Text flirting: a modern day battle-of-the-sexes?

Boys Cambridge Flirting Girls M&S Mobile Phones Relationships Texting the tab topshop

Smirting (flirting whilst smoking – good news smokers, apparently not everyone considers a racking cough and yellow teeth a turn off), the Facebook poke (cheeky, but not too cheeky), hand-picking freshers for a swap; expressing your appreciation for a member  of the opposite sex has come a long way since our grandfathers were offering our grandmothers a ration coupon in exchange for the clasp of a gloved hand. But just because the 21st-century has provided numerous vehicles of sexual advance, doesn’t mean that either sex has become easier to guage. Boys will be boys, girls will be hormonally-unstable. These are the facts of life. And one minefield in which confusion abounds is the technological quagmire of the text message.

Presuming you no longer text like your mother (HELLO THIS IS YOUR MOTHER HOW ARE U ARE U EATING ENOUGH VEGETABLES THE CAT IS SICK EVERYONE IS VERY WORRIED LOTS OF LOVE AND KISSES FROM YOUR MUM), and presuming you have had some sort of dalliance with a member of the opposite sex (NatScis, maybe you want to get back to the lab now, don’t waste any more time here), then you’ve probably had to negotiate the quagmire at some point. ‘Oh-my-god-he’s-only-given-one-kiss-not-two-but-he-gave-two-yesterday-what-have-I-done?!?’; ‘Is a wink acceptable? Or a bit gay?’; ‘But I text first last time, it’s definitely his turn to text first.’ Now – stop me if I’m wrong – but I think we are decidedly in the realm of the irrational female here. In my copious research for this article (I asked my brother, and two of my male friends, both of whom looked at me as if I were the nebulous ball of irrational hormones that they evidently believe the female sex as a whole to be), all the boys agree that they do not analyse text messages. They do not spend ages composing them, they rarely think about how many kisses they’re leaving – unless they’re compliant boyfriends, who are aware that anything fewer than ten will result in an irate/anxious phone call only seconds later, asking what’s up – and they are much less likely to want to text for no apparent reason. Boys like to arrange things. Text messages allow them to make plans without having to even speak to the person with whom they are arranging them. It’s kind of like when you drag a boyfriend shopping – he knows you want to spend three hours trawling the sale rail at Topshop looking for the single forgotten gem that your enemies (sorry, fellow consumers) haven’t spotted, but he’d rather just go to M&S, buy that single pair of socks he needs and get out. Twenty minutes – ten if you skip that short-sighted granny in the queue – and you’re done.

I realise I am not doing a very good job of portraying my sex in a particularly positive light. According to me, we are now irrational, over-analytical, and frankly should be spending far less time shopping and texting. And perhaps I am being reductive: surely there have to be some boys out there (the ever-elusive sensitive types, perhaps), boys who aren’t boyfriends but who consider the text message an important social phenomenon in its own right, one not to be abused. We are in Cambridge, remember. Everyone loves an abstract, wanky rant from time to time (how to spot one on the go: person, gesticulating wildly, volume getting exponentially louder with each flail of the limbs, surrounded by a group of people with the glazed expressions of the heavily-medicated, nodding periodically, perhaps ducking to avoid a stray arm). So in the same way that I might be condemning my own sex, I might be doing the boys a disservice.

However, I stand by my argument that this issue does represent a bone of contention in the modern day battle-of-the-sexes. It’s interesting in the respect that both sexes acknowledge it is a flirting technique, but use it differently. Here again, I go to my extensive research project on the matter. A friend of mine received a message from a boy she was ‘seeing’ (oh that vaguest of terms): ‘WHAT YOU UP TO LATER? X’ Thrilled, she replied, after the requisite half hour so she didn’t look ‘too keen’: ‘NOT MUCH. PROCRASTINATING. STANDARD. YOU GOT PLANS? xx’ No reply, even after the aformentioned requisite pause. No reply for the rest of the evening. ‘I don’t understand,’ she wailed, ‘he asks me what I’m doing later, which is totally some kind of invitation, and then doesn’t even reply. I even tried some banter about procrastination.’ I remained mute (composing the sentence of this article in my head).

I suggested analysis of the text message. We’re not looking for linguistic patterns here, but I hoped my analytical skills – honed after a year of a Cambridge English degree (ha) – might help shut her up, sorry, help her get to the bottom of the problem. Admittedly, there’s not a lot to work with. ‘WHAT YOU UP TO LATER?’ does imply interest and by extension if she would be free to make plans with him. However, there is nothing concrete: if it weren’t for the context that they are ‘seeing each other’ (ugh) then it could be a perfectly innocent text message enquiring as to whether she was up to anything that evening. Friendly. Her response is indicative of the over-analysis characteristic of the female response to the text message. She expected something to come of it. He didn’t necessarily. He left her a kiss – friendly, but not overtly so. She upped the ante with two. Nothing.

Until the next day when he sent her a message: ‘DIDN’T DO ANYTHING IN THE END. SUPERVISION. HOPE YOU HAD A GOOD NIGHT? Xx’ Maybe slightly cold, but definitely an expression of continued interest. The question mark implies he wants to initiate a conversation. She gets an extra kiss this time. And – unless he’s lying, which I suppose he might be, but let’s give the lad the benefit of the doubt – it seems he decided not to pursue his plans with her because he was busy. Working, a third-wheel to any relationship in Cambridge. I don’t want to veer too much into the grammatical – and distinctly uninteresting – landscape, so I shall stop with the analysis. (Although perhaps my inclination to do so is less to do with the English degree than by double X chromosome?) But, nonetheless, I have made my conclusions: boys and girls both use the text message to flirt. It is a way of expressing a desire to chat to someone outside an immediate social situation. However, boys will forget to text back and don’t consider it a big deal. Girls will fret about the lack of response. Boys use kisses arbritrarily, girls think about them. Girls tend to text longer messages. Boys are more economical with their words (not in the sense of mobile credit, although come to think of it, maybe it is something to do with this), girls tend to gush. Girls expect more to come of this flirting technique.

So the moral of the story is, girls, you can’t change their genetic make-up. They’re generally a bit disengaged (smart our Cambridge boys might be, but four As at A-Level does not an emotionally complete human being make). So keep it chilled.Don’t over-analyse because it isn’t doing you any favours. Catch the apathy and try a bit of smirting instead. Screw those picture of tar-corrupted lungs. It’s better for your sanity. We’ll all die anyway, we don’t need death after years of shelling out for psychiatric care.