When I was a freshman in college—back when I was skinny and long-haired and pretty inexperienced when it came to relationships—I met a girl named Nancy. We sat together five days a week in a French class, and at some point we began dating. I wouldn’t say it was serious, but between those dates and our class, we certainly saw each other often.
A few months later the French class was over; we didn’t see each other as often, and the attraction began to fade for me. It was time to be honest with her and tell her that I enjoyed our friendship, but I didn’t see our dating relationship going anywhere. Meet with her and have a mature, yet positive conversation.
Did I mention that, at age 18, I was also stupid and cowardly? We never had that conversation. Instead, I just stopped calling her. Cut her off completely.
My guess is that after a few weeks she figured a couple things out:
- I wasn’t going to ask her out on dates any more.
- I was a jerk who wasn’t worth dating, anyway.
Fast forward a few years, and I see that people today have not gained much in wisdom. When it comes to breaking off a relationship, or working through a conflict, today we have all kinds of new technology that helps us take the easy way out.
If I was the same wimpy kid today and in the same situation, I’d probably break up through e-mail or text messaging. In a recent Washington Post article, writer Lisa Bonos laments that “technology has made our breakups even worse.”
With so much of life happening on the internet—and about 23 percent of couples now meeting online—it’s inevitable that “I’m just not that into you” ends up in our inboxes, sandwiched between bills, notes from our bosses and e-cards from Mom. And it’s not unheard of for Facebook users to get news about their romances when the other person changes his or her status from “in a relationship” to “single”—without talking about it first.
A digital rejection can be efficient and effective: The dumper can control the message; the dumpee can’t interrupt or argue. No body language to misread, no tears to witness, no awkward hugs, and no breakup sex. But we miss out on a lot when we outsource uncomfortable conversations to our e-mail accounts. In exchange for efficiency and emotional distance, we often give up a chance for real closure—and to show the other person that you care for them and respect the effort you put into the relationship.
Avoiding difficult conversations
A few months ago I wrote some articles about how our digital life is replacing conversation. Our digital devices improve our lives in many ways, and they can be a boon to communication if used wisely. But it’s also easy to become so obsessed with being connected to your friends or to information on the internet that you ignore the people you are with at the time. And it’s especially easy to use e-mail and text messaging to avoid the difficult conversations, disagreements, or conflicts.
This applies to all of us, not just singles. We face a disagreement or conflict with a co-worker, a friend, a family member, or a spouse, and we look for the easy way out by avoiding a face-to-face conversation.
Let me ask you: How often have you tried to resolve a disagreement or conflict with someone by e-mail or text message? How has that worked for you?
I’ve found that when I try to resolve something through e-mail, it’s easy to misunderstand each other. Words are misinterpreted or attached with emotions that were not intended. You miss the facial expressions, the body language, and the tone of voice that communicate just as strongly as the actual words.
It’s interesting to read some of the Scripture passages about resolving conflict in light of today’s technology. For example, 1 Peter 3:8-9 tells us, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead …” (NASB).
What impresses me here is that it’s very difficult to communicate a spirit of harmony, sympathy, kindheartedness, and humility through e-mail or text messaging. These qualities—so essential to resolving a disagreement or conflict—are best conveyed in person.
If you are the type of person who instinctively avoids any type of confrontation, perhaps you’ve settled into this bad habit of using electronic communication to avoid real conversation. Perhaps you’re doing it with your spouse.
Let me encourage you to step into the relationship rather than away from it. Be courageous.
A real relationship requires heart-to-heart communication. And that won’t happen in an e-mail.