How I quit texting (and became a better friend)

When people find out I don’t text, they look at me with a mixture of shock and pity like something’s wrong with me, as though I live in a land foreign to them. The thing is, I used to text. A lot. I didn’t realize how bad my addiction was until one day when I was complaining to my then-boyfriend about a friend not texting me back.

“Why don’t you call her?” he said.

“What?” I said. “She wouldn’t pick up if I did. Besides, everyone texts, no one calls me.”

Right after I said that, I realized how sad it was: No one calls me. And it made no sense. I had friends. Where were they all? Why weren’t they calling? I stopped to think about it—when had I last called them? Then it occurred to me: I was addicted to texting.

The pre-addicted-to-texting me only sent a few texts here and there. But soon that increased to twenty, fifty, one-hundred, two-hundred texts a day. To me, texting was like a modern-day walkie-talkie: short, stilted, instantaneous communication. At work, you could send quick sound bites to friends — “Ahhh! My crazy boss!” or “Hot new guy started!” Soon, my super-short texts became novellas, substituting for real conversations. I felt more connected to my friends than ever, redefining “close contact” without actually being close in proximity.

Soon, though, texting started getting me into trouble. I was almost fired at my job when I was caught typing texts instead of typing work.

“Natalia, there’s more to life than texting,” my boss said, catching me at it again.

From then on, I left my phone in my purse all day, out of temptation’s reach.

The combination of my boss’s sentence echoing through my head, friends chiding me that I never called them and that day when I wondered why my friend hadn’t texted me back got me thinking—was I so addicted to texting that I’d lost sight of other types of communication? Was I a bad friend? Did I even still know how to have a verbal conversation?

It just so happened that Easter was approaching, which meant Lent: 40 days and 40 nights of sacrificing something. People usually gave up their biggest vices, things like caffeine, chocolate, sex. I could surely go without texting for as long, right? To hold myself accountable, I posted this on Facebook: “It’s Lent! I have given up texting! (I know!) Phone calls only.” I also reminded people in my voicemail message, “Remember, no texting!” Still others I told in person and over the phone, and sent one final mass text announcing it, too.

Texts would still come in from those who hadn’t gotten my no-more-texting memo. I’d want to look—what if I missed something?—but refused. I’d always been an all-or-nothing person. If I checked that one text, I’d be tempted to write back. Instead, I’d just hit “delete.” If it was really, truly important, I figured that person would call me. Their phone was already in their hand, anyway.

But, just in case, I started using an auto-response that said: “This is an automated message. The number you texted does not accept text messages.”

I’d copy and paste it whenever someone wrote. It worked perfectly. People would then either call, or not (most did not and would then email). Once you start ignoring text messages, you are well on your way to becoming text-free. It’s just like eating healthier and not buying—or even looking at—the ice cream aisle.

With texting out of my life, it was nice not to be on call, so to speak, 24/7. By not being readily available, it made the phone and in-person timedidhave with people that much more meaningful.

Over the next few months, the less I texted, the more something amazing happened: I called people. More and more. And when you call someone, you have more than a “How r u doing?” kind of talk. You speak. You listen. You speak again. You converse. You hear their intonations—which are so often misconstrued in texts. They hear yours. You hear them laugh, not LOL. You hear them cry, not :(-.

Not texting strengthened my friendships. When I wanted to see how a friend was doing, I called. When a friend and her boyfriend broke up, I listened to her cry. When a friend received a promotion, I heard the excitement in her voice. Instead of just exchanging fragments of thoughts, I was able to comfort and truly engage with people the way a text message never could. And when we’d hang up, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed, but I barely noticed because I was so in the moment, so present, something one rarely is when texting while doing ten other things at the same time.

Soon, those phone calls turned into more face time with friends—not the iPhone kind but the sitting-across-from-them kind. Committing to a phone call turned into coffee, lunch and dinner outings, something I’d taken for granted in my texting-obsessed life. Why get dressed and meet someone when you could text them while wearing your pajamas, still half-asleep? Now, going out to see someone was something to look forward to, a novelty. It’s much different hearing and seeing someone—learning about their life, mourning their ex, celebrating their new job—than typing “How are you?” or “I’m sorry” or “Congrats!” You learn to look at your friend instead of your phone.

Seeing one friend in person led to seeing even more friends in person. I realized texting wasn’t a connection to people like I’d thought; it was promoting disconnection.

After Lent, I went back to texting. But after a few days, I realized I hadn’t missed it. I’d done so well without it—without the eclipsed sentences and emoticons—I decided to eliminate it for good.

I have now been text-free for almost four years (!!!) and I love the non-texting land I live in. I recommend that you try it. Everyone should. If not forever, at least for a month. Or a week. Or a day. Or an hour. Detoxing—detexting—will be worth it, trust me.

(Image Natalia Lusinski and Shutterstock)

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