Kim Carney / msnbc.com
A textaholic can send the wrong message to a date if he's more into messaging with friends than talking to the person across the table.
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msnbc.com
updated 11/11/2008 9:12:48 PM ET 2008-11-12T02:12:48

Megan Brinkman was initially psyched to (finally) be going on a formal date with a guy who politely asked her out. So during dinner, her jaw dropped when he began texting wildly.

Brinkman’s experience is becoming more common as technology spawns some new dating dilemmas, with texting and instant messaging becoming a third wheel in many relationships.

“There’s a lot of confusion and upset going on” when it comes to mixing tech and romance, said Diana Kirschner, a dating expert and the author of “Love in 90 Days.”

Confusion and upset are exactly what Jennifer Ingram felt after an unforgettable chat on an instant messenger program.

She and her college sweetie of three months usually used AIM and the phone to catch up, but saw each other in person several days a week. Although they weren’t officially in a relationship, his actions indicated that he really liked her: He surprised her with flowers several times — and they attended the homecoming dance at an Illinois college together. One night, a regular AIM conversation led to him informing her that he had been doing some thinking: They should just be friends.

“It really hurt,” said 27-year-old Ingram, who’s now engaged (to another man). “There‘s never a good way to break up with somebody, but there are ways you can do it that are respectable.”

Torrent of texting
Brinkman, a 30-year-old financial consultant, was initially attracted to the manners of her texting dinner date, Chris Woida. The two, in different MBA programs in Chicago, had hit it off at a business school retreat.

Previously, Brinkman had griped with girlfriends about the business school hook-up culture, which involved heavy partying and frequent flings. But Woida seemed different: He properly asked her out, made dinner reservations and even called her beforehand to confirm their plans. But as their dates wore on, his texting snowballed, often leaving Brinkman in awkward silence during dinner. Doubts crept into her mind.

“‘He’s just having a good time,’” Brinkman remembers thinking, as she tried to interpret the torrent of texting.

As Woida switched from calling to texting Brinkman, she not only thought he was disrespectful, but her concerns escalated — and she got fed up. Eventually, in protest, she stopped responding to his late-night texts.

Woida finally caught on, with added hints from Brinkman that she enjoyed hearing his voice — and their relationship grew stronger as they approached the end of their master’s degree studies.

As Woida eyed an investment-banking job in New York City and Brinkman planned to stay in Chicago, she feared the frustration of a long-distance, texting relationship with him if he relapsed. The couple eventually addressed their differences: Brinkman asked Woida to change his ways; he agreed to call if she consented to send texts letting him know she was thinking of him, she said.

“It pays to bite the bullet and have the courage and ask for what you want instead of this fearful, anxious dance with each other,” advises Kirschner, the dating expert.

Texting while furious
Mary Cotton also got upset with her long-distance boyfriend for not calling. They had relied on texting as they grappled with their busy schedules: 24-year-old Cotton works full-time on top of attending the University of Maryland and her boyfriend, a Navy recruiter, is striving to be promoted.

One day, her stress, frustration and a white lie she believes he told her combined to make her livid. Determined to reach him, Cotton impulsively sent him a text message saying that she never wanted to see him again (her third such text message in three months). Soon after, he called, flustered by her lack of technology etiquette.

“He said that was so rude to say certain things in a text message,” said Cotton, who’s still trying to patch things up with her boyfriend. “Sometimes when you’re mad, it’s probably best not to talk to the person.”

A few etiquette basics
While most of us are taught proper table manners as tots, we haven’t had the same kind of playbook for today’s technology, still relatively new. To avoid offending a potential sweetie, some dating experts offer these pointers:

Lissa Coffey, a sociologist, dating expert and author of “What’s Your Dosha, Baby?”, stresses that although technology can offer an easy escape from a relationship, it’s best to face something like a break up the old-fashioned way: face to face.

“Everybody needs some kind of closure,” she said. “It also benefits you in the terms that the person won’t go around saying you broke up with them via text. That says something about your character.”

Brinkman and Woida not only accepted their differences, but went on to get married. He now texts when the couple has company over — but when he’s asked a question by the guests, and the room falls silent as he keys away on his cell phone, everybody — even Brinkman — cracks up.

Woida still reverts to texting Brinkman when they travel separately, but she says they’re working on having him call her more often, too.“You’re so much better with words than these words you send over texts,” she reminds him.

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