay.


· Double-text. Shamelessly. Write people long, flowing, verbose messages if you want to. In fact, send a goddamn letter. I like letters. You can send me a letter.

· It’s completely fine not to respond to something if you’re genuinely busy (and we should all accept that), but don’t not respond to something just for the sake of looking like you have more of a life. You don’t. You’re just more of a jerk.

· Corollary to the above: if you’re genuinely busy, just don’t open the freakin’ Facebook message until you have some leisure time available to respond, because that “Seen at 1:27pm” from two days ago will drive a stake through some sensitive individual’s heart, I guarantee it.

· Addendum to the above: nobody’s perfect, and sometimes we open things by mistake. So if you see one of those “Seen at 1:27pm” things from two days ago, give them the benefit of the doubt and remember that maybe they got attacked by flying piranhas just as they saw your message.

· Tell people you like that you like them. Be honest. Doing the weird texting mind games thing will just waste time and energy.

· By that same token: when you don’t like someone that way, let them know. I have a text that I have used in some shape or form 3 times. It starts off with “Hey, I’m really sorry if I confused you…” because apparently I do that, and ends with “I hope we can still be really good friends!” It has worked all 3 times.

· When someone you like doesn’t like you back, it sucks majorly. I’ve been there; I know. But don’t pursue it, and moreover, don’t complain that they “friend zoned” you. Daniel Radcliffe once wisely said, “I definitely think the idea of the friend zone is just men going, ‘This woman won’t have sex with me.’” Amen, brotha.

· Just be honest.

· Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.