CHICAGO – So you're on a first date and you notice your potential love interest looking down and fiddling with a cell phone under the table. Or maybe he or she isn't even attempting to hide it.
Call it a sign of the times. Or maybe just a sign that he or she is just not that into you.
Whichever, many people who play the love scene have a story — usually a gripe — about texting while dating.
"Oh, the fun of pretending to be interested in what someone else is typing to someone you don't know," says an exasperated Tyler Barnett, a 25-year-old businessman in Los Angeles who calls himself a "textaholic" but says he rarely does it on a date.
Not so for some of the women he has gone out with. He recalls one double date where the women he and his friend were with were both texting right at the table. Barnett suspected they were typing messages to one another, so he casually asked to see one of the women's new iPhones, and immediately checked her text message inbox.
He was right. "And they were not singing our praises," Barnett says. "How ugly is his shirt!" read one text about his friend. "Who the hell does this guy think he is!?"
Texting can, of course, have its advantages in a relationship, for flirting, connecting, even "text sex."
But often, it just gets in the way. Betsey Usher broke up with a boyfriend because of his constant cell phone usage with friends and ex-girlfriends during movies and dinners out.
"I don't think he ever got the message in spite of the fact that we talked about it many, many times," says the 39-year-old, who works at the nursing school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "I think he's just addicted!"
Since 2001, the number of text messages sent in this country has risen from about a million a month to 75 billion, according to Alex Campbell, chief executive of Vibes Media, a Chicago company that helps businesses market themselves via text message. A survey done in December for the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that half of adults 18 and older have a cell phone and use it to send or receive text messages.
In other words, while it might be a red flag if a date would rather text than talk, we are a nation that expects to be in constant contact, Campbell says.
"People understand it's not right, but they still do it anyway," he says. "The information they're getting back is worth the risk."
Liz Nelson, 25, managed to text her way out of a bad date. She was sitting in a steakhouse with a guy who couldn't stop talking about himself. She quietly texted a friend and asked her to call and rescue her.
"This might be bad or rude on my part, but I told him my friend had an emergency and needed me," says Nelson, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif. He later confronted her — "Totally called me out — whoops!"
Michael Volpatt, a 37-year-old San Franciscan, has found his own way to deal with texting while dating, a habit he has grown to hate since the last five guys he went out with did it. One of his dates went outside to use his phone.
"So after 15 minutes I got up, told the bartender that my friend would take care of the bill and walked out," Volpatt says.