Bringing a Text Romance Into the Real World

Dear Sara: In November of last year, I finally put myself out into the online dating scene. I have been divorced for about three years. Feeling nervous, I finally found someone I was interested in. We met for coffee [and have] been out on a couple of movie dates. He admitted to me a few months ago that he is sick—more than he was letting on. I am not sure how serious it is but didn’t want to just give up because of that. We never talk on the phone and the majority of our contact is through text. He is sweet and definitely boyfriend material. We flirt over text and have a lot in common. However, there is no romance–not even a kiss. He is having surgery soon and believes he will be better. Not sure what to do—stick around, call it quits, call him out or make a move. – L

Dear L: I can certainly understand your concern about getting into a relationship with someone who is seriously ill. You are the only person who can say if you’re prepared to take that on. Before you can do that, you need to spend time with him—in real life.

You mention that you two started seeing each other several months ago, but have only been on a few dates. I’m not sure why this is. Is it because he’s ill or because he wasn’t entirely truthful about his situation at first? Or was it his decision to make it a primarily text-based relationship? Or was it a simple matter of doctor’s orders—i.e., he needed to be quarantined?

Whatever the reason, you won’t be able to make an informed decision about this relationship until you’ve spent more face-to-face time together. Texting can be a nice diversion, but you can’t really know what it means to be with a person until you are … with them. He might be opting to text because it shelters you both from the reality of his physical condition. He (or possibly you?) might not really be interested in a flesh-and-blood relationship, preferring the digital kind, which is far less demanding and leaves ample room for fantasy.

A recent New York Times Modern Love column by Davis Webster illustrates the problem very nicely. Webster was snowed in at his apartment—unable to leave because his car didn’t have proper tires. He met a young woman through a dating app and they started texting, the weather preventing an in-person meeting. At one point, she asked what he was doing. Webster was drinking beer and watching an old sitcom, but said he was reading by the fire.

“I wish I was there with you,” she replied. Before I could respond, my phone buzzed again. “Sorry… Was that weird?”

“I wish you were here with me too,” I said, followed by a smiley face. “I bet it’d be really nice to cuddle with you in front of the fireplace.”

“Oh trust me, it definitely would.”

They continued for the rest of the night, and then over the course of several days, discussing what they’d be doing if they were together—a PG-rated conversation that involved making breakfast and listening to hip-hop.

Then the snow melted. Faced with the opportunity to spend real time together, the relationship changed significantly.

You clearly like this man—you’re thinking about him, texting him, writing to an advice columnist about him. If you think he’s definitely boyfriend material, then you need to find out where he stands. That means asking what he wants you to be to him: a friend, a fantasy, or a real-live girlfriend? Finding out might be unsettling or even heart-breaking, but that’s real life.

Have you encountered this ‘stuck in a texting relationship’ situation? How did you handle it?

its not you sara eckel

Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.

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