It’s finally happened! After kissing so many frogs, you’ve found somebody with whom you can truly connect. You’re laughing way more than usual, and even when you’re not, you just can’t help smiling.
Your opinions have been challenged. Your perspective is fresh. Gosh, this person just gets you. He’s a vegan, does weekly beach clean ups and recycles everything. He couldn’t be more perfect, plus he’s gorgeous. More importantly, he makes you feel gorgeous, too. And the banter is spot on. It’s constant. In fact, come to think of it, your whole relationship is based on that: the banter between you.
Because although you feel seen, more so than ever before, this potential soulmate of yours has never actually seen you in real life. Sure, they’ve seen your photo. Maybe a handful of them, but it isn’t actually a relationship. It’s a textationship!
If you’ve fallen head over heels while chit-chatting with your fingertips, you might know what this means. A textationship is a form of relationship, but one that is entirely based on texting with little or no face-to-face interaction. This kind of romance begins within the world of online dating and continues without moving forwards and well, meeting.
And for some experts it’s the ultimate time-wasting relationship trend that’s worse than the situationship – where couples are ‘seeing each other’ and one of them refuses to put a label on it or even get emotionally involved.
Textationships are an even more confusing phenomenon where Millennials, Gen Z and even older demographics are left wondering what are we as they try desperately to take things offline to the next level – with little or no success.
‘Textationships involve communication and emotional connection without any, or very little, physical intimacy or face-to-face contact. This type of relationship can be seen as a form of virtual romance, in which partners rarely meet in person,’ Jessica Alderson, relationship expert explains.
You could say this started way before the digital age, when writing letters to your love interest was considered romantic. Except, that was more commonly known as an epistolary relationship, in which the primary means of communication is through letter writing mostly due to travel being difficult or phone calls a luxury.
In a textationship, your love interest might live just around the corner. And if they have good enough signal to text, they’re likely able to answer your call. At least with a phone call you can hear each other’s tone of voice. The communication is one step closer to being real. But instant messaging is only words. Short sentences. Quick hellos. Emojis. The ease of it can lead to confusion creating a bond of weakness rather than strength.
It first became a thing when Blackberry phones were all the rage and anyone could talk via a free messaging service to anyone if you knew their BBM pin. ‘I’d meet a guy while out with friends and we would share our pins,’ says Lucy, a project manager who now lives in Dubai.
‘We would start to chat via Blackberry Messenger. It felt safe and it was a good way to break the ice before going on a date with someone new. Eventually we’d meet up but the banter was never as good in real life as it was on BBM. The expectations were high and met with a low. I realised I was wasting a lot of precious time sending messages just because the setup for it was easy.’
BBM and pin-swapping came and went pretty quickly. But along came other means of easy text communication. MSN Messenger was already well established and Facebook Chat was becoming everybody’s favourite way to connect. Old school friends reunited. Long lost buddies struck up friendships again. Flirting felt kind of innocent. Online chatting isn’t real, is it? Only it was for some.
‘I fell pretty hard for someone I met on Facebook,’ Celine, a Dubai-based interior designer, admits. ‘I thought I’d met The One. Only we never met. We just had the best chats. We talked about meeting up, planning the perfect time, only when it came to the crunch, he backed out. I never heard from him again.’
Nowadays you’re more likely to be asked for your ‘snap’ than your number and the younger generation think it’s normal to talk to multiple people at once to see if one stands out in the end, or if they all fizzle out. ‘It’s exiting,’ says Annie, a sales executive in her mid 20s. ‘It’s like being courted by lots of suitors and it gives women power to decide who, if anyone, they really like. It’s fun being pursued even if it is via text – it makes me feel wanted which boosts my self esteem even if it doesn’t go anywhere.’
But that’s not a textationship – which is where a couple text constantly and one of them (invariably the woman) gets in too deep. That’s because textationships can be addictive. They enable you to fantasise about the person you’re connecting with and create perfect scenarios in your mind as to how this could play out.
You feel like you really know each other, and yet, it’s the mystery that keeps you hooked. A boost of excitement kicks in whenever your phone pings and your imagination – perhaps, dangerously – fills in the blanks. The fantasy becomes more important than the reality.
And while technology has taken dating to a new standard, making texting the primary mode of communication it shouldn’t be the only way we connect with each other. A relationship that is purely based on texting with no face-to-face time surely is going nowhere?
After all, according to a 2019 study published in Communication Studies, face-to-face relationships result in better relationship quality than primarily text-based relationships.
But for Helen, 32, who recently moved to Dubai from London her textationship stopped her from feeling lonely and homesick. ‘I had something to look forward to every day,’ she says. ‘Seeing his text first thing every morning made me so happy. For me it was special and the relationships meant just as much to me as ones I’ve had in real life.
‘I really needed someone to be my rock and because I knew there was no chance of meeting up as he was in the UK and I was in Dubai it meant I could be more honest and open up in ways I never had before.’
But it’s not so easy for everyone. Last year, business owner Amira wanted to put herself back out there after getting divorced. But the whole dating game was wildly different to the last time she had been single. ‘I found myself in five different ‘relationships’, all of which involved only texting and no dates,’ she says. “And I discovered that I was just as flaky as them. If they asked me to meet in real life, I’d panic and make an excuse. I feared I could never live up to the image I’d created of myself to them over texts.’
So should we be open to textationships or are they just a total waste of time? Here’s how to discover if you could ever take a textationship to the next level and form a relationship in the real world…
Schedule a phone call
Listen to their voice. Make time for this conversation. Tune into verbal and non-verbal signals. Intimacy levels increases greatly once you’re not just typing away with one eye on Netflix. If they make excuses time after time, back away.
Express your needs
Don’t assume that the person on the other end of your quick messages has the same desires as you. Be honest. If you’re cool with simply texting, tell them. On the other hand, if you wish to take things a step further, ask to meet. You’ll get your answer.
Set a deadline
Give it a month. If there’s no real-life date on the horizon, move on. You’re worth more than being left hanging by an emoji or two. Meeting up is a very important part to take things to the next level, and relationship expert Jessica agrees. ‘You don’t have to be physically close all the time—long-distance relationships can work—but you generally need to meet in person at some point in order for the relationship to reach its potential,’ she told HuffPost UK.
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