Love Bytes: Are funny text messages the sign of a lasting relationship?

Sex and romance in the time of texting, episode 2

By Mimi Winsberg

Special to The Examiner

Hey, lovecraft!

Welcome to the second installment of Love Bytes, The Examiner’s advice column for those intrigued, perplexed or outraged by their romantic texts. My name is Mimi and I am a San Francisco psychiatrist who has mastered the art and science of teasing out personalities from your asynchronous messages. 

Trash-talking Valentine’s Day officially started on February 15. Until then, we kept our stiff upper lip on and leaned into it like a light Alaskan gale. As you may have noted, the event was rather subdued, relegated to being Monday’s child, fair of face but not too bright. 

What strikes me about V-day is that it’s often so humorless, a mandated civic assignment like jury duty or filing taxes. We all know we should, though few are actually willing. We set aside our usual amatory routine in favor of a paint-by-numbers offerings: red roses, bling, a Hallmark card. I know of one couple whose tradition on this day is to cheekily hand each other a dollar bill. 

Cheeky came up quite a bit in this week’s mail, along with lots of humor. Kaila wrote in with the following…

Hello Love Bytes,

I’ve been dating Renée for six months now and am honestly having the time of my life. She is so playful and fun and full of life. She really brings me out of my shell and shows me the world through her beautiful brown eyes. We laugh, we cry, we laugh again. Sometimes it’s a bit much and I start to wonder if she isn’t taking the relationship very seriously. Am I just one of those anxious little monkeys you talk about in your book, or do you think Renée is just along for the ride? Attached is a typical text exchange.

Seriously,

Kaila

Kaila:  How is your day going?

           Renée: Hey, lovecraft!  Living my best life not rife with strife but sharp as a knife!!  You?

Kaila:  I’m ok. Sidney wants me to work late tho 

           Renée: Sidney should go back to Australia where she can’t jail ya

Kaila:  If I’m in jail would you send me mail without fail?

           Renée: Solid. Cakes and cookies and pie oh my

Kaila:  What is VD looking like?

           Renée: OMG, don’t they call that STD or STI now?  Hahaha But seriously. . . I have a
           notion to nosh and a chance to dance

Kaila:  That sounds great to me. What time you free?

           Renée: Eight’s great

Kaila:  Can’t wait

Seriously Kaila,

Wow. You and Renée have quite the kinetic texting groove. I can almost hear the beat. For our readers, the anxious little monkey Kaila is talking about is from an experiment on monkeys which led to human attachment theory, which I discussed at length in last week’s column

And no, I don’t think you are that monkey. It’s easy to tell from your texting style that you are more reserved than Renée, which is part of your attraction for her, but also the cause of some worry that you might not be a good match. Still, you step up and play ball, joining her in her funny and fun word game. You are what my colleague Dan Savage refers to as “GGG,” good, giving and game, which he considers one of the most powerful signs of a good relationship. But there I go doing that shrink thing again, analyzing the questioner instead of the question.

Humor can be one of the most powerful signs of a good relationship. It can be extremely affiliative, that is to say, used in such a way to connect with others, and the grain of truth it contains creates strong bonds between those who share it. Other types of humor can be problematic, such as when it is excessively self-deprecating or aggressive, but when it is affiliative, as it is in Renée’s case, it is usually quite healthy. Renée also seems capable of dialing it back a little bit when she thinks she’s crossing the line  (“But seriously. . .”) 

But seriously, how much is too much? When does humor become a smokescreen for one’s true feelings? I feel there’s a whole other column needed to answer those questions. But nothing about Renée’s humor seems to be hiding anything. She’s on your side. She has a plan. She wants to put a smile on your face. What I think we are dealing with here is her love language.

In “Speaking In Thumbs,” I go into love languages and what they might look like over text. What Renée is trying to do here is what I call riffing, although it is not truly riffing unless you join in, which you do. One of the signs of good relationships is when people mirror each other in their texts, matching style, length and tone. Riffing takes this to another level, adding in rhythm, rhyme and humor and displaying how well two people get each other, how their minds meld and dance. Put simply, it shows that they are paying attention at a very high level.

It is evident to me that riffing is Renée’s love language, and you speak it quite well yourself.  Rather than indicating that she is not taking the relationship seriously, it speaks to quite the opposite, that she places a high value on your togetherness and wants to see it grow. There are also indications in this text exchange that Renée knows and understands what your love language is. There are several signs of her acknowledgment of your love for security (“not rife with strife”), comfort (“cakes and cookies and pie”) and protection (her bold tone throughout) in a relationship and of her desire to fulfill that. 

For full disclosure, I must say that riffing is my own favorite love language as well, and I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship with someone who is not a good riffer. But riffing can also go off the rails, opening the door for sarcasm and veiled contempt. When it’s good, though, it’s very good. And it looks like you and Renée have it going on.

I hope you had a great VD. And for the rest of you, whether you did or not, I hope you had a good laugh about it. Send your romantic text strings to me at lovebytes@sfexaminer.com.

Dr. Mimi Winsberg is a Stanford-trained psychiatrist, chief medical officer at Brightside and author of “Speaking in Thumbs.

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