Real Men Don’t Text:
a new approach to dating
“Wanna grab a burrito tonight?” The melody of the Atlanta Symphony’s instruments flowed through the auditorium as I stared at his message. I’d been nervously clutching my phone for the past ninety-eight hours. Four days and two hours of uttering the words “call me” into the air. I didn’t have high expectations for dating at twenty-three, but a last-minute text containing the word burrito wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. If you’re breathing and female, you’ve been there—waiting for a call, a text, an e-mail, even a tweet—some sign he’s still alive. And those are always the days when your mom decides to call you five times and your grandma rings you to ask if you’re still single. Or, if she’s like mine, she calls to tell you you’re single because you “park with too many fellows.”
Mr. Burrito had already taken me on one date, and from my perspective the evening had been perfect—the flowers, the moonlit walk after dinner, the almost kiss at the end of the night . . . the whole shebang. Burritos in an hour didn’t quite measure up to that display, but like we all do some- times, I brushed aside my concern and grasped at any indication he might like me. I wanted to shout, “He loves me!” right in the middle of the symphony, because who doesn’t fall in love after experiencing the glory that is a salsa bar? Burritos equaled love in my book.
So there I was, in a swanky black dress and heels, listening to songs from The Sound of Music—being summoned by the tap of his thumbs. Did I want to fly out of the symphony and meet him for a burrito? Of course I did. He wouldn’t text me if he didn’t like me, right? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone on a date before Daniel, so I needed to take every chance at love that presented itself to me. But did I really want to blow off my family to show up to an establishment where my entrance would be announced by a loud chorus of “Welcome to Moe’s!”?
I called my sisters into the lobby right smack in the middle of the rendition of “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?” and they graciously—albeit annoyed that my relational drama was keeping them from hearing about the nuns’ problem-solving skills—listened to me debate how to respond. The old Ruthie would have texted back and dropped everything to meet him for a burrito. She probably would have kissed him after the date too. I’d had my share of relationships—a generous term for what was actually happening—in which I fully embraced this new path to love in the digital world. I’d respond to texts, Facebook messages, and late-night calls, but it never ended well. I wasted years sitting by a phone, a computer, waiting for men to show me I was worth loving. If only I had known the truth.
Armed with my share of heartbreak, I knew I wanted to try dating differently . . . but did Daniel have to be my first attempt? If I told him I was busy or if I asked him to call, would I miss my chance to date him? Would I scare him away? Would I ruin the chemistry we had? Was it a big deal to meet him for a burrito? Could it be that he wasn’t calling me or asking me out in advance because he was intimidated? We always want to be the exception and make excuses for men, don’t we?
I took a risk. I told Daniel I couldn’t be there on such short notice, but to call me because “I’d love to see you again.” Over the next month or two, he texted me he missed me, he texted me to invite me to a party, he texted the weekly “How are you?” message, but I stood strong in asking him to call. We never did have a burrito.
A New Approach to Dating
I had zero guarantees that my love story would turn out well. I envisioned myself sixty and single overhearing friends at parties chuckling with their husbands about how I dated all wrong.
But despite how hard it was to walk away from potential relationships that felt good now, I set standards for my dating life—because I didn’t want several “fun” relationships or a great time on spring break. I didn’t want a few weeks of flirty texts and pseudo-connection. I wanted one relationship. I resolved to date differently because I learned the hard way that how you date and especially who you date matters. No exceptions.
The truth is, my low self-esteem made it hard for me to believe I even deserved a good man. Could I start over? I didn’t know what the future held, but I did know that it was worth a shot to regain my confidence by setting standards for my dating life. I needed to protect myself from jumping into relationships that might keep me from meeting and marrying the right man. Allowing myself to be treated as an afterthought—or worse, a playtoy—bred insecurity and relationships that were doomed to fail. Accordingly, I set basic rules for myself:
• I would not accept dates made over text or social media.
• I would ignore all the late-night calls or texts and decline all last-minute “hangouts” or “dates.”
I wanted forever with someone, not just tonight. I soon found a way to weed through the guys who weren’t interested in more than a hookup: a simple phone call. It took many single years of imagining myself as a cat lady with my mom remaining my emergency contact, but eventually Michael came into my life and never stopped calling.
“Miss You, Baby”
Safely on the other side of marriage, I started blogging about my not-so-glamorous dating mistakes coupled with small lessons and victories I’d learned along the way. I didn’t know if anyone would listen, but as it turned out, there were many women who could relate. My in-box became overloaded with e-mails and comments about heartbreak and confusion and terrible, horrible, no good, very bad relationships.
