Why I had to relearn how to text now that I’m single again

Only a month into dating him, I was already convinced that Jim* was obsessed with me. “He loves my texts—so he loves me, right?!” I joked (and low key hoped) over burrito bowls with my friend Anna*.

“Totally. He must really like you. Ask him to hang out again!” Anna sincerely offered. So I did, neither of us realizing that this was a case of the blind leading the blinder; the last time either of us was single was 2016. Anna has been in a loving, supportive relationship with her boyfriend since 2016. I am freshly single after escaping an unloving and unsupportive relationship.

No one told me that dating in 2019 would be so much different than dating in 2016. All thanks to a new iPhone feature: reactions to text messages.

You’ve seen them. Simply double-tap an iMessage and choose between a heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, “HAHA,” “!!” or “?” reaction instead of thinking of something clever to text back.

The last time I was single, I only had to worry about emojis and bitmojis. Sure, it took me a second to realize the prayer emoji was actually a high five emoji, but other than that, they all seemed pretty self-explanatory. iMessage reactions, on the other hand, don’t always make sense. Here I am thinking that when a guy “hearts” your text, he’s in love with you. When he “likes” a text, he’s being supportive and encouraging. When he thumbs down a reply, you’re breaking his heart. When he “HAHAs” a joke, he is actually rolling on the floor with tears in his eyes and laughing out loud (which, as a comedian, is the ultimate compliment). If he “!!s” a text, he just can’t contain his excitement. And if he reacts with “?,” he’s confused. I thought it was simple.

Turns out that reactions aren’t always a good thing.

As @OverheardLA sums it up best: ”

“Oh, he soft ghosted you.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s when he responds by liking your message. He technically is the last person to interact but you risk double-texting if you say anything after. Checkmate.”


What?! So all this time, when I thought Jim was loving my texts, he was actually signaling that this conversation was over? He was ghosting me? I’d still been texting him, and only now did I realize that I’d been double-texting him, rarely getting an actual reply. A month later, I got my answer that Jim didn’t love, or even like, me when he became “Instagram official” with a woman I recognized as a previous girlfriend.

While I tried to make sense of what these iMessage reactions really meant, I asked some friends on Instagram for their experiences. Here’s what I uncovered:


If someone you like “hearts” your text, it doesn’t mean they’re in love with you. If anything, they really like or love your text. This is a step up from a “thumbs up” reaction, as the IG poll revealed that, out of 121 people, 100 prefer getting the heart reaction. You could equate this to someone liking your Instagram post or favoriting a tweet—it doesn’t mean they’re obsessed with you, but they’re down with what you’re doing.

Thumbs Up

According to my Instagram friends, this reaction, when used in conversation with friends and family, is functional for making plans. Like, if someone texts you “See you there at 7 p.m.,” you would “thumbs up” to say message received and you’ll be there. It also could simply mean “nice!”

Out of all of the reaction buttons, I like this one the best when used in a straightforward practical way. However, as my followers mentioned, this emoji could also be used sarcastically, like “cool story, bro.” Which can feel dismissive and/or condescending when coming from a crush.

Thumbs Down

There’s less gray area with this one. A thumbs down reaction means the person is disappointed with whatever you texted. Maybe you’re beating yourself up, or saying you can’t come out tonight. You might get a thumbs down. Makes sense.


I got a few different responses for this one. Some say that this reaction comes from someone trying to match your enthusiasm. It could also mean they’re alarmed by something you said. It might be a “Wow” or “Whoa!” response to your news. Like the thumbs up, the person using this could be genuinely excited or they could be mocking your excitement. Out of 108 people polled, 97 thought this meant excited and 11 thought this meant scared.

“I’ve used it to mean ‘wow,’ but real talk, I’m always hesitant to use it because I don’t know what it really means,” my fried Jennifer Lander replied. “I always wonder if the person on the other end understands what I’m trying to convey by using it” My friend Jennifer Landers explained.


The “HAHA” reaction is also hard to translate, much like it’s hard to tell if “LOL” or “hahaha” means the person is actually laughing. I found that people use this in two instances: They are actually laughing or they’re just trying to end the conversation.


Out of all the reactions, this actually seems to be the most straightforward. It obviously means the person is confused by something you said. If only all the reactions were this clear.

Personally, I am now only a fan of reactions when they’re used for plan-making. In that instance, they can be validating and useful. Otherwise, reactions feel lazy and dismissive, and can lead to that dreaded double text. Out of 112 people polled, 41 people said reactions to text messages make them feel loved, while 71 people said iMessage reactions are “Lazy AF.”

“I think they’re lazy…I totally use them, but usually in a family group text when I have nothing to contribute. Or I use them if I’m busy and want you to know I saw the text, “ explains Claire Gaytan. Others feel like reactions can work both ways, “I think they’re somewhere in the middle. Meaning I do want you to feel special but I am going to be lazy about it,” Dushyant Asthana told me via DM.

I’ve decided for myself that reactions shouldn’t be used in place of communication. If someone asks you a question, don’t “like” it. Respond. Communication in 2019 has become easier and easier, yet we’re clearly communicating less and less. The more we say what’s really on our minds, instead of hiding behind reaction buttons and emojis, the less complicated our lives will be.

Also, if someone likes you, you’ll know. If you find yourself confused and decoding their iMessage reactions, well, there’s your answer right there. You deserve someone who will speak to you in complete sentences.

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