Jewish Journal


March 20, 2008



Recently, I met a guy at a friend's party. He had blond, spiky hair and an intellectual's goatee. He was a European student in Israel for the year working on his master's degree researching Palestinian security. While I realized I couldn't count on him for a serious romantic prospect, I gave him my business card. The next day he sent me a text message on my cell: "If you're ever around my neighborhood, give a call or stop by my place for tea, coffee, beer, drinks...."

OK, so was he asking me on a date? Or was this textual invitation his way of saying, "So if you're ever around stop by so we can fool around?"

Sorry, I don't do contextual sex. If he were really interested in getting to know me, wouldn't he have called and offered to take me out to dinner, or at the very least, coffee?

This is not the first time I've been asked out via SMS (short message service). Once a month I get an SMS from a young, somewhat geeky Tel Aviv lawyer who has been courting me for years. The messages usually read: "I'm in Jerusalem maybe you want to do something." Usually I don't reply, not only to protest this lazy approach, but to avoid carpel tunnel syndrome. I don't call back because then he succeeds in placing the expense, effort and burden of the phone call on me.

Despite my lack of responsiveness, he still continues to ask me out over SMS. I guess he never really felt rejected.

Sometimes I wonder if the SMS was created not to ease communication between people but to protect the egos of single men and women. By asking people out by text, they don't actually have to hear a blatant "no." And if the other side accepts the offer, SMS courtships already set low standards of communication.

What I hate more than using SMS to ask people out is using SMS to conduct intimate conversation. I have sought to avoid this, but I've heard countless stories from friends who spill their hearts over SMS. Like the time my friend in her early 30s was dating a man who couldn't commit to her, and she told him she couldn't see him anymore. When she could no longer take his absence, she sent him an SMS that read: "I just want to tell you I miss you, but please don't answer me."

I'm sure it was a form of catharsis, but I'm also sure she was secretly hoping that he would answer her. He ended up replying, and they continued their sloppy, passive-aggresive relationship for another month.

SMS relationships can also be risky. This same friend finally broke up with this commitmentphobe (although they still SMS on occasion) and developed a semiserious relationship with a new guy; this time it was mutual -- or was it? One day he left his cell phone charging at her apartment. She looked around to make sure God wasn't looking, and with little compunction, she opened his inbox. She sensed she might find there some love SMSs.

She analyzed the messages -- exactly when they were sent, by whom, under what circumstance -- as if they were a complex Talmudic discussion. She found one message from her boyfriend's good "friend" that read "are you alone, or are you with your 'girlfriend.'" (Girlfriend in quotation marks.) She checked his outbox to look for a reply, but there were only 10 messages. She was sure he erased the incriminating ones. She concluded that he and this friend were involved.

One day she asked him if she was his "girlfriend in quotation marks," and he understood. He liked her enough to forgive her trespass. Then he explained how this friend simply mimicked a SMS he sent to her in which he called her casual weekend fling a "boyfriend" (in quotation marks). He only had 10 messages in his outbox because his phone automatically erases them. Turns out she took everything out of context.

The most cowardly SMS, however, is the break-up SMS.

A friend of mine recently told me how horrible she felt when she sent the following message to a JDater she went out with twice: "I think you're great, but I don't think it's going to work." He called her twice immediately after, and she didn't pick up. She has yet to listen to the message he left. I'm sure karma will "send" her retribution.

It reminds me of that "Sex and the City" episode when Carrie Bradshaw's boyfriend dumped her with a Post-it.

"Sorry. I can't. Don't hate me," it read. I wonder why he didn't send it via SMS.

Now that would have been an SMS Pulitzer-prize winner.

So many people fall back on text messages because it excuses them from depth, articulation, and emotional investment. Sometimes suitors opt for Facebook for textual courtship and rejection. Facebook at least requires full sentences, but the Facebook relay still offers one degree of separation.

I can't stand it when guys "superpoke," "bite," "hug" or send me a virtual drink over Facebook. That's lazy, impersonal flirtation. E-mail requires more courage, but still, nothing demonstrates more respect in dating and relationships than a phone call or a face to face conversation.

Orit Arfa is a Jewish Journal contributing writer based in Jerusalem. Her Web site is www.oritarfa.net

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