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Nine days into 2014 and I seem to find daily articles rooting for a break from our phones. One of the central claims that these articles make is how phones take away from our relationships, especially our romantic ones. While I definitely don’t disagree with this, I wouldn’t say that they are necessarily harmful if used wisely. Like everything else, it’s all about the balance.

In grade 12, my anti-technology-extremist-French-teacher said to the class, “Those of you in relationships, please tell me, wouldn’t you rather see each other in person rather than have a practically virtual relationship?”

That’s simply not how it works, or at least not how it’s supposed to work. Face-to-face is not a logistically realistic option for many couples, especially younger ones or those in long-distance relationships. Texting can add another means of connecting in a relationship, in tandem with other mediums and face-to-face interaction, and it doesn’t have to take anything away, as long as:

  1. Don’t overdo it. Space is crucial in any relationship and just because you are not physically together does not mean that you have space. Although texting is a great way to keep in touch daily, share exciting news immediately, or make plans, always being available takes a bit of the spontaneity and interest out of a relationship. It’s a sure way to make room for boredom. Even in long-distance relationships, it’s important to really take a break sometimes and go do independent things with other people.
  2. Talk only when there is something to be said. As someone who cannot stand small talk, I will rarely text anyone unless I am interested in the conversation. This stands for my relationship as well. We had been texting (lengthy conversations) daily for about 17 months when the first lull hit in the summer, and we freaked because we had never run out of things to say before. But that’s okay (as long as it’s not all the time; if you never have anything to talk about, that’s a relationship worth reconsidering). Conversation, and texting, doesn’t have to be 24/7. Comfortable silence, at least for me, is much preferable to forced talk. Now there are days we only text to say goodnight and others when we text from morning to evening.
  3. Important conversations/arguments happen in person. I have been dumped over Facebook the day my.. person.. boarded a plane across the Atlantic ocean. I still wish I had gotten the chance to punch him then, but that’s probably why he made that decision. Even though thoughts can be much better articulated and polished in writing, and there is time to reflect and distance to hide behind over text, in-person is still the best way to communicate for many reasons.
    1) Two-thirds of communication is non-verbal. It is so easy to deny, lie, or give off a different (perhaps unintended) impression virtually. Misunderstandings happen so easily this way.
    2) Raw emotion. There are no masks and nothing is lost in translation.
    3) Immediacy. You can’t run away in person, and that eliminates the nerve-wracking wait for replies and the possibility of being left hanging without an answer.
    4) Atmosphere. Physically being present makes a huge difference during crucial times because our emotions are heightened. We may think that our feelings for someone are gone, but just one hug could be enough to pull us back. Seeing the other person, being with them, and physically making up or walking away adds a crucial dimension.
  4. Don’t grow dependent on it. Don’t freak out if there is no response in an hour. Come to see it as a casual method of communication, not a priority.
  5. The ease of in-person conversation doesn’t get lost. Texting should never become the preferred medium.
  6. There is enough balance between other mediums. Seeing each other in person should obviously remain the ideal. For long distance relationships or very busy/difficult times, video calling works too and phoning also still exists.
  7. Phones can be put aside when it matters. This varies according to each person’s definition of “when it matters” (i.e. dinner, bedtime, etc.) and should be communicated clearly and adhered to.