Text and the single girl: over-thinking abounds, and logic disappears.
My life: Laura Collins on texting
I don't know if there are any statistics on the subject, but I'm confident that, were studies conducted, they would confirm what most women secretly know: that at any time, in any place, the chances are the woman next to you is either actively engaged in it, thinking about the last time she was, or plotting the next time she will be. I'm talking about text. Specifically the fraught area of textual relations between the sexes.
In handbags, in pockets or perched on desks, phones and BlackBerries give it away with their chorus of chirps, beeps, buzzes and alerts. The air is filled with these digital impulses, clandestine clouds trailed by a fervent female effort to work out: "What does it mean?"
It has never been easier to communicate and it has never been harder to make yourself understood.
Guys, one simple truth: there is no such thing as safe text. However anodyne your wording, one thing is certain: when you text a girl with whom there is any historic, current or possible future flirtation, then, within seconds of that text landing, it will have been interpreted and reinterpreted in and out of its meaning. It will have been shared with female friends who will scrutinise it with the intensity of a team of Bletchley Park codebreakers, straining to puzzle out what "i finish at 7 c u then xx" really means.
Focus will fall on the "xx". What does that mean? Well, it depends. Has this final flourish been deployed before? Is there one more or one less "x"? Is any variation from the norm indicative of growing or diminishing feelings? In fact, did he mean to send this text to you at all? Who is he really blowing these kisses to? Is this sign-off actually a kiss-off?
And, while all this over-thinking transforms a simple missive into the end of a relationship, it is absolutely the last thing the chap who sent it is thinking about. When he hit "send" it left his phone and it left his mind.
He isn't agonising over how long it has been since he sent it, wondering why you haven't responded. Yet women read meaning into thin air - literally. No text does not equal no meaning. If only it were that simple. It just leaves interpretation perilously boundless. Meanwhile, he is deaf to your text silences. He isn't blinking at his inert handset, wondering if you are out of reception, if your battery has died, if you've fallen into a pothole. He isn't scrolling through previous texts. He isn't raising an eyebrow, deciding whether he can excuse your use of "txtspk" or the fact that you don't seem to know the difference between "too" and "to".
The truth is, I don't know a single woman who doesn't, at some point, think this way. Just as I don't know a single man who does. And frankly, I wouldn't respect him if he did. Oh, yes, I'm not afraid of double standards. They are integral to my personal textiquette.
Nowhere is my utter hypocrisy more apparent than in the use of emoticons. I'd never heard of them until about six months ago. Then I was tempted. It started with sparing use, cut with heavy irony. Then the irony slipped, recreational usage became habitual and now I'm a functioning addict. I once spent an entire day communicating through the medium of emoticons. This should be a source of shame. It isn't.
But it is also acceptable only between women. There is no logic to this. It's just the way it is.
Just as there is no logic to the moments that make all the angst worth it - when the textual chemistry is suddenly just right and there's no need to ask, "What does it mean?" because that's already terribly clear. But then that's the joy of text ;)
Laura Collins is a senior feature writer for The National