Anna Morales never saw texting as a way to discuss the big things.
The 29-year-old sends about 1,000 text messages a month from her Palm Centro, mostly to say, “What’s up?” But texting helped her get the space and support she needed when she faced one of the greatest ordeals of her life. Last December, Morales lost her mother to a 12-year battle with breast cancer and leukemia.
“I texted for a week before I called and really talked more,” said Morales, who lives in Tampa, Fla.
You've heard of people texting to avoid challenging conversations. Many of us have sent or received “textplanations,” including texts informing an acquaintance that we will not be attending a social gathering as we’d originally planned. Likely the most famous example of the phenomenon: Britney Spears’ breakup text message to ex-husband Kevin Federline.
“People use SMS to express everything they never wanted to say,” said Marian Salzman, a cultural trendspotter and partner at Porter Novelli, a public relations firm in New York City.
That includes those who rely on text messages when they’re thrown one of life's curveballs, such as the death of a loved one or a devastating split.
Texting lets the blue get emotional support when they’re rattled and unready to fully grapple with a trauma. Addressing the difficult things, which can be agonizing, embarrassing — and an assault on one's dignity, was never this easy.
Texting “takes some of the emotion out of it,” said Lisa Merlo, a psychologist at the University of Florida, who is studying the use of cell phones to manage difficult social exchanges. “They don’t have to hear your voice.”
That’s why Robert DiDomenico, 46, from a Philadelphia suburb, opted for texting on his Motorola flip phone after the love of his life quit their 12-year relationship. The pair had attended couples counseling after his live-in boyfriend confessed to having a two-year affair.
Despite three failed therapy sessions, DiDomenico had retained hope that they’d stay together and was in disbelief the night they fell apart.
He “textbombed” (sent one text to multiple people) six of his friends to inform them that things were really over. When one of DiDomenico’s female friends called on his cell phone to console him, he hung up without saying anything.
"I can’t really talk right now. I can only text," he wrote in a subsequent textplanation. “I thought I was going to lose it.”
Kris of Memphis, Tenn., didn’t make a conscious effort to text from his Treo after he learned his live-in girlfriend of two years had strayed. It was his sister who pointed out: “You’re texting like a mad man!”
Kris, who requested his last name be omitted for fear of losing a promotion, had gone to visit his sister in Missouri to clear his head after calling things off. He traded thoughts on the breakup in texts to his gal pals. Among his male entourage, texting was a temptation to "rip" on one other, Kris said. The joshing, even when targeted at his ex-girlfriend’s infidelity, helped lift his spirits.
Texting “made me feel better,” the 31-year-old said. “Usually, it resulted in some kind of joking around, humorous or therapeutic.”
Texting OK, but talking is key
Although texting may be a beneficial way to cope with tribulations initially, it's too superficial to help overcome life's obstacles, said Merlo, the psychologist.
“You can only say so much in a text, even if you’re texting all night,” she said. “For very difficult problems you are dealing with, it’s important to talk through it and process it.”
Otherwise, “it can turn into a bigger issue.”
Right after her mother’s passing, Morales gathered with her husband and family. She also phoned a few close friends when she felt ready. But well-wishing text messages from “pretty much everybody” let her know she was supported and loved, she said. Texting also relieved the pressure she would have felt to have to call everybody, which she says would have been overwhelming.
“You can send them a message and say, ‘Hey, I am OK,’ ” Morales said. “They don’t bother you, so it gives you the peace you need and the time you need until you’re ready to talk.”