3 Dots, 1 Million Thoughts: The Anxiety That Occurs Between Texting


Regardless of what anybody might tell you -- including yourself -- texting is stressful.

Over the past couple of years, the line separating “real life” conversations from virtual ones has become blurred – and more or less congested with emoji.

This generation can't just shrug off the significance of SMS communication and wait until we see someone in a face-to-face setting; it has become increasingly more difficult to say – hey, it’s only a text message – when those same text messages have become acceptable as viable forms of evidence in the highest courts of law.

Texts aren’t “just texts,” anymore – well, technically, they are – but it has gotten to a point in our use of them that we can’t regard them as such.

If you’re courting a girl you met at the bar last weekend, and you’re trying to get in touch with her – how do you expect to accomplish this?

Are you going to send her a letter? An e-mail? Will you stake out her apartment – which you stalked down through a variety of social media platforms (including LinkedIn)?

Of course not. You’re going to text her – and it doesn’t mean you’re any less chivalric than the next man. In fact, thinking like that, you’ll probably just end up missing out opportunities.

By pushing virtual forms of communication away, you’ll ultimately be “cutting off the nose to spite the face” so to speak – nobody will miss out in the end except yourself.

Having said that, in order to accept text messages wholeheartedly, you’ll have to accept the emotions that accompany them, as well.

In the same way you might’ve stressed out over asking a girl you liked to lunch, in person, during your middle school years – be prepared to recapture those pressures from behind the screen of your smartphone.

And those pressures – unlike the texts themselves – are not virtual. They’re real, and supported by science.

In line with Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD., of Psychology Today, texting becomes all the more stressful due to the lack of in-person cues that face-to-face conversations provide.

Things like sarcasm and playful vulgarity can easily become lost in the vortex that is cyber-banter. The difficulty doesn’t end there, either.

According to a recent NYT piece, not only is "texting anxiety" a real thing, but the anxiety experienced in between text messages is a real thing too.

As Jessica Bennett writes, the “little grey bubble with the ellipses” – that rears its ugly face every time the person you’re texting is typing – can be a source of stress, all by itself.

Yep, that “little bubble” might cause more stress than even the most sentimental SMS messages themselves – regardless of who’s even sending them.

Sure, it might seem a little peculiar, that’s fine. But it’s also probably something you experience within the privacy of your own phone screen, too.

Here’s why.

It’s the calm before the storm.

The “three dots” let you know something is coming and, at this point, there’s nothing you can do that will stop it.

When you’re in the heat of an argument with an ex, or a current girlfriend, and you say something you kind of know will set her off – when you see those three dots – you know that the ticking time bomb you might’ve set off is about to blow.

The three dots are the source of so much stress because they’re also the source of the unexpected. It’s no different from those agonizing few hours before a crucial exam you might’ve taken back in college, or even in preparation of college.

Once you actually take the test, you might realize you worked yourself up unnecessarily given it’s rather light nature.

Regardless, you still pulled back-to-back all-nighters in preparation of a few “Good Will Hunting” caliber questions built into the “reasoning” portion of the exam – just in case.

You don’t want to “step on anyone’s [conversational] toes”

The three dots signify, “Hey, it’s my turn to speak, and I’m working on it.”

It’s pretty much the iPhone equivalent of opening your mouth to say something – except it takes a whole lot longer to execute the action, and sometimes it could also just be the result of a device malfunction.

Regardless, the importance of the three dots is to cue each participant of a conversation to halt while the other gets fair time to reply.

In theory, it’s designed to prevent anxiety – especially that which supplements two people on opposite pages of the same conversation.

However, when people are engaged in a discussion that may become heated, those involved might throw caution to the wind and type away regardless of some “little grey bubble” being present on their screen.

Those who do abide by the code of proper text etiquette, on the other hand, will wait while the other person finishes texting. Like I mentioned earlier, however, sometimes this bubble will materialize by mistake, or by malfunction.

In that case, people could be watching this bubble for upwards of 30 minutes expecting a novella to get replied back – only to realize they wasted their time.

That could definitely get stressful, and it’s pretty hard to avoid. I guess all is fair in love and texting.

The “I wonder if (s)he saw me typing?” notion.

Further stress can ensue from the other end of the phone, too. Look, let’s keep it a Euro with each other here, there will come times when you just want to ignore someone.

Maybe you aren’t feeling great, and don’t want to bother explaining to your boy six different reasons you’re not going out tonight. Maybe your girlfriend sent you a message to get coffee and, realistically, you’re just trying to turn down for a little.

Regardless, once you press a button [specifically a button on the virtual keyboard] while on the “dialog” screen of your text messages, this will leave the “little bubble” present on the screen of your partner.

At that point, the jig is up – they know you’ve a.) seen the text, and b.) could respond, and you probably just don’t want to.

This creates something of a “hot potato” effect every time you receive a message you don’t generally want to respond to.

You might hear it vibrate and place it down like a piece of fine china just to avoid any chance of clicking a button on its way down and blowing your cover, in the process.