Confusing Texting with Talking and the Consequent Anxiety.


“Yes. No. I don’t know.”

Some Facebook messenger conversations make me confused.

In my mind, friends are supposed to send messages because they have got a specific reason to. Perhaps they want to ask someone to go to the cinema with them? Maybe they want to a) tell them something funny b) ask their advice c) share information d) ask a favour? If the reason is not clear, or it feels like small-talk, then I find it confusing and quite traumatic. I then have to try and guess their agenda or ‘read-between-the-lines.’ Unfortunately, my brain does not process ‘small-talk’ very well. Partly because I find it pointless and partly because I am very literal. If you write “How are you?” I will write “Ok, thank you,” because that seems to be the socially acceptable response which other people expect and want.

I very rarely actually know how I am because I haven’t had the time to think about it and I can’t decide on the spot. I probably have many feelings all at once: I am sad because I am exhausted by nonsensical messages and happy because I am watching The Chase? Not to mention the dilemma that I often can’t connect the right word with the feeling.

But it’s not even a complete sentence….

How are you….? Christ. It’s like it’s just fallen out of your mouth.

What you surely mean to say is… “How are you still standing after that long day?” Or, “How are you at maths?” If you are a close friend to me and you ask me how I am, I will first think … how am I what? And then I will assume you don’t really care because my life has many different compartments. How am I supposed to pick the right one? ….Lol.

I think this is why I like cats.

If I ask you how you are, be assured that I want details, reasons, honesty and full-sentences. I want the whole story because if I didn’t really care, I wouldn’t ask. I am likely to give you some more information though, just to help you feel secure. For example… “How are your feet feeling after your long walk to the shops?” Don’t tell me that you are “Ok, thank you” or “Fine” because that insults me; it implies that you think I am as shallow as the small-talkers that couldn’t-care-less.

If you don’t have a concise reason for messaging me, don’t. Save me the anxiety of guessing what you want and inevitably getting it wrong. If you don’t bother with punctuation, or you rush as if you are writing how you would talk, I will assume I am not important enough for you to make an effort, and I see this as a personal put-down. I apologise for this, but because I am supposedly-normally a ‘high-functioning’ autistic (another ‘bone of contention’) I am constantly conscious of my short-comings and have a very low self-esteem. Having said that, you wouldn’t disrespect your employer with a bumbled, knocked-together text message, and I consider friendship to be far more important than a work relationship.

A normal text correspondence should be six messages long at the most. You cannot assume the person you are messaging has the time, energy and appropriate sensory surroundings to effectively sit down and write to you.

We are not Victorians.

Anything longer than six messages is a ‘discussion’, which is a spoken conversation or debate about a specific topic. This is why Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, giving people the ability to communicate even when they are not together. If you try and write as you speak things get very messy because writing and talking are different. This is not breaking news. Talking is freer and more personal and there are many helpful aids like facial expressions and body language that you can learn to read to help you communicate and to help you know when to shut-up.

Remember you are my friend, not a work man or the bank. Your voice is comforting to me because it is really you.

In some (rare) circumstances, when you can’t talk (and that’s not easy either) text messaging can be useful and can fill your lonely moments with comfort and company and I understand this. In these (rare) cases, it is important to make sure you communicate clearly with your words and think about what you write before you press ‘send,’ so that you do not cause unnecessary anxiety. Believe it or not, people with Autism are aware of their complications and the feeling of not understanding is isolating: it fills a person with self-doubt and hate which leads ultimately to depression.

Especially if the other person can see that there is a misunderstanding and just gives up.

When a person tries to write how they would talk, it is impossible to imagine what their face is doing or what tone of voice it was supposed to be ‘said’ with. Although many people find it hard to read facial expressions, I do not. I analyse them constantly. It is hard for me to cope when somebody starts a ‘conversation’ with me by text but then gets distracted and goes ‘off line’ or starts a ‘conversation’ with someone else without saying a proper good bye because in a spoken conversation I might have sensed their boredom/distraction sooner and ended the exchange myself.

“Hey. You started this ‘conversation’… You have been expecting consistent responses from me and now you have moved-on without saying good-bye. What does that say about your respect for me as a person? How am I now? Thoroughly pissed off!”

Joking aside… if you open a ‘conversation,’ I am building myself up to participate, which takes a lot more nervous energy for someone like me even with writing.

If you want to text how you talk, then the same rules of decency should apply. If I walked off halfway through a spoken conversation with you, you’d rightly call me rude, and that’s what I think of you when you bin-me-off because you got-another-text. Don’t forget I have probably stopped what I am doing to reply to you because this is not just a text message, this is a ‘conversation’ so what am I supposed to do now… wait? What about my day? ‘Conversations’ have a clear beginning, purpose and ending. It is only acceptable to disappear in a ‘conversation’ if there is an emergency or you have fallen asleep, and don’t even consider texting and driving because that really is bat-shit-crazy.

Normally, long messaging sessions ruin my day because they make me feel inadequate and stupid. If you text me saying “Are you spending the evening with me?” I don’t know whether to say yes or no because I don’t have any clues there about what YOU want, and so, because I mask my Autism in order to have friends, I’ll probably say “no,” just so I am not a burden. I am reminded now of why I didn’t raise my hand to answer questions in primary school, because I was afraid that I would misunderstand, answer wrongly, and my face would turn red. And we wonder why mental health and confidence problems are prevalent in some people on the Autism spectrum.

My message to my friends is this: don’t change but be mindful. Carry on as you normally would and interact however you want to. You are you and I am me and the most important thing is that you are in my life. But if you really want me to succeed in a text messaging conversation with you, be patient and help me. I am thinking about you, even if I am not initiating a conversation and I do want to tell you how I feel when you write “How are you?” perhaps we can find a different way?

One thought on “Confusing Texting with Talking and the Consequent Anxiety.

  1. Lots to take away from this Claire. I text say ‘how are you’ as much as a pleasantry as a question. That obviously doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear more than ‘Fine, thank you’, because I DO want to hear about how your life is going and what you’ve been up to. Hadn’t really grasped for you that’s a useless question. Will save it for the phone or in person!


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