Notice: All forms on this website are temporarily down for maintenance. You will not be able to complete a form to request information or a resource. We apologize for any inconvenience and will reactivate the forms as soon as possible.

Dating Etiquette in a Digital Age

Texting and online messaging are convenient, but can breed bad habits when it comes to dating.

When I was first getting to know my husband, Kevin, texting played a big role in our relationship. In fact, it was so critical to the early development of our friendship that I included some of our early text messages in our wedding slideshow. Nowadays, texting and in-app messaging play an even larger role in how relationships form and progress.

We use digital communication for everything from checking in with our parents to shooting a message to the DoorDash guy delivering our burrito. It’s incredibly convenient, but can also be a landmine of bad behaviors when conducting a romantic relationship.

In my case, my frequent texting with Kevin fueled the interest we already shared. But our relationship also consisted of lots of in-person time spent together. Messaging was a tool to continue the conversation when we had other things going on, and it enhanced our real-life relationship. We texted for about a month before we began dating, and our texting habit continues nearly 14 years into marriage.

Avoid virtual pitfalls

While digital communication can be an asset to a relationship by allowing a budding friendship to develop quickly, messaging has its downsides. Consider the following three texting faux pas:

Breadcrumbing. This practice refers to an individual sending out flirtatious messages — “breadcrumbs” — to gain someone’s affections without any intention of committing. According to one psychologist:     

“Breadcrumbing ‘is leading someone on romantically using online or electronic forums (think: social media or texting) to keep someone’s interest in you, even if you never intend to become romantically involved with them.’ It’s essentially an emotionally manipulative tactic designed to make someone dependent on you (or vice versa, depending on the relationship dynamic).”

If someone seems less invested in getting together than you are, is “hot and cold” in the relationship, or you’re confused about whether you’re just friends or something more, he or she may fit this category. I have even experienced this in female friendships. A healthy boundary is to refuse to participate in “picking up the crumbs” and then distance yourself from the breadcrumber, who is not behaving as a true friend.

Matthew 5:37 delivers a simple reprimand for this type of behavior when it says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Breadcrumbing is an insincere form of communication that takes advantage of the other person by misleading them. Instead of dropping crumbs, be honest in your communications and create clear boundaries if necessary.

Ghosting. Many a single has been affected by this toxic texting trait. You’re having what feels like a great conversation with someone when suddenly communication ceases {insert cricket noises}. According to one study, nearly 25 percent of men and women reported having been ghosted in a romantic relationship, and 22 percent admitted they had ghosted someone else. The idea of abruptly ending communication isn’t new, but digital messaging makes it simple to avoid the hard conversations that come with a mature dating relationship. An article in Psychology Today explains:

“Cutting off communication spares the individual from confrontation, taking responsibility, or engaging in the emotional labor of empathy — despite the benefit a conversation can provide. In effect, it is much more convenient to vanish.”

At the root of ghosting is convenience — ignoring the other person is easier than engaging in uncomfortable truth-telling. Before texting and in-app messaging were prevalent, I was ghosted by a guy I’d been emailing. (I realize this admission dates me, but the principle was the same, so hang in there.) He lived an hour away, and after we’d exchanged a handful of pleasant emails, our digital correspondence ceased. Over the next few weeks, I sent a few short “haven’t heard from you in a while” messages with no response.

Just when I thought our email relationship was over, I received a message from him, wanting to reengage. I later learned he had gotten back in touch with an ex-girlfriend during that time and they were exploring getting back together. He didn’t want to have to explain, so he dropped communication with me. When he was available again, he reached out. Our friendship never developed into more, but I would have appreciated honesty instead of ghosting. He could have told me circumstances had changed and he was no longer available.

The “slow fade” is a version of ghosting. Instead of ending the relationship abruptly, the slow-fader gradually decreases contact until the relationship fizzles. In this case, the perpetrator may be attempting to spare the other person’s feelings, but it can actually be more painful because it keeps her on the hook, thinking the relationship might still happen.

Having truthful conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, Scripture tells us that speaking the truth in love is a mark of maturity in Christ. Ghosting is disrespectful and hurtful. A believer should choose the path of honor by having the hard conversation.

Text message breakup. “Breaking up is hard to do,” go the lyrics of an old song. Many of us can attest to the truth of those words. Ending a relationship is never a fun conversation, which is probably why in one study, 57 percent of millennials admitted to breaking up with someone via text. Sixty-nine percent said they’d been broken up with in this manner. A text-message breakup is one of the most unhealthy ways to end a relationship, but one article explains the appeal:

“Generally, experts recommend meeting up in person, if possible, or at the very least making a phone call. But when you’re the one who wants to end a relationship, it becomes easier to see the plus side of a breakup text. According to Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC, a licensed marriage and family therapist, breaking up with someone tends to cause a lot of anxiety. You might worry that the other person will cry, try to talk you out of it, or even become angry, she says. And sending a quick breakup text is a surefire way to avoid all of that.”

Breaking up via text may be the easiest course of action, but that doesn’t make it the right one. When dealing in matters that involve other people’s hearts and emotions, we should heed the words of Philippians 2:3-4:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Those verses should push us toward actions that honor others rather than dishonor them. Relationships end. Breakups are inevitable. But these endings should be conducted in a way that is honoring to both individuals (and Christ), something a text message can’t achieve. Breaking up well requires courage but allows both people a chance for healthy closure.

Embrace a higher dating standard

We live in an age of rapidly changing technology. Who knows? AI may soon be writing our digital love notes. Texting and in-app messaging are tools we can use to build and conduct relationships. I have heard of more than one couple meeting through social media (dropping into someone’s DMs) and building their relationship through texting. But as believers, we’re called to wield these tools with wisdom and love. The convenience they provide does not give us an excuse to ignore what God says about how we should treat those around us — including those we date.

The texting faux pas mentioned may be common, but practices like ghosting, breadcrumbing and breakup-by-text simply do not reflect our kind, loving God who values each person immeasurably. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV) says, “Do everything in love.” That includes how we interact with others online and through texting.

Copyright 2023 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.

Share This Post:

About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

Related Content