Using Tech to Romancify Your Life, part 2

Surprise! You thought you’d have to wait until Friday to get the second part of that last Love post, didn’t you? Au contraire, mes chers lecteurs! The fact is, the second part of that idea about romancifying your life is related to more of a general practice, so you get it fresh on Monday to try out for a week and see if it fits.

Filling in the Blanks

Remember that the second part of romance was overreaction to miscommunication. People make mistakes all the time, and while it’s true that words have meaning it’s also true that meaning is subjective. In a low-bandwidth message, the tendency is to supply the missing information from our imagination.

This means we put on a soundtrack: tone of voice, maybe a soundtrack. We imagine the persons face as they say the words they typed. We put in body language, probably some kind of outfit, and maybe even the company of other people as the message was sent.

What are the odds that any of that is actually accurate? Pretty slim. But it’s very hard not to do that. If a text is simple enough or well-written enough that you can’t mistake the meaning, it may not be so dangerous:

Would you like a hamburger for dinner?

I’m really busy but I wanted you to know that every time I think about you I can’t help smiling. In fact, I’m grinning like a fool as I type this.

Our daughter decided to drive your car into the neighbor’s koi pond.

Those aren’t usually the kind of texts that lead to romance. Not even the middle one; it’s sweet, but it would be rather difficult to take it vindictively (unless you’re already really embroiled in romance).

Less is More (Dangerous)

It’s the more brief texts – the very reason people use texts in the first place, because they don’t have time for voice – that cause the problem.

I can’t make dinner tonight.

What are you thinking?

I wish you hadn’t made plans for tonight.

Depending on your own frame of mind, these can be innocuous, or they can be playfully flirtatious, or they can be passively-aggressive and accusatory. The more we use general terms for deep subjects, the more likely they are to be misconstrued.

And that’s where the romance comes in. You misunderstand the statement, that tone starts rolling around in your mind, and pretty soon you’re caught in a Lady Gaga song. Your mind starts having conversations with this imaginary person who not only gives you the chance for perfect rebuttals but also probably continues to say horribly terrible awful things until (still in your imagination) they suddenly see the error of their ways due to your devastating logic and beg for forgiveness and reconciliation.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that there ain’t no blue fairy? There ain’t no imaginary person, either. There is a real person, someone who never actually said the thing you thought they did. There is a real person who has no idea that you took it that way, and who is likely to be very confused when you confront them with your interpretation.

The conversation that follows is very  unlikely to end the way the one in your head did.

It goes the other way, too. A friend of mine from New York started dating a woman long-distance, in the midwest. They would chat, and my friend had to learn the hard way that New York City “It’s fine,” is very different from Bloomington, Illinois “It’s fine.

Some of my readers are nodding their head, understanding exactly what I mean. Others are confused. “What’s the problem?” they say. “If she said it’s fine, then everything is fine, right?

All I can do is shake my head and suggest you never try dating a person from Bloomington, IL in a long-distance configuration. Sometimes assuming the positive tone of voice can be as misconstrued as the negative.

I'll have a double-shot of satori, hold the foam...whups, gotta take this.

Buddha Text

The answer to this dilemma comes from Buddha, who invented the instant message (just read up on any account of “dharma transmission”, you’ll see what I mean). It’s the simple principle of non-attachment, as applied to social media.

Simply put, when someone sends you a text, or an instant message, watch how your brain interprets it (because it will interpret it) and then strip away the things that don’t actually apply. Does the voice in your head sound smug? Sarcastic? Angry? Sexy? Note that; your instincts may be right. That’s not the point; the point is that those little digits on your phone do not give you enough information to know. You can find out later what they meant; for now, just sit there and let the words mean what they mean. They can’t make dinner tonight. They can’t stop thinking about you. They found the video game you wanted.

Less romance in your life, yes. Sorry about that, you won’t get to be the cover of a bodice-ripper in the checkout line at the grocery store. But if you manage to strip the attached emotions from text messages, one of three things will happen:

  1. It was meant negatively, which means you will find out in a calm state, not in the first rush of defensive fight-or-flight adrenaline, and increase your chances of finding a constructive avenue of approach to the problem.
  2. It was meant positively, which will be a pleasant surprise and treat.
  3. It was meant neutrally, just the way it was written, and you’ll grow a reputation as an unusually level-headed and perceptive individual.

Really, there’s no downside.

That’s the challenge for the week: not to stop attaching tone to text, because that’s impossible. But notice what you attach to the messages you receive, and see what that says about your outlook, about your own thoughts, and about your relationship with social media in general.


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