When I first started seeing my partner, our virtual relationship was already off to a rough start. I dropped my phone on the sidewalk and watched it shatter. I was a senior in college, slightly reckless and overly ambitious, new to the whole "falling in love" thing. Vulnerability was not my cup of tea — I liked my partner a lot, and that scared me. Fear usually leads me to act like a nervous wreck: sweating, elevated vocal tones, talking with my hands; the whole nine yards. This time, seeing a text from my future partner pop up on my screen manifested my anxiety, promptly throwing the device in the air as if it were a searing hot slice of toast, and watching it crash onto the ground in slow-mo.
That was two years ago, and while I still haven't mastered the whole "falling in love" thing, I'm learning more and more about how to be a supportive, nurturing partner everyday. However, while I do think our virtual relationship has somewhat improved (i.e. we both have working phones 90 percent of the time, and I no longer poke him on Facebook as an icebreaker), we still don't see eye-to-eye about certain technological means of communication. While neither of us are huge texters, he loathes social media platforms and I love capturing #Content. Additionally, I spend a lot more time online than he does (Hey! I work in media — totally not my fault).
I decided to track how much we virtually communicate over the course of the week, and observe whether it shed any light on the nature of our relationship. Over the course of seven days, I would write down every time one of us started a text conversation, sent a Snapchat, or even wrote an email.
The question: What would tracking our virtual communication reveal about the nature of our relationship?
My hypothesis: Tracking our virtual relationship would make us hyperaware of the shortcomings of our ability to communicate as a couple.
Before beginning the experiment, I asked my partner how he would define our virtual relationship. His response didn't surprise me. "We communicate a lot throughout the week when we don’t see each other," he told me. "I am not into texting, nor am I very good with my phone. I text you everyday, which is more than I text anybody else." I essentially took this to mean that my partner doesn't use his phone much, but when he does, it's often to communicate with me. This is interesting to note, because my communication style is vastly different.
Prior to writing this article, I believed that my partner and I were both good communicators, but we didn't text very much throughout the day, because he is very busy at work. It doesn’t bother me very much, because I know how hard he works, but thought there was probably room to text more — especially since I felt we texted much more when we were at school. Going into the week with slightly different expectations of our relationship made analyzing the results of the experiment all the more fascinating.
It's also important to note than no experiment is perfect. Obviously, my partner and I were the controls, but there were multiple variables that could have affected our ability to text. One example of this is our understanding of the experiment. I oftentimes wonder if our mutual knowledge of the experiment made us communicate more or less. We both claim it didn't, but who knows if subconsciously, that is indeed true.
On average, my partner and I virtually communicated eight times a day. This is lower than I was expecting, but now that I can physically see all our texts, emails, Facetimes, Snapchats, etc. in front of me, it feels right. The most we communicated was 12 times, on a Thursday, and the least we communicated was four times, on a Tuesday. We text roughly the same amount on weekends and weekdays. This is surprising to me, as well, since I assumed we would communicate more on weekends, when neither of us are at work. Additionally, we didn't text more or less on the days we saw each other in person.
Moreover, neither of us were more likely to virtually reach out to each other than the other. Over the course of seven days, I virtually communicated with my partner 25 times, and he virtually communicated with me 24 times. This shocked both of us. We both thought that I was much more of a texter than he was, but it turns out our communication habits aren't so far off — in fact, they're pretty much equivalent! I think we falsely believed that I was more prone to texting because I am so much more enthusiastic about technology than he is. Ultimately, our attitudes towards digital devices do not keeping us from communicating efficiently with each other.
The results for the time of day we choose to virtually communicate were less surprising. My partner and I texted twice as much in the afternoon (12 to 6 p.m.) as we did in the morning (7 a.m. to 12 p.m.), and texted three times as much in the evening (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.) This makes sense: We're both aren't morning people, so as our days went on, we began to think and communicate more clearly. Additionally, we text much more when we're off work than we do when we're at work (are you seeing this, @MyBoss?).
The results of this experiment kind of blew my mind. Turns out, we are both better communicators than we believed ourselves to be! Who knew? After reading through these results, I'm questioning the discrepancy between my perception of our relationship and the reality. Prior to conducting the experiment, I don't think I fully appreciated the effort we both put into communicating fully in our relationship. After analyzing the data, I feel comforted by the fact that we're constantly showing up for each other, both on and offline.
Tracking my virtual relationship made me hyperaware of the strength of our ability to communicate as a couple.
The most rewarding part of this experiment wasn't crunching the numbers, doing the math (which, by the way, I haven't done since high school), or even tracking the data — it was having my entire relationship laid out right in front of me. It was taking in all the late-night "I love you"s, the chimes of support and encouragement, the conflicts met with understanding.
After tracking my virtual relationship for a week, I've come to appreciate my partner more than I ever have before. Throughout the course of the past seven days, he propped me up when I felt discouraged. He reassured me when I was met with self-doubt. He texted me out of the blue, just to remind me that he appreciates me. Through tracking my digital relationship, I fell even more in love IRL. And that's something that no amount of scientific data can quantify.
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