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Text Messaging: Effects on Romantic Relationships and Social Behavior

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Text messaging is one of the foremost means of communication in today's society and has become a primary medium used in romantic and sexual correspondence. As a result, texting has nearly obscured earlier forms of relational communication, such as the written word. While texting enables romantic partners to develop and maintain their relationships, it also may create a potential strain. This research examined the degree to which texting has impacted romantic relationships.

Texting is a relatively new medium, and there is an absence of rules and guidelines for interaction. This absence of expectations may ultimately cause conflict or disappointment in relationships, specifically those romantic in nature. There is no established etiquette for acceptable message length, response time, or frequency of interaction. Users are therefore left to interpret texting etiquette based on their past experience and social cues from their partner.

There is minimal academic research focusing on the effects of texting on social behavior, communication and romantic relationships. Existing research surrounding this medium has included the use of texting in workplace and organizational settings or the sociolinguistic effects of the text message. Therefore, this study attempts to expand upon existing research to focus on the impact that texting has on relationships, specifically those that are romantic in nature.

To obtain data regarding this topic, I performed ten in-depth interviews with four males and six females, ranging in age from 23 to 30 years old. Participants included adults currently in varying relational stages: single, casually dating, in exclusive relationships, and married.

All participants noted numerous benefits to text messaging. Across the board, texting was discussed as a quick, easy, and convenient way to get a message across. One participant noted that it allows him to multi-task, or communicate with his partner while engaging in other activities. Another claimed that it was ideal for making plans, since a text message provides documentation of an address or directions to a location.

While none of the respondents believed that texting is ideal for exchanging important information with a romantic partner, several respondents noted that when they do not have the ability to talk on the phone, important information can be exchanged via text. Important topics exchanged via text message included major successes and failures at work, family and personal issues, and emotions. Several participants also provided anecdotes about arguments or fights that began via text messaging. Each of these text-based confrontations was eventually resolved using face-to-face communication.

While participants felt that texting plays a crucial role in dating, many agreed that it can be detrimental to a relationship as well. When asked if they had ever seen texting have damaging effects on a romantic relationship (or a friend's relationship), every participant answered yes. One aspect of texting that respondents agreed was harmful is when partners read each other's' text messages. In this respect, texting provides a written record of communication, and can also provide evidence of secrets or indiscretions. Four participants admitted that they regularly monitor their partner's text messages.

Overall, this research concluded that text messaging has vastly influenced social behavior and communication. Every participant in the study uses texting as a tool to maintain their relationships, whether to stay in contact or express emotions. As dictated by both the media ecology theory and my participants, text messaging has a profound impact on society. As a principal form of communication, participants noted a mutual understanding of response expectations, symbols, and diction that is unique to texting. Participants shared interpretations of emoticons and female participants similarly deciphered a lack of response to a text from a potential romantic partner as a form of rejection.

However, this research revealed that texting cannot be the primary mode of communication in a romantic relationship. Participants placed a high importance on face-to-face communication and voice communication, ranking them as richer forms of communication. Respondents expressed that these two forms of communication are appropriate for exchanging important information, while texting is viewed as a lesser alternative for a significant exchange. Text messages are also not necessarily true reflections of users' instinctive thoughts. As discussed by participants, messages are often edited, re-read, and even written by other people, which supports Berger and Calebrese's principle that people can reduce uncertainty using active strategies. Participants solicited opinions and advice on what information to include in a text message, which can skew one's perception of the true person behind the message.

During the early stages of a relationship or in casual dating scenarios, texting is an ideal mode of communication as it helps reduce uncertainty and lessen anxiety. As participants noted, once a connection is established, additional forms of communication are introduced. However, while texting is an ideal way to express quick bytes of information or arrange face-to-face meetings, participants are well aware of the dangers of placing too high of an emphasis on texting. Face-to-face communication and human interaction are still extremely important in any relationship. With the high risk of misinterpretation and the ambiguity within the concise messages, facial expressions and vocal inflection are still the only ways to truly read emotion. While emoticons may help further express feelings, partners still need physical contact and quality interactions to maintain relationships.

Several patterns emerged in my data that are worthy of further research. Based on participants' answers, it seems that the generation gap provides vast differences in style and understanding of text messages. This topic could yield new discoveries regarding how individuals of different ages utilize texting. In addition, emoticon use, as it becomes more prevalent, would be a worthy research focus. Particularly, one might research gender differences in emoticon use and the use of emoticons in romantic or dating scenarios.