WhatsApp, baby? Why always-on communication is turning us off #LoveWeek

For the most part, being connected all the time is a good thing. It means you can always find a friend when you need one, get a taxi home when you’re drunk and lost, and pay for said taxi when you realise you’ve left your purse in the pub. But I think being able to reach someone 24/7, with no caps on how many messages you can send or how long they can be, can actually be quite damaging to friendships and romantic relationships – especially new ones.

Back in the days when a text cost 10p, we used to ration our words. Setting up a date meant having a quick chat about when and where, then turning up and having a conversation in person. Now, the object of your affections is available all the time for random “I’m bored, what are you up to?” chitchat, and that can really kill a fledgling spark.

When talk is cheap, you can do more of it. Which means sharing the minutiae of your life with the person you’re seeing – telling them about the weird conversation you just had at work, the man who just barged into you on the tube platform, the thing your housemate just did that really annoyed you… all the tiny bits of insignificant information that pass through your mind on a daily basis. If you weren’t going to see the other person until that evening, you wouldn’t tell them any of this stuff. It’s a neverending stream of consciousness, but it’s not actually interesting. 

Usually, you don’t reach this level of nano-sharing until you live with someone. Then, it makes sense, because the other person’s there to see what your housemate did or what’s going on in the TV programme you’re watching. That kind of chitchat is useful social lubrication when you’re sharing a space with someone. But when you’re trying to keep them interested early-on, they don’t need or want to know about the tiny details – and that, in my experience, can lead to burnout much faster than before.

The same thing happens with dating apps. If you’ve used Tinder, you’ll know that it’s much, much better to have a quick “yes, I’m interested, let’s meet up” conversation with someone than to get into a days-long neverending back-and-forth. The tension goes, the mystery evaporates, and suddenly you’ve lost the impetus to meet up.

Social media has a similar effect, both on friendships and relationships. When I used to see my friends a few years back, I’d excitedly tell them all the highlights of my life over the last few months, and they’d share theirs. Now it’s more like “I got a new car!” “Yeah I saw it on Facebook”, “I’m seeing this new person and I’m really…” “Mmhmm, I looked him up. He works in finance, yeah?” There’s no news anymore.

The availability of fine-grade detail about our lives also means when you first start dating someone, you might not get to discover much about them. If you go on their social pages – and come on, we all do – you’re going to find out information that might have taken weeks or months to share, which means when they’re excitedly telling you their life story because you’re a Whole New Person that hasn’t heard all their anecdotes before, you’re quite likely to be sitting there thinking “Yeah, I know. I know. I know.”

I’m not suggesting social media and constant communication are a blanket bad thing for relationships. But it’s worth thinking about the best way to use them, especially if you’re trying to nurture a new relationship. Consider not sharing every minute of your life with the other person – I’ve started pausing before I send a WhatsApp message to ask if I’m about to say something interesting and conversation-prompting, or just trying to send my thoughts out of my own head – and perhaps holding some of your life news back from Facebook. It’s fairly well established that being overly available makes us less desirable, hence all the daft rules about waiting three rings before you answer the phone – but if someone knows you might not reply to their “Yo, what’s up?” message instantly, that shows you have your own life, and don’t need them to fill the gaps. Which is much more alluring than “Not much, you?”

Holly Brockwell