Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Curse of Kalimba: "Reach Out and Torch Someone"

This letter comes from a young lady who is having difficulty with her boyfiend. Her discovery of text messages on her significant other's phone has lead to dissension in their relationship. Letter is printed as written, excepting the name.

um well i keep finding text messages that i dont like. this girl that likes and is messing with his friend has texted him and said things like "where r u", "are you coming" "just us" now his phone doesnt show the sent messages so i dont know what he said to her. but when i asked he said that he is not cheating and all those kind of text were when his friend was there. and im not sure what to believe. it has cause multiple arguements. i just dont know what to believe anymore.


The new technologies of communication are a wonderful advancement when used for good purpose. It also becomes an opportunity for predatory and exploitative behavior. Text messaging was designed to be a convenience that allowed us to send messages at times when we are not available for oral communication. It has unfortunately been used for dishonest means and is constantly generating excess "drama" in relationships. The "thumb harp" as I call it is frequently the center of attention when couples present for counseling. Here are some of the aspects of the technology that help fuel disagreements in marriage and committed relationships:

1. Its covert nature, the ability to send messages in private, allows and even encourages someone to to reach outside their own morals and values as regards commitment.

2. Its covert nature, the ability to send messages in private, allows and even encourages someone to to say something they normally would not over the phone or in person. It is an impersonal medium often used to say very personal things. One client told me her boyfriend said "I love you," for the first time over text. That guy needs to get a pair (not of ipod headphones either).

3. Because there is no tone or inflection of voice as in when talking by phone or in person, it is harder to decipher meaning, especially with emotional content. This can also be manipulated by the sender, who wants to keep you off guard by sending a message that can be interpreted multiple ways, to keep the receiver off guard or "played." For instance, "do you really want to see me?," Could be said in an enthusiastic or sarcastic tone. It is up to the listener to interpret meaning which could later be denied by the sender. Text messaging was invented to convey information, not emotion.

The constant use of text, email or instant message to address important and intimate meaning is, pardon me, just chicken-shit. Linguist and media theorists call this "parasocial" behavior. These are people who believe that constant virtual or digital correspondence is more than just pretend intimacy. It is shallow and lacks real meaning.

4. There is the matter of digital evidence being left behind. Just ask Kuame Kilpatrick. This can also be manipulated by the owner of the phone. Purposefully leaving an easily recoverable message for their partner to uncover to create turmoil or draw attention to themselves. I know it is immature and tactless, but it does happen.

As it pertains to Tara, she has bits and pieces of a conversation and only one half of a two way communication. If her partner is in a committed relationship with someone he really has no business giving his number out to another available female, unless it is related to his work. If his friend wants to text this woman, he can get his own phone. If this friend already has a phone, Tara's SO's explanation for the messages is pretty lame.

If these discovered messages are creating that much tension as to threaten the relationship, perhaps you should both consider canceling the text service for awhile. It may be an inconvenience, but it would be worth it if it made for a healthier relationship.

Discussing the meaning of this commitment might also be helpful. Mutually agree on what exclusivity means in terms of interacting with others who might propose a threat to your union, with both of sticking to it.

Direct, honest and "centered" communication is the key to any relationship, but especially romantic ones. When implemented, the couple can survive the most chaotic and unsettling challenges, even those facilitated by the thumbs.