The Terrors of Text-Flirting

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.

It’s 8:03 a.m. when the text message comes, and I know it’s from him, from my musician friend with the hot mind, the man my friends all call “The Treat” because that’s how it feels every time I talk to him.

Working Through Grief

My cell phone plays its usual you-got-a-text-message ditty, a few bars of “Play That Funky Music,” and I race to pick it up, absolutely certain it’s not my morning horoscope or one of the kids or even a message from a bookseller perusing books at my website and wanting to place an order. It’s from The Treat, and I know it, and I’m grinning all the way across the room, from the moment I hear the signal until I whip open the phone to read the message. It feels like a present just waiting to be enjoyed.

But instead of answering my last text message to him, he has a question. It’s funny and different, and it makes me laugh. I laugh a lot with this man…I think I’d forgotten how. My daughters tell me I keep them awake when I’m on the phone with this man at midnight and later, but they’re not complaining too much; they like hearing me laugh so often after all these years, and my conversations with The Treat are upbeat and animated and sometimes raucous. Just like this latest text message. I snicker and put my phone away, vowing to respond when I have a few minutes.

By 9:30 a.m., it strikes me that his message could have another meaning. A completely different meaning. A mean, cruel, devastating meaning. My heart drops into my stomach, and I struggle against the nausea. I don’t like this new interpretation. Why didn’t I see before that he didn’t mean it funny but instead in a cutting and hateful way? I’m such a fool. I should never have sent that last message. He fucking hates me! And I don’t want him to be offended by what I said to him. I want more of those meaningful talks and more of the fun conversations and more of the “text flirting.” More dates, too! I don’t want to end this new friendship so soon, but that’s the end result now, isn’t it? I’ve really screwed things up. Beyond repair. Or maybe not. If I can just apologize.

I agonize throughout the day. One minute, it seems ludicrous that The Treat would say anything so cruel. He’s been nothing but kind and gentle to me—something I’ve discovered I’m really not used to in my personal relationships with men. then the next minute, I’m feeling foolish for not having seen the truth of his words earlier and realized that he has no interest whatsoever in me. I’m torn, because my instincts tell me something’s there, but logic and past experience have intruded and I just don’t know anymore!

A solid 12 hours later, I manage to raise the courage to call him. He’s quite busy making repairs in his condo, but he’s chatty and sweet and in the first ten seconds, he mentions his last message to me and what it meant. My original interpretation—the one that was funny and different and made me laugh—was what he’d intended. My instincts had been right all along. I’d worried all day for nothing. Not only that, but he was excited about coming to dinner on the weekend.

It’s not the first time this has happened. It’s occurred at least three or four times in the past two months, and I realize this is something significant. I’ve seen it in him, too. The apologies when nothing’s wrong. The expectation of being wrong or offensive.

In analyzing this new discovery, I see that it doesn’t happen in my professional life. Trust me, I’ve been publicly dressed down by the equivalent of a two-star General and unlike my colleagues, I didn’t dissolve into tears or lose my cool. I was shaking all over when I left the conference room but in anger, not despair. Of course, the General-equivalent had bad information from backstabbing co-worker and was wrong, wrong, wrong in the way she addressed me in front of 75 fellow professionals, but I never once thought it must somehow be my fault or I must have said or done something offensive. I was confident in my abilities and in who I was, so I didn’t have the drama to deal with in the back of my mind.

But in my personal relationships with men, it’s different, and I just now know this, thanks to The Treat. I expect to be wrong. I expect to do or say something offensive. I expect to have the man I’m talking to jump down my throat for something I hadn’t realized I’d done wrong…or just for no reason at all.expect this from men I have personal relationships with. All of them. Even one who has been nothing but kind and gentle to me.

I confess this latest revelation to Vicki, and she has a diagnosis that makes me nod in violent agreement. She calls it “Post Traumatic Spouse Syndrome.”

I don’t know if there’s a cure for it. Except maybe more conversations with someone who’s been nothing but kind and gentle.