Opinion

I Thought I Hated Texting, but I Was Just Doing It Wrong

As a millennial who preferred phone calls and IRL convos, I thought texting was the worst. Then I discovered the art of long-form text messages.

texting

Back in 2020, my mother caught COVID-19. Ever true to the Vietnamese parental philosophy of not burdening others with one’s own suffering, my mother withheld her illness from my sister and me. Then one evening, I received a text message from her, informing us in her typical understated fashion that she was sick, unable to breathe, and didn’t think she would make it through the night. Fortunately, my mother has since recovered, but I often wonder why she chose to deliver such shattering news not over the phone but through text.

As a millennial, some of my fondest memories consist of hours-long phone conversations with my high school best friend. Whether on the house phone or my cellular flip phone, I’d grown to associate these calls with intimacy. Text messaging, on the other hand, always seemed more like fast food, trivial bite-size bits consumed as quickly as they’re disregarded. As this communication method grew in complexity and popularity, my mild dislike metamorphosed into an aggressive aversion. Once sacred and profound, language was becoming increasingly commercialized with artificial intelligence that invaded my sentences, my thoughts with predictive text and autocompletion, and companies bombarding my phone with messages of sales announcements and coupon codes.

I now see how text messages can bridge the gaping disconnect imposed by the pandemic.

But at the end of last year, my husband and I abruptly moved out of our Brooklyn apartment to a new home in upstate New York. I found myself surrounded by trees and sequestered from my friends, colleagues, and the barista who knew my latte order by heart. No longer bound to the frantic ebb and flow of the city’s constant activity, time suddenly stretched forever. My days felt longer, my nights almost infinite. Craving the in-person, in-real-time conversations I once took for granted, I now see how text messages can bridge the gaping disconnect imposed by the pandemic and draw my loved ones and I closer together.

With my friends more than a six-hour drive away and phone calls and Zoom meetings demanding more of my time and attention than ever before, I began composing novel-length texts consisting of three paragraphs or more, often sent in a single message bubble. My first message went to my cousin and childhood best friend in Vietnam. To my surprise and delight, my lengthy texts were met with thoughtful lengthy responses.

When I received an aggressive comment from a stranger online that sent me spiraling down, I messaged another close friend. For three days and through dozens of hefty paragraphs, we granted one another the space and grace to gradually unfurl my rage, anxiety, and shame before shifting to her own inner battles. In more than eight years of our steadily growing friendship, I learned more about her during that text conversation than I had any other time.

“It gave me perspective,” my friend said, reflecting on our exchange. “I got the opportunity to learn what I think from writing to you.”

We granted one another the space and grace to gradually unfurl my rage.

And so I finally surrendered to the form, texting with my whole heart about my struggles adapting to country living and my newfound loneliness and isolation. As I offered more of myself through text messaging, something I’d previously felt familiar with and comfortable doing only in person, my friendships also blossomed like never before.

Gone are the days of lengthy, meandering phone calls made to fill the space of adolescent boredom. I now spend a majority of my adulthood juggling various tasks, errands, and personal and professional responsibilities. But these text conversations have helped me reclaim some of that lost intimacy. Texting allows us to express ourselves more authentically because it is like writing in a journal or speaking to ourselves. We could all benefit from extending patience to our inner thoughts, ruminating over our sentences, carefully considering each sentence as we search for the best words to express ourselves.

If we allow ourselves the time to compose a long and thoughtful text, we wouldn’t have to send hundreds of disjointed ones only to still feel misunderstood. The goal of communication is not only to be noticed but also to be connected. We should all master the art of slow, long-form texting. It shows the recipient that we have shown up to engage in a mutual dialogue, to listen, to learn, and to love.

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