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How the Popularity of Texting Has Changed Dating

A man using his phone to text someone while using an online dating site.

The way we meet and get to know each other is always evolving. A while back online dating changed the way we connect with other singles. And now, with the widespread of popularity of cellphones, texting has changed the way we date once again.

We took a deep dive into some of the stats from various experts to see just how much texting has changed the way we interact with each other. There are a lot of assumptions made about how texting and technology has changed the way we interact, but after looking into the numbers we found some surprising trends.

Asking Someone Out

Texting has become an easier way to ask someone out than calling them on the phone, but as of 2013 calling someone was still more common than just sending a text. In the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study, they found that 52% of cell phone users with recent dating experience had asked someone out on a date by calling them. By contrast, 37% had sent a text.

Before you say that it’s only the baby boomers who reach out using such traditional methods, Pew found that younger daters (ages 18-29) and the next group up (30-49) are equally likely to have called over the phone. (No surprise, however, that the younger group is more likely to have used texting as an additional or alternate method of setting up a date.) Men were much more likely to call women to ask them out rather than the oppositeinteresting, but by no means surprising. After all, both sexes have had it drilled into them that the man asks the woman out. But seeing as women are just as likely as men to have sent that first date text message, perhaps we’re seeing a change in the tide of women feeling more confident behind their phone screens.

While the Pew researchers had data on most of their questions from their 2005 survey, the data related to cell phones and smartphones was new for the time, as the first iPhone didn’t hit the market until 2007. As of 2013, 6 out of every 10 Americans used social networking sites and more than half were smartphone users. No doubt that number has climbed even more in the intervening years.

Cell Phone No-Nos on the Date

Remember that confidence I mentioned above? As freeing as phones can be in terms of setting up a date, they can also be a crutch once we’re actually on the date. A 2011 Zoosk survey polling over 3,000 online daters revealed several situations in which cell phone users have committed various technological faux pas with their dates:

49% of singles were turned off by an “annoying or obnoxious ringtone.” Similar bad first impressions included a Bluetooth headset (26%), a belt clip (17%), and an ugly phone case (8%). Now, several of these accessories are more than five years old—though let’s be honest, you can definitely judge someone by their cover, i.e., by a tacky or offensive phone case.

68% of daters would prefer you not check in on Foursquare, Facebook, or Yelp. Maybe they don’t want to go through the awkward conversation of “let me friend you on Facebook so I can tag you in my status update” (nope), but most likely it’s the idea that already you’re starting the date by focusing on your social media profile and not the person sitting across the table or at the bar stool next to you.

33% of the daters surveyed said they have left a date because of cell phone usage, saying that the other person was “too absorbed” with their smartphone. Zoosk broke that down even further, polling daters on which phone-related behaviors were the most offensive: constantly glancing at your phone during a conversation (86%); sending a text message (73%); taking a call (51%).

But if we all have phones, why do we find this behavior so aggravating? Because we feel like we’ve made the effort to not focus on our phones, but the other person is not affording us the same courtesy.

To that end, in a 2012 study from University of Essex, UK researchers Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein found that even the mere presence of a cell phone during a two-person interaction eroded the in-person intimacy. The experiment paired strangers in private booths—some with a cell phone nearby, others with a notebook, both nondescript—and had them conduct a conversation. Those pairs who discussed meaningful topics with the cell phone just out of their line of sight later reported feeling a lower quality to their conversation and less closeness than those who had carried on conversations without the phone.

Psychology Today looked into these findings within the context of online dating. Even if the other person doesn’t actually answer his/her phone, the mere presence of a device on the table makes it seem as if the person who put it there isn’t fully in the moment. And why would you want to share personal details or stories when you’re constantly in fear of losing that person’s attention?

Interestingly, Przybylski and Weinstein found that the subjects who discussed a casual topic (their thoughts on plastic trees) in the presence of that unrung cell phone didn’t report the same lower conversational quality. So, if you’re having an boring conversation with a date and you’re also not bothered by them glancing at their phone, chances are neither of you will want a second date.

The “Dear John” Breakup Text

Pew reported that 1 in 6 Americans (17%) with recent dating experience had broken up with someone (or been broken up with) over text message, email, or online message. While Pew had men and women listed as about equally likely to send a breakup text, Zoosk‘s survey reported that 25% of women had dumped a man via text, with only 15% of men doing so.

Less easy to find is data on why people choose the text kiss-off, but I can make an educated guess: It’s the least confrontational route. (Aside from ghosting, that is.) If it’s been only a few dates, with no real commitment made, then texting is a fine method for politely saying you didn’t feel a spark. However, if you’ve been dating someone for a while, the breakup text is the easy way out.

I’d argue that our phones becoming an extension of ourselves is a major reason for online dating losing its stigma; if we treat it like other processes conducted on our smartphones, it seems less foreign or daunting. However, while it’s easier to ask someone out—via phone call or text—because there’s some distance, every step after that should be about bridging that divide and recognizing the flesh-and-blood person on the other side of your phone screen. If you don’t, then you’ll never appreciate a potential partner.

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