Shortly after a recent text back-and-forth trying to get the rundown on a friend’s first date the other night, we had summarized all the right qualities about this guy: handsome, charming, smart, well-travelled, easy to talk to, a great listener, and last — but nowadays very least — someone with proper text etiquette. We digitally laughed with a string of laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emojis and jokingly signed off with “he’s the one,” but I took a moment to reflect on what just happened and thought to myself: have we become secretly conditioned over time to reduce our standards of good men thanks to the Internet?

Sandro KNIT TOP / Baldwin DENIM / Degs & Sal RING

In my humble, yet had-it-up-to-here opinion, ‘proper text etiquette’ simply equates to respect, which includes answering in a timely manner and properly, meaning almost anything besides the endless slew of “yep,” “cool,” or “great u” responses. Do unto a text conversation what you would do unto a face-to-face conversation with an eligible bachelor, right? We’d wish. If you think about it, a dating app, let alone being on more than one, isn’t reflective of human connection as we’ve known it; and I’ll argue that we haven’t evolved enough in the time digital dating has been around to personally manage it. Anytime before ten years ago, the idea of walking into a bar already knowing exactly which people you share a mutual interest with was unfathomable. You’d have to approach people you were initially attracted to with respect in order to elicit a potential connection and because time is money, or time is of the essence, or the time is now, or whatever time-centric cliché feels right here, that time spent doing so was valued regardless of the outcome. In other words, that respect bit in the dating process was valued and nurtured. Flash forward only a few years and your chat inbox is that bar — in fact, why leave the comfort of your couch? — and because we already know who our matches are despite never having met them, perhaps we feel like we can get a bit more picky with who our top matches are (Super-Like is a thing) leaving the runner-ups hanging for a ruthless, anticipatory, and oftentimes vulnerable episode. [Waits 48 hours]: “great u.” After all, time is of the essence.

Sandro KNIT TOP & SHIRT / Degs & Sal RING / Kronaby WATCH

As someone’s runner-up nowadays, I feel as if we’ve been left with a silver or bronze medal equivalent, but in the form of poor respect when early signs pointed at the entire course not being our race to begin with. I’ll admit that I’ve caught the contagion of poor communication after being exposed to the flood of it via the five or six dating apps I was on at one point. As a result, I’d unintentionally leave other people hanging as well and as all viruses do, they spread: the trickle of people left hanging endlessly continues. The infection of poor communication becomes the norm because when I do finally meet someone who actually responds to my texts within a timely manner or doesn’t cancel two hours before a date, I start thinking about how our first names sound on wedding invitations without knowing the very basics of where this dude’s from (the virus in full force). So yes, thanks to the Internet and its new subset within the dating pool I’m coining runner-ups, my standards for good men have indeed gone down.

As a result, I’d unintentionally leave other people hanging as well and as all viruses do, they spread: the trickle of people left hanging endlessly continues.

In another conversation with the same friend, I learned that the same guy we were speaking about earlier reverted from great communication to poor communication, leaving the details of a Friday night date unanswered despite the follow-up texts — unclear whether it was still happening or not — until dinnertime when he responded with short, borderline incoherent messages. In hearing how all this went down and why she immediately broke things off with this guy, I listened to her in shock, still fogged by the epidemic I had contracted from digital dating. “That’s just how guys are,” I said, based on my experience of consistent letdowns that I was most likely subconsciously fueling. “Maybe give him another chance!”  Turns out I had learned a valuable lesson right then and there. She told me that she respected herself too much (as she should — as we all should) to let someone poorly communicate with her, that she wasn’t going to let someone make her his runner-up. She’s on her own course with eyes wide set on the gold medal: her happiness and attracting people that make her feel that way. In other words as Mark Manson puts it, why deal with people who aren’t fuck yes! about you right now?

After all, time is

Sandro JACKET / Comme des Garçons Play SHOES

For as long as read receipts became an option, I used to always think, why would anyone have those turned on? I don’t have them turned on mainly because I don’t want to be held accountable for the delta between me seeing a message and me responding to one; but if that’s the core reason, then that’s a problem on my part — some percentage of the infection dictating my thoughts and actions. I met a new friend a few weeks ago and when I got his phone number and we started texting, I was surprised to see his read receipts turned on (a rare breed), flipping from ‘Delivered’ to ‘Read,’ immediately following with the three-dot typing animation, and a response. Every time! Over a few days, I started admiring the little digital confirmation that I was acknowledged and promptly responded to, a step closer to what we’d expect from a face-to-face conversation that we’d also have as well. If the message said ‘Delivered,’ then I knew with that person that he simply didn’t read the message yet. While having read receipts turned on doesn’t fit every phone-use type, if it could apply, then maybe it’s something to consider in helping build immunity against this digital plague. As a result, I’ve turned mine on. I don’t buy the “bad texter” excuse anymore, a trait I feel like is quickly fizzling out from natural selection because if you can deposit a check on your phone by taking a picture of it, then you can for sure text someone back; or, if he really is a “bad texter” and the interest is there, he’d find another way to properly communicate.

Talun Zeitoun

In the spirit of perspective and the fact that digital dating isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, perhaps the plus side is that it makes it much easier to pinpoint someone who’s actually interested — someone who properly communicates and is honest with us — and reset elevate our standards based on that pool of people, which is much smaller and more targeted than ever before. In fact, our chasing of men (or women or whomever) who don’t respect us and being hung up on loose-ended conversations — signs flashing at us like Times Square (avoid at all costs!) — is most likely a reflection of ourselves; that if this is the case, maybe we’re the ones who need the improvement instead of the poor communication within the nonexistent relationship we’re going after. Maybe we can slowly but surely eradicate this virus if we start from within our own selves instead of what’s in a two-way text thread with a virtual stranger.

Creative Direction, Styling & Words by TALUN ZEITOUN
Photography by CARLY TUMEN