On Communication, Texting, and Real Intimacy
Humans are sensitive to language like dogs are sensitive to smells. We take these funny sounds we make or think or read, seriously, like a big deal sometimes. Nations are built or destroyed on them. And new relationships formed. And jokes told, and stories made up…
Most of what I write below is obvious to me, but apparently not to others. I am not unique in sometimes struggling with text-based communication (especially in romantic situations), but at least I’ve examined the issues to some depth (I hope)!…
In these modern times of electronic, computer-based, internet communication of instant blips of text or images, communication has taken on a different form that we are still adapting to. It’s tremendously convenient, useful, and at times fun, yet can bring up difficulties and being lost in illusions in new ways.
The “Bandwidth” of Texting and Virtual Communication
Have you ever met eyes with someone, unplanned, and had an an instantaneous, wordless, timeless connection – a feeling (to try and put into words) of silent happiness, love, a sense of boundless openness? I have. (Of course, it requires mutual openness).
How could that kind of experience of boundless Self-recognition happen between two non-others via text? I am just asking the question – I don’t know all the answers. Let’s explore…
You can see that different forms of communication have more or less mental, emotional bandwidth: text the least, as it is simply black and white letters words and sentences that leave out the rich visual experience through which we sense body language, the emotional and subtle forms of expression (thus emoticons – a thin substitute), and leaves out whatever else comes with being in-person – the whole body is seen, felt if touched… even smells (especially if you’re a dog! 🙂 ), and the “energy” of the encounter, for lack of a better term: what we sense inside about the “other” or situation.
On the inward side so to speak, there is the real heart-sensed connection — or “spiritual” bandwidth so to speak: fullness of expression and awareness, sense of life — it’s difficult to describe, but you know it when you experience it — it goes beyond emotions, though the emotions are involved. It is a sense of expansiveness, wellness, and love in the most general sense. It’s an open question how much of this is possible via text forms: for instance with texting there can be a more immediate response, similar to a phone call, whereas emailing or writing of comments to blog articles is more delayed generally.
While I have experienced the non-dual connectedness from text at times, it seems more available and immediate through the broader channel of being in-person or in a video meeting, or on the phone compared to texting. Being with someone physically (you don’t have to talk necessarily), talking in person has obviously the most emotional and spiritual bandwidth, potentially. Of course a connection where both are open is the best: if someone is really “in their head” and closed (identified with thoughts), then it’s one-sided at best. But even then body language conveys a lot.
And then some people are just not very good at writing or putting thoughts in a linear form, and their texts are confusing and ambiguous (even more so than the rest of us struggling-to-be-human 😉 ). For these folks, conveying simple things like photos of food they like, or comments on places they visited, are better. 😉 🙂
For one thing, in texting with a human friend (or posting to social media – but that’s another question), we can tend to say things that are (seemingly) more intimate or internal to our minds in a way with than in person or on the phone – we are talking to our own mind, basically. And we can get to this pseudo-intimacy quickly. But it is, or can be, deceptive in the sense that it is not the kind of intimacy that is necessarily empathetic. We may not be feeling or sensing where the other person is “at” subjectively. It may be intimate to our own mind, or imagined, and they (our friend) may be good at playing the mental game as well, which helps build the illusion. Yet it is a house of cards built on sand, this quasi-intimacy. It is not a solid-from-the-heart intimacy.
Texting and social media posts can be or become mere self-promotion: attempting to create or maintain a self-image. In other words it can support and amplify a false self, ignorance of the real (we see this in the public sphere, with politicians and the divisiveness of the culture).
Texting is conducive to being very “mental”: an identification with thinking; down in the weeds, focused, not-present or contracted feeling (to write and to read). This is not a value judgement, but an attempt to contrast it with the experience of wholeness, of coming from that “space” of self-awareness, or realness, connectedness, reality, of loving communication – not so easy to describe.
A Great Tool
Texting has it’s place, is a useful and wonderful modern tool, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t convey feeling very well (thus emoticons) or one’s intention. It can be ambiguous in meaning.
Some things are not appropriate for texting, if they are “sensitive”. To use an extreme example, obviously it wouldn’t be appropriate (and you wouldn’t want to) text your child that you are getting a divorce! You might want to text them “I’d like to give you some news, please call me…”. Another example of “sensitive” interpersonal communication would be an issue an employer has, and they want to talk with an employee about their behavior or performance. Another example of a “sensitive” situation would be a friend that said something that triggered a reaction, and you want to check out what happened, clear the air… you could maybe clear it up via text, but it’s better, and you have a better chance of real connection, a better time, and a pleasant outcome, if done in person, or on Zoom, or on the phone. And of course any really in-depth conversation about a subtle spiritual, philosophic topic would be best done in another medium.
