Digital Age Relationships Part 2 : Misread

The irony of the relationship I had with my friend (which has now broken down) was that it began and ended primarily because of the internet and social media.  With regard to it ending, I think that was partly down to the ability to easily misread words without the context of body language.

(As an aside, I also love the irony that “misread” can be read in two ways!)

I met her on an internet dating site.  I used internet dating as a tool to meet new people but I was hoping to meet “someone”.  I wasn’t looking to expand my social circle with people of the opposite sex and I wasn’t just looking for “fun” in the colloquial sense.  I wanted to find someone who I got on with and to see where it went.

After one date I got the standard let down of “I think we’d be better as friends” but we did carry on talking over text message until eventually meeting for a coffee a month or two later.

Online communication was a stand out feature of our relationship.  I’m not saying that it was a pillar or a cornerstone, but it was important in how we were.

When we were still friends, I kind of knew that my friend was dating though I was never sure when considering how often and how much we spoke or saw each other.  I would look for her online status on social media to see whether I would be interrupting anything by sending her a message.  My rationale was that if she was online or had been recently, she wasn’t with anyone who would take offence to her being on her phone or computer talking to me.

I think we probably both made the same assumption having misread that all a green light, a blue tick or a timestamp means is that a service is being used or has been used.  It says nothing about our company, location or circumstance, although I will admit that Facebook’s ability to say whether someone is on mobile or computer is a bit of a giveaway.  In the same way I thought that an offline status meant that she was in the presence of some amazing guy, I think she thought that my offline status meant I was lonely for not talking to her.

We would talk for probably 3 – 4 hours a night using either Facebook Messenger (so she could use her computer to type) and WhatsApp when she went to bed with her phone.  Sometimes it would not be consistent communicating, but it would happen continually between finishing work and going to bed.  There were, however, two very interesting examples of “issues” we had with this form of communication.

In the summer of last year, I went out on a work leaving do one night.  I didn’t tell my friend.  I didn’t keep it from her, I just didn’t say in the same way that other friends don’t tell each other every detail of their lives.   That night, she sent me a few messages that became increasingly urgent and questioning (not the right words, but the best I can think of) as I didn’t reply or even leave them blue-ticked on WhatsApp.  She ended with hoping I’d had a good night wherever I was and I replied when I got home.  The next morning I got a lot of questions about where I was and who I was with which, at the time, felt weird to me because it felt like checking up that I wasn’t with someone else.  Perhaps, again, we both misread what happened and drew conclusions.

The second instance probably began the end of our relationship.  When I’m at a football match with 44000 other people my phone’s data signal is intermittent at best rendering WhatsApp virtually useless.  I’d got some messages late and so seemed “distant” one night, so the next time I went to the match I let her know that I might be off radar for a while.  Fate of circumstance caused her to be very angry and upset by that message and me to suggest that she doesn’t message for the two days until her work was finished and then we’d talk about it.  (More about this in a later post.)

However, another aspect of our online relationship was our respective blogs.  We had a complicated relationship.  At various stages there were feelings from both sides.  I also think that there might have been some sexual tension (at least from me) in that maybe if we had got that far things might have been easier between us – to have been there and done it rather than be left wondering and the itch would have been scratched.  However, just as she admitted thinking about feelings for me and moving on, so I had done the same until things got odd.

I wrote a post in response to a Daily Prompt talking about my future.  (Honestly, read that post from the link to see how tenuous the connection she made actually was.)  She misread herself in to that, thinking that she was the wife I referred to.  To be fair, her and I had spoken about owning huskies together and travelling to New York together, so it possibly wasn’t too much of a stretch for her to be in my perfect picture.  It was and still is, however, a picture that I had with or without her.

Although she later went back on it, she’d written a few posts about me.  The first was where I was a rock keeping her in one place for the first time in her life, and she quite liked it.  One said that if you like someone, you should kiss them (inviting me to kiss her).  Then came the one explaining how I was dehumanising her and thinking that she was more than she could possibly be.  They were all virtual communications that should, in hindsight, have happened in person.

I can’t find the study, but I once read that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word, with 93% being based on nonverbal body language.

It’s quite a paradox that, as I demonstrated, modern technology can make us feel so connected but potentially more disconnected than ever before.  If we miss 93% of the context of the communication, are we actually communicating at all when we’re trying to do something as important as build a relationship?

Focus seems to have moved from the quality of the communication to the timelines and the quantity of it.  For social media to not actually make us less social rather than more, we rely on the communication being a genuine representation of thought and feeling.  Without authenticity, it’s easier to misread tone, capitalisation, short responses and emojis as well as those blue ticks and green lights.  We draw conclusions from staggeringly little information.

Social media and virtual communication was great for me in maintaining contact with friends while I was away from home.  It’s also great for talking to a friend on the other side of the world and those in another country.  It was brilliant to be able to wish my friend 40 miles away a good night and hoping that bed bugs don’t bite, but no smiley emoji will ever replace seeing her smile in person and in hindsight I wish I’d have spent more time seeing that smile rather than imaging it in front a lit up piece of glass and metal.

Me being the geek I am think that we should always take advantage of the brilliant technology we have on offer but we mustn’t do that at the expense of losing touch with the most important and precious relationships we have.

I should have drove all night
I would have run all the lights
I was misunderstood
I stumbled like my words, did the best I could
I ‘m hanging outside your door
I’ve been here before
Misunderstood

I stumbled like my words, did the best I could
Damn, misunderstood
Intentions good.

Misunderstood by Bon Jovi


If you haven’t read part 1, maybe check out Ghosting.

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