I can still remember that June afternoon, long and sticky and sun-heavy as I waited for a text back. When it finally arrived, four hours later, it sparkled across the screen like jewels: “Cool.” The message I’d sent previously read, “Just at the park.” Two hours before then, hers read: “How’s ur day?”
If I’d been on TikTok back then, some girl in a towel headband doing a 10-step skincare routine in the mirror would have probably told me in a New York accent that I should know my worth and cut off this dry texter immediately. Or maybe she’d have told her that. Maybe one of us would have believed her.
But half a decade later, my partner and I still message each other in this relatively functional way. “Where u at?” “Going shop.” “Cool.” In person, we’re affectionate, the type of couple you’d feel a boiling rage towards for being slow and stuck together on the pavement. But over text we mainly keep it to-the-point, as if it’s the ’90s and we’re on our pagers. When one of us is away, we might send more—photos, updates, I love yous, etc.—but more often than not we’re what are widely referred to as dry texters. Two dry texters, being dry together.
As a phrase, “dry texting” is relatively recent in the grand scheme of things. It refers to people who reply with one word, or don’t carry the conversation and just say things like “lmao” and “wyd” until the receiver wants to tear their hair out in frustration or boredom. The opposite, I suppose, are funny back-and-forths, long paragraphs peppered with in-jokes or feelings or passing thoughts. When someone’s a dry texter, especially during the dating stage, online lore says that they’re probably not interested, or they’re too busy messaging other people, or they’re simply boring, or some winning combination of all three. “If they wanted to, they would,” people love to say online, and that seems to apply to messaging you at all hours of the day and dropping whatever they’re doing to reply in an appropriately timely manner.
The thing is, I’ve always been a relatively dry texter—not just with partners, obviously, but with friends and family as well. When I was 12 or 13, I used to exchange scrunched-up notes across the classroom. My school best friend once remarked how cold I sounded on paper, and that it made her laugh. I remember feeling taken aback—I didn’t feel cold towards her, I felt warm. She was my favorite person. Was I supposed to write kisses on the notes? “No, but most people say more than just, like, ‘Okay.’”
These days I try not to sound “cold,” but I can admittedly be sporadic. I’ll reply to friends three days later, once I remember to. I’ll ignore the group chat for the week or two in which I don’t feel like looking at my phone. I’ll message only to arrange a time and place to meet, then send the odd meme or TikTok as and when. The idea that this is because I’m not interested in or bothered about whoever I’m messaging is so off the mark it’s laughable. It’s not that I’m not interested in the person—it’s that I’m not interested in messaging the person constantly via my phone. Which are two different things. Like preferring to speak face-to-face over video-calling.
I have, on more than one occasion, been on the receiving end of one of those multiple-paragraph, blocks-of-text exchanges—sometimes as part of an argument. Receiving those sorts of messages makes my insides contract. I want to throw my phone across the room, or bury it in the garden. I’ve often wondered why this is, and haven’t come up with any definitive answers. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my adulthood online—replying to emails, responding to Slack messages, endlessly typing out words on a screen in a desperate bid to communicate—so I don’t want to do that in my leisure time, too. Maybe it means I have a fearful avoidant attachment style. Or maybe I just… don’t like being stuck to my phone like that. I’d rather hear a person’s voice, smell their perfume, see the sunlight glint off their teeth as they throw their head back, laughing.
None of this is to say that I don’t like receiving or replying to messages. When I’m waiting for someone at a bar, or enjoying a meal on my own, I like to have something to read that isn’t TikTok, or the news, or weird subreddits. When my best friend relays something hilarious over WhatsApp, I’ll often laugh out loud, and return to the message when I need a pick-me-up. And the group chat has gotten me through all manner of crises. But the expectation that I must respond immediately—that anyone must respond immediately—feels like an unfortunate byproduct of having a smartphone. And the idea that this preference says anything about a person’s love for someone is wrong. I’ll often reply in my own time, and I totally respect others’ ability or wish to do the same.
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Obviously, if someone’s texting habits completely change, then that is probably what the girlies might call “a red flag.” If someone used to message you long walls of text with gushing, affectionate emojis and then they suddenly start replying every 48 hours with “k,” then it’s fair to question whether that person is still interested in talking, or if they’re pissed off with you, or even going through a period of depression. But if they’ve always been that way? Honestly, it’s probably not that deep. Maybe you’re a texter, and maybe they’re not. It doesn’t mean you need to “cut off a toxic person” immediately.
There is also an argument I hear sometimes that if a person really wants you to text them, and you’re not a big texter, you should text them anyway to make them feel better. I can sort of get behind this—when you love someone, you do things to make them happy, sometimes at the detriment of your own comfort. But, as a dry texter who gets easily drained by online interactions, I also think we should look at it from the other side, too. If someone doesn’t like picking up their phone and tap-tapping away until their head hurts, then maybe it—shock, horror—doesn’t mean they hate you.
My phone is staring at me as I write this. Maybe I’ll pick it up in a moment and reach out to someone, or respond to any messages I might have missed, exchanging a brief flash of digital intimacy until we can experience the real thing. Or maybe I’ll just do that another time. The sun’s still out. I’ll do it later.