KENDRA DENNIS, 28, SITS outside Silver Lake's Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters with her best friends, Amanda and Lauren. They're drinking direct-trade coffee sweetened with agave nectar and discussing text messaging, or rather, as Kendra calls it, “textual relations.”
Kendra, a tattooed beauty who lives in Studio City and rode her bike here today, has apparently mastered the art of the perfect text flirt. One might say the former go-go dancer, now a wardrobe stylist, has adapted The Rules to the new form of communication, which has in the last few years become the single man’s favorite and fastest way to “Get Wit U.”
The immediacy of texting, and the unabashed intent of its participants in having sex, has, according to Kendra, eroded the effort men once had to put forth when pursuing a woman, creating confusion and heartache along the way. Devising a counterstrategy is the wisest thing a girl can do.
“I think text messaging is ruining courtship and [male-female] relations. I am texting a man right now,” Kendra says, looking up from her BlackBerry 8800. “Text messaging shouldn’t replace all other communication. It can be in addition to other communication. If text messaging is everything, you’re destined to be misunderstood and have the romance taken out completely.
“First of all,” she explains, “there is no inflection, or tone, in text messages. Unless you write a ‘lol,’ ‘smiley face’ or ‘hahaha.’ Which is gay, but I do this, because I have a twisted sense of humor, very sarcastic, and I feel like oftentimes [men] don’t get the joke — a lot is lost in translation.”
Kendra, despite her sass, says she's a romantic, and misses the dating rituals that just a few years ago were considered the norm. “A guy doesn’t have to pick up the phone anymore. [Texting] has taken the formality out of courtship — can you even call it courtship?” she muses. “It is an immediately casual communication. You can never go backwards.” It’s hard to start taking a textual partner seriously as a boyfriend or girlfriend.
She misses the nervous voice messages guys used to leave asking for a first date — and the calls that came after, the next day, if all went well. You know, the ones that went something like: “I really had a great time, and when can I see you again?” As opposed to “That was fun . . . Get at me when you want to kick it . . . Holla at me later.”
Do not be confused by the slang and ellipsis overuse; the text messages Kendra and her friends refer to were not written by teenagers — they are creations of men in their 30s and 40s. Professional men with formal educations and jobs — jobs like music managers, art directors, movie producers, medical professionals, actors, musicians and professional athletes (though the last three arguably make more sense).
Adults have now incorporated the dialect and typing habits popularized by teens and tweens, who first established texting as a premier way to hook up with someone. Grown men are using the pickup lines of 14-year-olds — if one can even call these lines — and women are having to get wise.
“No one is going to call you every day, but they can text you every day, ’cause they’re like, ‘I’m at coffee. What R U doing?’ ”
Amanda suggests that when a guy texts “Wanna kick it?” a woman could counter, “Why don’t you ask me out on a proper date?”
“I wrote that to someone, and he told me, ‘Why don’t you not tell me what to do?’ Kendra says, laughing. Soon all three friends are cracking up.
“I’m not kidding,” Kendra affirms, looking back down at the BlackBerry as she types.
“If someone is pursuing you by text, they don’t want anything more than a casual encounter,” Lauren insists. “If they want to date you, or have a relationship, they’ll do it in person or with a phone call. No serious person is gonna text, ‘Hey, holler at me if you wanna hook up.’ That is not ever gonna happen.”
But at the same time, Lauren adds, “We keep mistaking it for ‘He really likes me.’ ”
Kendra joins in, so the two now speak in unison: “He’s texting me all the time!!”
“I try to apply The Rules to texting,” says Kendra pragmatically. “I wait until [a] person asks me out in the proper way. I have even pointed them in that direction, saying, ‘Why don’t you call me and we’ll figure it out?’ I am basically telling them I am looking for a phone call. I am looking for advance notice or whatever. And if they can’t meet my criteria, I have two options: either accept what they are giving and be completely frustrated, or just be, like, ‘This isn’t gonna work’ and move on.”
Amanda says she does text her boyfriend, but everyone agrees it is different when you’re in a real relationship. Yet Amanda admits her boyfriend wishes she wouldn’t text so much.
“He is adamant about phone calls. He has actually brought it up a few times, [saying] ‘I would really like to communicate more with voice and not text.’ You get accustomed to this form of communication,” she confesses, “and you’re just as guilty.”
“When you’re really in a relationship,” Lauren says, “there are expectations. As opposed to when you are in something casual where there are supposedly no expectations.”
But, Lauren quickly adds, there are, in fact, some expectations that come with the casual relationships based in text messaging.
“They are low expectations, but expectations nonetheless,” she says, explaining that there are basically only two: “That they respond to your text and are available when you wanna have sex. I have seen girls obsess for days on ‘Why didn’t he text me back?’ But they would never display that, because it alludes to something more than a casual sexual relationship.”
“I was having textual relations with someone today,” Kendra explains cheekily. “I do like the flirtation. If I text someone something a little dry and they can jump right back with something funny . . . you can get a little something going. I like a quick mind and wit.”
“I am texting with my ex-husband right now,” Amanda says, looking up from her BlackBerry Pearl. “It’s not funny,” she smirks.
Kendra scrolls through her BlackBerry inbox, looking for an excerpt from her textual relations.
“I met someone earlier today,” she says. “Amanda and I were at the bike store and these guys started talking with us. We exchanged numbers and started texting.”
She begins to read verbatim.
“I was trying to add him to Messenger, and I asked him, ‘Did you get my request?’ He said, ‘No. But I found you on MySpace.’ I said, ‘Wow, you really came with some A-game! ’Cause you found me quick.’ And he wrote, ‘Yeah, you haven’t seen anything yet.’ And he [asked], ‘Are you ladies still riding?’ I said, ‘We are being interviewed for an article in the Weekly right now.’ And he said, ‘Ohh sweet! I didn’t know we were just mingling with some of L.A.’s finest.’ And I said, ‘Well, now you know.’ And he said, ‘Give me a plug for being a righteous dude just so the Weekly knows.’ ”
She looks up from her handheld, smiling. She is pleased.
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“So, he is fast and smart. I don’t mind flirtations starting in text messages, but at some point the guy has to pick up the phone and say, ‘How about we go see a movie? We go get coffee? We go get dinner?’ ”
Kendra has another good strategy when guys obviously text for sex. When guys text her late at night, like, say, at 11 o’clock on a Friday, she’ll answer very literally about the exact thing they ask her. For example:
“They write, ‘Hey, how R U?’ And my new thing is, I send them a three-page text message saying exactly how I am. Exactly how my day was. Each detail — errands I ran, how work is going. Then I ask, ‘How are you?’ I’ll get a one-line answer. ‘I am fine. What R U doing?’ I’ll send them another three-page text, ending in ‘What are you doing?’ Then they’re, like, ‘Oh, nothing. Wanna hang out?’ I'll be like, ‘No. I am superbusy but nice chatting with you.’ I just keep doing that until they get the message.”
She barely pauses long enough to take a breath before concluding, “I have completely mastered the game of text messaging.”