Instant Messaging Do’s And Don’ts

IM’ing can impact your love life, so read these important do’s and don’ts before you type.

By Bob Strauss

few years ago, I dated a gal with whom I’d engage in impromptu, flirtatious instant message (IM) banter. One afternoon, bored at work, I IM’d her a “what’s up?” and received the immediate reply, “My furniture is having sex!” Intrigued and inspired, I zapped over a series of increasingly suggestive feng shui suggestions, and when I didn’t hear back I realized “My furniture is having sex!” was just her placeholder, I’m-away-right-now message. Long story short, I wound up making out with her computer, and who knows what she thought when she returned to her desk.

Yes, as if 24-hour email and cell-phone availability haven’t made relationships complicated
Use text messages to build up anticipation for your next date.
enough, instant messaging is right there on standby, ready to coax unsuspecting couples into a cyber-purgatory of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and unhealthy fixation. We asked Mary Zalmanek, author of The Art of the Spark: 12 Habits to Inspire Romantic Adventures, about healthy ways to handle the IM habit—and use it to forge a better dating life. Here’s what she had to say:

Use the medium in a romantic way
Rather than a flat, unexpressive IM starter like “Hey, what’s up,” Zalmanek suggests using instant messaging “as a way to build up anticipation for an unusual meeting or to set up a surprise treasure hunt or adventure.” Some pertinent examples: “Look in the glove compartment of your car for a surprise,” “Stop at the liquor store and get a bottle of champagne,” or “Meet me at our favorite picnic spot.”

Remember: There may be someone over your (or her) shoulder
When you’re in the midst of a hot and heated IM session, it’s easy to imagine that the two of you are snuggling together in a dark room, sharing your most intimate secrets—when you may actually both be sitting at desks, under ugly
Remember that what you write can be saved—and then seen by others.
fluorescent lighting, in full view of unsympathetic co-workers. “What you write can be saved and may end up being read by others, intentionally or unintentionally,” Zalmanek says. “Plus, if you send a sexy note to your beloved at the office, you never know who might walk in and casually observe what you thought was for his or her eyes only.” Never mind the fact that when you’re at work you’re being paid to, well, work—not to flirt on the Internet with your sweetie.

Don’t go overboard
“If there’s no news left to share when the two of you are together, you’re IM’ing way too much,” Zalmanek says—and the same goes if IM’ing “impacts on your other responsibilities at home or work or if it becomes your primary means of communication.” When you’re separated from your loved one, Zalmanek suggests, “there are various ways you can stay in touch besides instant messaging: The telephone, regular email, even written letters. In this high-tech age, it’s a pleasure to find a card or letter in your mailbox with instantly recognizable handwriting. And if your date doesn’t recognize your handwriting, you’ve definitely been IM’ing too much!”

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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