About a month into dating, I playfully asked my now-husband David a vulnerable question: "So, are we ready to break up all the people we text with?" I said it with a playful wink, but I was nervous inside. It was sort of the modern way of asking "are we official?"
We hadn't talked about these people, but given that we were both outgoing, flirtatious 30-somethings, we both knew they existed. Back before we were dating, while we were "just friends," I'd seen names of girls flash on the screen and he'd turn his phone over the same way I would when one of my texting guys would pop up on my screen. I knew there were some girls out there still hoping... still flirting and texting.
He looked at me and smiled a big huge grin. I knew he was a few steps ahead of me in the "ready to commit" dept. He was excited because he saw this question as I did, a sign that we'd be moving in that "Facebook-official, you and me forever, you're going to meet my parents soon" direction.
"Oh, you bet!" he laughed as he answered, "Absolutely. You too? How do we do this?"
"I don't know, I guess the next time 'they' text, we just explain that we're not going to continue to be in communication because we're in a real-deal relationship? No need to send what would feel like a presumptuous random text ending a little flirt-texting relationship, right? I mean, it might sound weird if we just did it out of the blue..."
"No, I think I'm just going to go ahead and send out a few texts right now."
"Oh, OK then, me too... but maybe I'll wait for a few of them to text me first."
And we did just that. We told each other about each of them. We had a good laugh, we respected the past, but also closed the door on it because it was time.
This exchange will be familiar if you've dated in the last five years, but maybe a bit foreign if you've not been part of this digital dating nightmare culture. These people we'd text with were people we'd met through eHarmony or Match, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, random old high school crushes we'd reconnected with on Facebook or those people we met at some party or event thinking, we should go out sometime. They were casual people that we probably knew we wouldn't end up becoming serious with, but until then, they'd been a way of filling in and having a little fun flirting and remembering that there were still some fish in the sea for us.
No one is going to argue that it feels good to get attention from several people at once. I'm not arguing for whether it's healthy or not, but from teenagers, 20-somethings, 30-somethings and probably beyond... it's become a normal dating shenanigan practice to text with 5-10+ people on a rotating, flirting, basis. On an average week it would start something like this in my phone (fake names of course):
I-had-a-crush-on-you-in-high-school-but-we-never-dated-Rick: "Hey beautiful, how are you this morning?"
Brad-who-I-dated-casually: "What are you up to? It's been a while. I miss you."
Match.com Paul: "Thought of you the other night." (Insert awkward picture in front of mirror that I want to delete right away because is so cheesy and desperate)
Sean Eharmony: "Want to get together this weekend? What's your plan?"
Chris-who-never-would-never-ask-me-out-on-a-real-date: "Hey sweetie, how's work today?"
Random-number-I'd-deleted 945-123-4567: "Hey, remember me? I know it's been a while, but I'm single again! What are you up to?"
The attention of "the crowd" on my phone had become something I loved and had grown pretty attached to over the years. I'd give it up, then it'd creep back and I'd think, eh, what's the harm? I'm single, I'm flirting, lighten up. There were pros and cons to the text guys.
It was time to mourn the end of my text boyfriends, because I had found myself with a real live boyfriend who I liked very much. I knew it was time to give this up. It felt scary to me... a good scary. Once the relationship you're in moves to long-term commitment status, it's time to forgo the flirt-texting and focus all your energy on the real deal. Texting is so removed and easy; real relationships are an entirely different ball game... and they don't need this intrusion and distraction.
David's replies to his break-up texts with his text-gals were met with a mixture of:
"Congrats! Happy for you. Wish you well! Who is she?"
"Can we be friends? I swear I will keep it appropriate." (um, no thanks)
"F*&K you, David."
My group of texting men were more cordial farewells. Some of them never replied and went silent. Some wished me well. No one told me to F off, unless you count the silent non-responders.
And that was that. After that, we were no longer getting texts from single people named "John" or "Kate" who just wanted to engage in a little mutual flirty-attention-giving. Did I miss it? Sometimes. It's been a part of letting go of "single-me." Honestly, it was like letting go of fast food in order to eat at a five-star restaurant. Well worth it.
I know some people don't give up their texting people when they get into a committed relationship. I think that's a huge mistake. Real commitment and intimacy only develops when you're all in, both feet in the door. Otherwise, these text-people become like porn, a fantasy waiting to fill in when life is less than perfect with an intimate texting conversation.
It's better to live in reality than "the land of make-believe relationships" on your phone. Relationships take work and leaving your options open, even if only digitally, is a distraction from the work and reward of intimacy. Intimacy takes trust, sacrifice and safety. Can you really provide that for your other half if your phone is constantly buzzing and you're nervously hiding it from view? No way.
Is it time to delete some people from your phone? Time to tell some people that the flirty fun is over? Why not create the space that your real life needs to grow and thrive. It'll be worth it, even if someone tells you to "F&%K off."