I heard from women who were frustrated with men who seemed unable to plan ahead. Women who wondered if their dating lives were destined to center around text messages and last-minute “dates.” Women enchanted by men who vanished into thin air without a word. A high school student told me her prom date announced his arrival with four letters that popped up on her phone screen: “Here.” One woman wrote in and said, “But we talked all the time and hooked up several times—and then he just . . . stopped. I really thought we were going somewhere.” I heard stories of men announcing their undying affection . . . in a tweet.
Another woman wrote saying she caught her live-in boyfriend cheating on her with a coworker and stayed with her cheating boyfriend because “he promised to change.” I heard from women who are in long-term relationships with men who can’t seem to muster up the courage to put a ring on their finger. (Eight years—really?) Some of the most heartbreaking e-mails I receive are from women sending boyfriends naked pictures, or sexts, because “it’s what everyone does” or “he loves me.” I’ve heard stories of men ending relationships over text, saying “I love you” for the first time over text, and reentering the scene after a long period of silence with something lame like “Out tonight?” or, my personal favorite, “Why haven’t I heard from you?” Men are forgoing the for- mer coming-of-age landmarks—mustering up the courage to ask a girl out, walking her to the door, looking in her eyes and engaging her heart—and women are left confused, if not incredibly disappointed.
I don’t know your exact story, but I do know that you most likely picked up this book because you have ques- tions about how to find love in the world of texting, Twitter crushes, and online dating. Maybe you are at a place in your life where you can’t take one more ounce of heartache and are eager for a new dating strategy. Maybe you just went through a breakup and wonder if texting, sexting, and the instant gratification of it all was the demise of your relationship. Maybe you can’t remember the last date you went on and are convinced chivalry is dead. Wherever you are in this confus- ing dating climate, I want to let you in on the ending of the book before we even get started. Love is not hopeless! In fact, chivalry isn’t dead; you just need to put down that phone and set some standards for your dating life—fully embracing the new rules to find love.
“We wrote letters for two years, and he phoned me and said he’d met another gal.”
My grandmother shared with me one chilly Sunday afternoon the story of her first love breaking her heart. Her light-green eyes were surrounded by wrinkles representing years of love—years she’d spent married to my grandfather. She saved the letters from her first beau until she married. Interestingly enough, she and her friends used to sit in par- lors discussing a man’s intentions based on his letters.
For generations men and women have communicated through the written word. Now, we analyze electronic mes- sages. How long did he take to respond? How many exclamation points did he use? He said he missed you—no way! “Texting is just how people communicate” is the number one excuse I hear when I challenge women to stop conducting rela- tionships via text. But how’s that normal communication working out for you? Truth be told, what the culture tells us is “normal” does not normally end in a lasting marriage. Advancements in technology have made communication easier, but with this ease comes a shift in relational expectations.
Modern communication is not harmful in itself; we just need to be mindful that text messages don’t always translate well into relationships.
Have you ever put on your detective hat to read through a string of messages for a friend to determine where the relationship is going? We’ve all done it. The first “message” Michael sent me was on Facebook. It read: “Hi, Ruthie. It was great to connect with you and hear about all your travels. Keep me updated.”
KEEP ME UPDATED?! I read his last sentence at least nine hundred times and copied and pasted his message into an e-mail to ten friends begging them to tell me “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”—in all caps, mind you. I remember reviewing over and over that he wrote “Hi, Ruthie” with no exclamation point, which clearly meant he wasn’t excited after writing my name—which could only translate that he just wasn’t that into me. Or was it that he didn’t ever use exclamation points? Or maybe he was trying to downplay his sheer thrill about my awesomeness. Trying to figure out men’s intentions can make you feel a little nuts.
Let’s look at some reasons why you should say no to texting:
• Texting is easy. Easy isn’t bad; it just means you can’t—or shouldn’t—start circling dates on your calendar for a summer wedding because he spent three seconds texting you. The thirty-five messages that “blew up your phone” may simply mean he has quick fingers or he likes the attention (more on this from Michael in chapter 2).
• Texting is not a real connection. Text-based relationships can bring a false sense of intimacy—the same way following your favorite blogger doesn’t mean you actually know him or her. It’s easy to feel exhilarated and even connected by rapid-fire, flirty text banter, but text chemistry doesn’t hold any weight offscreen. Too many settle for this emotionally addictive buzz in lieu of a real connection.
