How Does Texting Change Throughout A Relationship? A Linguist Explains
When I’m first getting to know someone, I often find myself overthinking every single text I send to them. Anybody feel me here? For instance, I sometimes dial back the number of emojis I send, or wait a certain amount of time before I respond to a message. But when a relationship becomes more secure and vulnerable, my texting gets more authentic to me (read: emojis and GIFs everywhere). My own personal experience has led me to wonder… how does texting change throughout a relationship? I reached out to Michelle McSweeney, a researcher and linguist who studies the way we communicate digitally, to help me answer this question. And as it turns out, your texting patterns can tell you a lot about how much your relationship is progressing.
Whether you meet someone on an app or IRL, you probably start out by texting them casually about what you’ve been up to each day. Then, things become more personal over text as you start learning more about each other. “Texting changes as the intimacy level increases,” McSweeney tells Elite Daily. “As the relationship becomes more solidified, the texting becomes less novel.” Don’t expect your texting patterns to stay the same as your relationship undergoes big changes. And that’s a good thing! Your bond will grow and develop, and your texting will change to support that growth. Here’s what to expect from texting at each stage of your relationship.
First Few Dates: Friendly Banter
When you’re first getting to know someone, most of your texting conversations will probably be centered on getting to know one another. “[Texting at this stage] tends to have more of a play on words, more jokes, and more references to activities that the couple does together,” McSweeney explains. Sure, you might be putting your best foot forward and not revealing certain details of your life, but that’s to be expected in any early relationship.
Unfortunately, this is also the stage where you’re probably feeling the most stressed about texting your partner. “This can also be a time of the most misunderstandings, and unfortunately those misunderstandings can lead to relationships ending,” McSweeney says. She explains that it’s important to make sure that your texting compatibility is on point. Do you use a ton of emojis? Write ‘LOL’ instead of ‘haha’? Learn what your partner’s habits are so you can better understand them. Every person has their own unique texting style, and it can take a bit of time to get used to someone else’s. While texting in an early relationship is fun, it’s also loaded with pressure to communicate in a way you both can understand.
“Unlike in face-to-face conversations, where it is possible to get some feedback when someone misunderstands, in texting, that feedback can be very difficult to interpret,” McSweeney explains. It’s easy to miscommunicate because you can’t read each other’s facial cues or inflection (so it’s hard to interpret someone’s mood over text). The more you can pay attention to (and communicate about) each other’s texting styles, the more comfortable you’ll feel as you get used to each other.
Honeymoon Phase: Flirty Conversation
Once you’re feeling more confident and secure in the relationship, you and your partner will fall into a texting rhythm, full of inside jokes and personal references. “This is different and distinct for every couple,” McSweeney explains. Depending on your shared interests and style of texting, your communication might be full of GIFs, cultural references, and emojis — or it might be super straightforward and to the point. Either way, you understand how you both like to communicate, and you expect subtle cues from one another… maybe a daily ‘good morning’ text, or a heart emoji when you’re missing each other.
“There's no blueprint for how texting looks at this stage,” McSweeney tells Elite Daily. “It is more of a fingerprint, highlighting the unique and varied story of the couple themselves.” Just as your relationship is unique to you, so is your texting style. You play off each other in a way that no one else does.
Long-Term Love: Specific Connection
When you’ve been together awhile, your texting styles probably feel very familiar. “Some research suggests that romantic texting slows down at this point as practical texting takes over,” McSweeney says. You’re putting in the work to show each other how much you care. You may also start texting about more practical or domestic things, like who’s picking up groceries this week or what’s on the menu for dinner.
This isn’t to say that texting becomes more boring as you become more committed. Instead, think of it as a way of maintaining the closeness and intimacy you’ve built together. “While a long-term committed couple may just send a message here and there to say ‘thinking about you,’ research also suggests that these messages are essential for maintaining that bond,” she says. You’ve developed a solid routine, and this consistency is one way of showing each other that you’re dedicated to maintaining your connection.
Maybe the coolest thing about your texting style as a couple is the fact that it uniquely yours. “The texting style, inside jokes, and other quirks of each relationship help to create what's called a ‘play frame’ — a micro-world that texters can exist in together,” McSweeney explains. It’s built by the two of you and based on your personalities, interests, and the tiny, individual things you have in common. It truly is like a fingerprint! And just like your love, it’s bound to change over time. Think of your texting as a secret language you and your boo can share — and even if no one else understands it, you both know that it’s part of the bond you’ve built together.