Figuring out someone’s texting habits can tell you a lot about them. Texting is one of the primary ways people talk to each other — especially during the day when they’re each busy doing their own thing, or during times when they can’t see each other IRL. Every relationship develops a pattern of texting that’s unique to that particular couple and how they communicate. But if you’re dating someone who only texts to make plans, you may be wanting more from them. How can you find a cadence of texting that feels more… well, natural?
I’m not the biggest texter myself, but I find that once I get comfortable with someone, I open up more via text. That doesn’t necessarily mean I text them constantly, but it does mean I text with a less critical eye toward what I’m typing. When I first met the guy I’m currently dating, I spent a lot of time crafting messages to him, thinking, “Do I sound too formal? Too chill? Am I texting too much? Too little?” Now, 10 months in, we’re sending each other dog photos and funny tweets we come across each day. It took us time to develop a rapport and routine that works for us.
All this to say, it can take awhile for your partner to open up to you via text. So if you’re in a new relationship, be patient and see how things unfold. But if you’ve been dating someone for months and you feel like your texting communication is still lagging behind, this could mean a few different things. “If you partner is just a formal writer, using text messaging at all may be their casual form [of communication],” explains linguist and researcher Michelle McSweeney. “It could also indicate that they are using language style to show respect.” But formal communication can also be used to keep someone at arm’s length emotionally. “There is a fine line between respect and social distance, and this is where it becomes confusing,” McSweeney says. “In this case, you need other clues, such as how you feel face-to-face, and if they rarely or never share personal details.”
If your partner never opens up to you, it might be time for a bigger conversation about emotional availability. But if your relationship feels honest and vulnerable in real life, yet stilted and awkward over text, your partner probably just isn’t a natural texter — they’re not trying to intentionally withhold their feelings from you. In this case, it’s worth having a face-to-face conversation to tell them you’d like to text more often.
First, McSweeney advises that you should decide what you need — would you prefer to be texting constantly throughout the day, or do you really just want to feel more connected to each other while you’re apart? “These are different things,” she says. “Neither one is the right answer, of course, but it's important to know what you're really looking for emotionally, not just on the surface.”
Once you’ve determined what’s most important to you, help your partner understand what they can do to support you better. “If you really just want assurance that they are thinking about you, it's completely reasonable to ask them to send you a couple texts throughout the day,” McSweeney assures. “To get started, these can even be pre-planned together.” While it might sound strange to plan out your daily texts, this can help you set a pattern that will grow into a natural routine. Maybe you’d love to receive a heart emoji in the afternoons, or even a simple “thinking of you” while you’re at work. If your partner knows this would make you happy, he or she should have an easy time accommodating your request. And who knows? It might open the door to more open-ended conversation over text.
If you’re really set on having constant communication throughout the day, this will take a little more work as a couple. “Helping to think of topics may make it easier for [your partner] to meet your needs,” McSweeney says. “If it's really important to have them spread throughout the day and your partner is the type who literally just forgets, get creative.” You can set alarms to remind you to check in with each other, or tie your texting to times when you’re eating and drinking. Again, don’t worry if this feels uncomfortable and strained at first. “Performing the actions to meet the need is the easiest way to scaffold it into becoming a habit,” McSweeney says. As with any learned skill, practice leads to progress.
McSweeney also notes that couples often mirror each other over text — so if you want your partner to text you more casually, start by being more casual yourself. “If you use an emoji, over time they might, too,” she says. “It's all about creating a safe space where you can be yourself and the other person can feel free to express themselves, too — in whatever form that may take.” Every relationship has different texting patterns, and it’s really impossible to set pre-existing norms for what this should look like. But with openness and maybe a bit of intentional work, you can break out of that formal texting rut and start understanding each other... emojis, dog photos, and all.