• Texting affords both you and him the ability to be someone you’re not. The person on the other end of the message may be completely different than he appears on-screen. You might be wearing text goggles. But just like if you were under the influence of alcohol, you need to take the text goggles off before you imagine he’s the one for you. Moreover, lots of men know what women like to hear—“I miss you” or “I wish you were here” messages from a man who is not making intentional dates with you are meaningless. You heard correctly: meaningless.
• Texting handicaps the communication necessary to build a healthy relationship. As does social media. Have you ever noticed how people stand around in a class or outside a meeting room and everyone is head down in his or her smartphone? We’re losing basic communication skills because we’re always plugged in. Had many tough conversations over text or e- mail lately? Yes, it’s common to hide hurt feelings and harsh words behind screens. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Jay Cutler, the quarterback for the Chicago Bears, recently proposed to his girlfriend over text . . . and mailed her a ring(!). Communication is one of the most important aspects in a relationship that withstands the test of time, and carrying out the majority of your relationship over a screen means you are headed for dangerous waters.
Happily Ever After . . . Eventually
What if there is more to this dating hoopla? What if chivalry isn’t dead? What if you change the way you date and who you date now to save yourself a great deal of heartache and prepare for an unbelievable future with one man who will make you believe in love all over again? What if you didn’t have to spend one more night crying your eyes out or living with regret over your past relationships? You, dear sister, were made for more than messy hookups and disappointing relationships.
I know it’s scary to hold men to standards, even small ones like phone calls and planning in advance, because we think these measures will send a great guy running. Even though relationship books for centuries have told us the opposite, isn’t there this idea that if we “play it cool” and don’t act like “all the other crazy girls” then a man will see we are different, laid back, and we’ll live happily ever after? But this casual approach is just a way for men to get what they want without having to commit or really step up to the plate. It’s a trick certain men have conjured up to keep us where they want us—available, nondemanding, and easy. I know how it feels to desperately want a man to like you, but if he’s not calling, the writing is on the wall: he’s just not into you. Setting standards will not scare the right man away, I promise, because men respect women with standards. Let him know up front what you expect and see if he’s ready for the privilege—yes, you heard me, privilege—of dating you.
You really don’t need to spend another minute analyzing his messages and waiting around to see what will happen. If you are unclear about his intentions, simply ask him to stop texting. Ask him to meet the standards you have in order to protect yourself—more discussion to come in later chapters—beginning with a phone call. It’s a start in wading through the sea of nonpotentials, the men who don’t care to get to know you, because most aren’t even willing to call. If you don’t set standards for yourself now, it will be easier to give in to texting relationships and compromise in other areas. You will regain days, weeks, perhaps years of your life if you begin to require more from a guy than a lazy message that needs the decoding skills of a Communist spy.
Michael and I share a new perspective on love, sex, and relationships to help you prepare for and find that one relationship we all desire. It’s hard to wait for Mr. Right— but you deserve more than pathetic attempts at dating. We accept the kind of love we think we deserve, so in later chapters we’ll talk about the “why” behind the tendency to date losers or jerks. We’ll discuss how to find your worth, even if you’ve been told for years that you aren’t worth anything. At the end of this book, we can’t guarantee you’ll meet the man of your dreams, but you will know who you’re looking for.
Here’s a thought to consider: let’s say you started dating at sixteen. You’ll date for six, or maybe ten, or maybe fifteen years or more. But you’ll be married for four, five, if not six decades. Decades. You may date for one decade. You’d like to be married for five or six. It’s tough to feel like you’re missing out now by dating differently, but you know what I can guarantee? You will never look back and regret taking every relationship seriously. You won’t find your husband and wish you had kissed more guys or had more “experiences,” whatever that may mean for you. I cannot tell you how many men I let grip my heart, and in turn they squeezed it nearly to death. I’m speaking from a deep well of mistakes, but also from a place of answers. It’s never worth throwing away the best years of your life, married to a man of your dreams, because you want to be with someone now.
A year or two after the burrito message, I heard Daniel was engaged. I was still single and wondered if dating differently was a huge mistake. Would I be single forever? But then I noticed something. His fiancée was one of those who frequently posted details of their love story on social media, and I couldn’t help but notice he seemed different with her. I just had the sense he wasn’t texting her at the last minute or going days without communication. I wondered if he would have strung me along for a few years until he met her—because as Michael will share, if a man really likes a woman, nothing will get in his way.
Another year passed without more than a handful of dates, and then I met my guy. Michael Dean was more than I’d hoped and dreamed to find in a man—what if I had settled? As it turned out, burritos don’t equal love after all.