A Little Story of Text Love & Disconnection
A friend had the experience of feeling they had a strong heart connection, and a potential for a certain kind of relationship, possibly an intimate one, with a person on the other side of the country. However they had only texted with and been in online group meetings with, but had not met in person yet. Complicating matters, my friend felt they could not broach anything of a more intimate nature until they saw them in person, or in due time, given the social (a meditation-spritual group), professional, and family contexts … they felt they needed to see what developed first. In addition, they felt a bit shy or hesitant – perhaps had a fear of rejection, disapproval, doing something inappropriate, etc. They got to the point of saying “sweetheart”, “darling”, sending hearts to each other… but it was all more in fun it seems… when they finally met in real life (“real life”) after almost a year of texting, the other person acted distant, cold… and my friend realized the “real connection” was a mentally-created feeling and a set of expectations and imaginings.
This is the “danger” so to speak, and what I mean by “mental” (an example of it, one type, of projection) and the limits of text. It turns out this other person was just very social, expressive psychotherapist, had strong spiritual thoughts or feelings, expressed them openly in endearing sweet ways, but spread themselves thin among many friends and a large family (and perhaps was a little manipulative or exploring and probing, or unconscious – who knows). They did eventually form a great friendship – but my friend had to get past or drop all mental forms, rules, expectations, etc., and see and understand the other person more in context of living, beyond texting.
Speaking of this kind of dynamic, those who have tried online dating have many stories like this to tell! Things are not what they seem…
Texting and Dating
On a more positive note, the example of asking someone on a first date would also obviously be better, more “appropriate” in person, and more connecting and more fun that way (not to mention have a better chance of happening!). Second best would be on the phone. This all depends on that illusive thing called “chemistry”, what signals you pick up, and if it’s been found to be there in person; and is assuming of course you are in a good state of mind when you talk.
If it’s not a first date, or, you’ve already built some feeling connection, trust (non-other-ness) and a decent level of understanding — the sense we are “on the same team” — or you’ve already agreed to go, than in that case texting would be appropriate for communicating practical details, such as where and when to meet, or what type of food you want, what restaurant to go to, that kind of thing.
And even if you were married or in an established pattern of going out, wouldn’t it be “juicier”, more fun and lively to ask your partner out via a telephone call, what with all the subtle and sweet and fun possibilities of voice intonation and feeling that voice provides? It beats emoticons any day. 🙂 Yes, pretend you just met — and in truth, isn’t every moment fresh and new, the past just a memory — it’s all happening Now, Baby!! keep the “romance” alive! Compared to that, a dry text, asking if they want to meet for dinner is so boring, remote, dry and business-like!
Texting To Keep One’s Distance, or Ease of Use
Sometimes we use text to keep others at a distance, more or less, for various reasons, conscious or unconscious. It could be because it’s more convenient, it’s easier to not be live but allow an independence from time: you don’t have to reply to a text right away. Or, there may be un-dealt-with feelings with a family member or friend. Or maybe it’s someone you just met and you want to keep it cool and casual, or they are a mere acquaintance, not a friend; or it’s just a “functional” text, about some information you wanted to send them, etc. And texting is convenient for business communication, not requiring as much energy as being “live” and on the hook on the phone, a captive audience so to speak. The phone is simply not needed many times.
Spiritual Meetings (Including Meditation, Yoga, Satsangs…) and Forms of Communication
This observation about “bandwidth” and connection also applies to spiritual meetings, satsangs, and meetings with teachers or gurus and other groups that are dealing with “inner” stuff, and to varying degrees with self-help or transformational psychology groups (depending on the emphasis on awareness versus merely changing the contents of the mind). Of course, if your only option is online meetings, then that is what Life in the moment is providing, so no worries: it is meant to be. It’s what you need at the moment, because that is what Life is doing. Why fight? Why be in conflict with what Is because of some mental idea of what you want or what you think should be. Indeed, acceptance (not resignation) is in the nature of life, the open welcoming of is what is real yet invisible; trusting the intelligence of life it is not a doing or practice.
And we can be in different “stages” or states with a friend or intimate or even a teacher: if there is already a heart connection, texting is less potentially fraught with ambiguity or trickiness, because we “get” and “trust” the (non-) other. With a beloved family member for example, sometimes just an “I love you” once a week or month, perhaps after sharing a photo, is all that’s needed. This type of inner connection with a friend may require already having some physical time together (the highest bandwidth), depending… though all of this is variable of course – but you know it when there is a real or heart connection. Communication is much more free, effortless and simple in this case.
There can be an early stage though, such as with a new friend or a relationship, where one is still establishing the deeper sense of connection, or if there can be one, or does not even know the nature of the connection (is it a friend, teacher, lover…? All names and concepts in any case… we are all ships passing in the night yet utterly connected, some butterflies come into our lives than pass out… ), where it can be more demanding as you “tune in” and come to understand each other. Or, if there are some rough spots to get past* (and sometimes those are the deepest or the most growth friends/intimates too!).
So in the early stages, the more high-bandwidth time the better – be it in person, on zoom or phone. Texting is a last resort, is “shallow” or “narrow” bandwidth.
*Residues: patterns of reaction, beliefs, opinions patterns of reaction, Vasanas (in Hindu philosophy), conditioning from the past, rough spots, blind spots… we all have them. 🙂