You and that guy have been text-flirting for months... so why haven't you even met? Jeanne Tai tells you about the new LDR: the long digital relationship.
When Emily, 27, a communications manager, started chatting with John* on Tinder, she thought she'd struck gold. The bachelor was cute, smart and funny, and even did volunteer work - he sounded perfect on paper.
Their first date was a hit - over a two-hour dinner, they chatted about everything from their travels to their political views. The chemistry was electric and they were inseparable... over text.
For months, they texted each other every other day and on occasion, had marathon text sessions that lasted 14 hours. John even confessed that he liked her - through Whatsapp. In spite of their online connection, he agreed to only two dates in eight months.
"We made plans to meet up and he always rescheduled at least once, each time saying that he was busy with work," says Emily. Yet, John's constant stream of messages gave her the impression that he was still interested in her. "It was enough to keep me hooked - but I never got all of him."
She gave him an ultimatum after he postponed yet another date: Meet up, or she'd end contact. "He explained that he just wanted some alone time - but we had spent almost five weeks just trying to fix a date to meet. That's a lot of alone time," she says.
The relationship fizzled out, but it left Emily with questions. "Why would a guy spend so much time messaging me if he wasn't interested?" she wonders.
"We were constantly connected virtually, but we never met. It was like being in a long-distance relationship... only, we were in the same country."
Meet the text buddy
More than a friend but not yet a boyfriend, a text buddy is that special guy whom you message practically every day. The texting is reciprocal, and both of you have unspoken routines - you'll feel weirded out if he doesn't text you after work, and you know he'll definitely like any photo you post on Instagram.
The problem? You've hardly met. You're more familiar with his favourite emojis than his face. Forget long-distance relationships; the new LDR is the long digital relationship.
The boom in online dating has fuelled this phenomenon. A biennial survey of singletons in Asia by dating agency Lunch Actually revealed a 25 per cent increase in the number of people who partook in online dating between 2009 and 2013.
The numerous chat and dating apps on the market also means that it has never been easier for singles to meet other singles virtually - a fact that may have contributed to the rise of digital relationships. "Millennials have lived most of their lives on social networks and mobile phones - it's only natural that they connect with others in these ways," says Charlene Koh, co-founder and chief marketing officer of home-grown dating app Paktor. "Besides, people are too busy to meet up for dates nowadays."
Paktor has made 40 million matches since its launch in 2013, says Charlene. Like on Tinder, Paktor users swipe right to indicate interest when flipping through the profiles of other users, and on average, one gets three matches or more in as little as three days.
Not getting any? "It means you're not swiping right often enough," says Charlene. "New users should be swiping right at least 50 times a day."
Confusion starts when digital relationships aren't moved offline.
Priscilla*, an IT professional, was stuck in one with Andy*, an unmarried businessman. For months, they had intense all-night Whatsapp conversations about their families and values. Though Andy talked enthusiastically about meeting up, they managed only three dates in four months because he rescheduled frequently. Disappointed, she stopped talking to him.
"I guess there was little impetus for him to meet me because we had already had such deep conversations over text," she admits. "There was obvious flirtation and we were in touch all the time, but there was never any clarity as to what our relationship was."
Ironically, such "It's Complicated" statuses are on the rise, as more people discover online and mobile dating, says Violet Lim, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Lunch Actually Group. These avenues often promise a buffet of eligible singles.
"The sheer number of choices gives people the sense that they don't have to choose right away," she says. "There is no urgency to commit - you can just hang out, chat and see how it goes."
No meetup, no mess
What stops a person from taking a fabulous digital relationship offline?
"Laziness," says David Tian, executive director of Aura Dating Academy (www.auradating.com). "It's like wanting a six-pack but never going to the gym. It takes effort to arrange a date, get out of the house, and get over the nervousness of meeting someone new."
Which is why a digital relationship is attractive. "It's immediate gratification with minimal effort," he says.
And with minimal consequences too, it seems. There's none of the emotional mess of a real relationship, says Adrian*, 29, a property agent who has had five text buddies over two years. "You can flirt via text, but not go all in. There's no risk of crashing and burning if she rejects you," he explains. And there are no awkward break-ups either; "text neglect" is cleaner. "And people get the message," he adds.
A tech-savvy millennial, Adrian reckons that social media has conditioned his generation to expect quick connections and even quicker responses. "Having a text buddy is like on-demand dating," he says. "I can text her while I'm queuing up for bak chor mee at the hawker centre or send her a funny link and know that she'll instantly reply with a 'LAWL'."
He sums it up: "It's just like how a f**k buddy satiates the need for sex; a text buddy satiates the urgent need to connect."
Chat first, love later
Until he found a girlfriend, Sean*, 28, chatted for months with women who avoided dates. The entrepreneur has no hard feelings and thinks it's acceptable nowadays for people to start digital relationships with no intention of taking it further.
He himself wasn't looking for a serious relationship when he signed up for various dating apps - "I just wanted to spice up my social life. If something more had happened, then great," he says. "This is how it goes in Singapore - make friends first, talk about romance later."
If a serious relationship is your end goal, avoid websites or apps that have a reputation for attracting players, suggests Violet. Also, know that it's not uncommon for men to up their chances of a match on dating apps by indiscriminately swiping right on every profile they see (a point raised by all our experts).
"They get an ego boost when women reciprocate," says David. "A man like this may constantly text you simply because having you around makes him feel good."
At the end of the day, have fun with your text buddy but go into the relationship with your eyes wide open. As Adrian says: "If a guy is interested in you, he wouldn't just be texting you. He'd be dating you."
*Names have been changed.
TAKE IT OFFLINE
Your text buddy may just need an extra nudge to meet up, says David. Try these tips.
Make him more invested in the relationship. Start small by getting him to send you a selfie ("You're kite-boarding? No way - show me a photo!"), and build up to bigger requests.
Get him to think about the two of you doing stuff together. If he says that he likes cooking, jokingly ask: "So what dish would you make for me if we met?"
Punish him whenever he passes up opportunities to meet you. Whenever he cancels a date or ignores hints to meet up, give him a slap on the wrist. "Escalate the punishment every time he does this - for instance, don't reply to his texts for a few days," suggests David. "If he forgoes more than three opportunities, strike him out."
This article first appeared in the Jan 2015 issue of Her World.
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