We need to talk.
When I came home last night you were in a terrible state. You were curled up on the couch while the E! network played soundlessly on the television. Your brow was furrowed, your eyes watery. Your hands trembled as you stared blankly at your phone, muttering incoherent sentences with a growing sense of urgency.
It actually reminded me a lot of my reaction when Buffy died in the season five finale.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, sympathy and concern dripping from each syllable.
You continued to stare at your phone and quietly answered. “I think he’s mad at me.”
“Who’s mad at you?” I inquired, taking a seat beside you on the sofa. I stroked your hair as you struggled to get the words out.
“My boyfriend!” you finally wailed, clutching your phone in anguish. “Look at the text he sent me!”
I held my breath and prepared myself for what I was about to read. Had he been callous enough to send you an ominous “I think we need to talk” message? Worse yet, he might have simply disregarded all social convention and any shred of human compassion he once had by performing a text message breakup.
I took the phone from your hand and fearfully looked down at the screen.
RECEIVED 04/10/2010 at 11:13 PM
Goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow.
I sat quiet for a moment, certain that I had missed something. But as I looked through your phone at the previous texts, I realized that this had been the end to what seemed to be a very average conversation. You buried your face in the sofa.
“He hates me!” you sobbed into the upholstery.
Normally, I’d attribute this kind of thing to a stressful week and a monthly visit from your least favorite aunt, but sadly this is only one incident in a string of text message misinterpretations.
You’ve been critically analyzing every text you receive, dissecting each missed comma and misspelled word for meaning. You’ll read deeply into a single phrase so that a simple, “What’s up?” becomes an attack on your values and an implicit critique of your weight and taste in clothing.
Frankly, this has got to stop. You’re driving yourself crazy trying to find a motive for every word choice and punctuation mark. It won’t be long before you’re sitting next to a coffin with Michael Douglas repeating, “I’ll never tell” in an eerie sing-song voice.
You need to realize that texting can be a relatively simple affair. Just keep the following things in mind when you hear that little “ding” from the inside of your purse.
Most guys don’t really think about punctuation. Period.
There’s a girl that I once knew, let’s call her Jennifer, who couldn’t quite grasp this particular concept. She’d check in on her boyfriend, we’ll call him Kevin, with bubbly messages throughout the day, trying to convey all of her affection in less than 100 characters.
SENT 11/05/2009 at 10:53 AM
Good morning honey!!! <3
Each text was a miniature electronic valentine, littered with hearts and exclamation points. But often, the response she received was not quite as enthusiastic.
RECEIVED 11/05/2009 at 10:55 AM
Hey. What’s up?
Every time she got this kind of response, she’d get uneasy. He didn’t use an exclamation point. He used period, she’d think. What if he’s not excited to talk to me? What if he’s mad at me???
Eventually, Kevin realized that his punctuation choices were causing a stir. To avoid an argument, he began using exclamation points in every text. It started off innocently enough…
RECEIVED 11/24/2009 at 12:01 AM
Goodnight baby! Good luck on your test tomorrow!!!
But eventually it got ridiculous…
RECEIVED 12/04/2009 at 3:53 PM
Sorry, I can’t hang out later!!! I really need to finish my term paper!!!!! Is that okay?!!!!
Most men don’t look at each period and comma for some deep meaning. And when they encounter a girl who does, it’s about as tragic as watching Kanye West try to sing without the help of Auto-Tune.
You shouldn’t worry too much about the punctuation in texts from your man. You already have enough periods causing you trouble.
Timing isn’t everything
On your way to lecture, you come face to face with the most disastrous thing you’ve seen all month. A passing bicyclist gets his wheel caught in a girl’s leggings, and tears half of them off. Because she had chosen to wear them as pants, she gives half of the students on the quad an impromptu peep show. You’re horrified. You feel absolutely terrible for the poor girl.
Naturally you feel the need to tell someone about it.
SENT 03/28/2010 at 1:35 PM
omg. The funniest thing just happened. Four words: wardrobe malfunction, leopard thong.
You send the text off to your boyfriend and slide your phone back in your pocket before casually sidestepping the carnage and making your way to class. When you arrive, you open up your phone, eager to see your boyfriend’s response.
You’re a little disappointed. Didn’t he want to hear your story? Doesn’t he care about what you have to say?
You try to shrug it off and take out your notebook as class begins to start. But as the professor drones on and on slower than an American Idol results show, your mind keeps drifting to your phone. Twenty minutes into class, you check again.
No message. Now you’re getting angry. He’s ignoring your text! How dare he?! It’s not like his friends’ texts about boobs and videogames are any better than what you have to say.
You finally get a response a few hours later, and by this point you’re pissed. You wait an hour and a half to read it to give him a little taste of his own medicine. After you’ve calmed down a little bit, you go to your message inbox and take a look at what he had to say.
RECEIVED 03/28/2010 at 5:02 PM
Sorry, I left my phone in the library. What happened?
You see, little Miss Interpretation, there are often legitimate reasons that a person doesn’t answer a text right away. He could have lost his phone or have been kidnapped by some Twilight fanatics who mistook him for Robert Pattinson. Yes, it’s possible that it’s deliberate snub, but you really won’t know until you talk to him.
It’s never a good idea to jump to any conclusions until you have all the facts. That’s how so many people end up converting to Scientology.
While communicating a message has gotten much easier in the technology age, communicating the right message seems to have gotten a lot more difficult. It’s a challenge to make sure that you’re conveying the right tone and inflection with everything you write, and it’s often the case that a sending a simple text ends up more like a game of telephone.
And as I learned from Lady Gaga and Beyonce, telephone is not always a fun game to play. Especially when some selfish motherf***er takes all your honey.
So how can we get around this problem? How can we make sure that we interpret texts the right way?
Just go the safe route. Take each text at face value, and don’t read into a text past what is written on the screen. That’s really your only option until phone-makers come up with a way for you to text someone and let them hear your intended tone of voice.
Oh wait. I think that’s called a phone call…