It’s 3pm, and your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/crush hasn’t messaged you back (if at all). You try not to hover over your chat, waiting for their ‘last seen’ to turn to ’online’.
In an age of digital intimacy, it’s totally normal to fret over online connection, the abundance of it and its quality. Are we making an effort to converse enough? Are we updating one another about our days, our lives? Are we utilising the resources at our disposal – pictures, GIFS, emojis, videos and voice notes (love them or hate them?) – to show that we care?
During a pandemic that took most of our interactions online, we’ve grown accustomed to relationship maintenance and courting turning virtual, too. So much so that someone has come up with a name for this attachment: “Whatsapp Intimacy”.
Coining the term for the New York Times’s Modern Love column, writer Layla Kinjawi Faraj even suggests this connective need is a ‘sixth love language’ – for her and her Syrian family and the wide diaspora, a necessary bond between loved ones separated by many oceans and borders.
While quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, receiving gifts, and acts of service remain the five primary love languages named and identified by Gary Chapman in 1992, there are alternative ways of expressing your affection.
WhatsApp (other messaging media are available!) has long bridged the distance between lovers, family members and friends unable to meet regularly. Even among those who share proximity, life online means constant communication and almost limitless opportunity to “spend” time together, establishing the mundanity and excitement of day-to-day life that can bring us closer together.
It’s no wonder then that WhatsApp intimacy might be described as a love language – with many of us expecting a “good morning” or “goodnight, I love you” text daily without miss, not to mention little updates throughout the day.
So, why is this style of communication so addictive and where are its pitfalls? We spoke to Charisse Cook, a relationship psychotherapist, to find out how to navigate different love languages where one partner is online more than the other.
She tells HuffPost UK: “WhatsApp creates an immediacy with people that can mimic in-person intimacy. For many people it is reassuring to be reminded of someone’s presence in their life throughout the day. Being in contact over WhatsApp allows for short, flirtatious or reassuring messages to be exchanged and that connection to be confirmed and reinforced.”
But just as different people hold the other five love languages in greater or lesser regard, not everyone necessarily “speaks” this one as fluently either. “Some people may struggle with the expectation of this kind of contact during the day, and feel somewhat suffocated or under undue obligation,” she warns.
So what can you do if this is you with a partner (or indeed a friend)? As with most matters of the heart, being open about your needs and limitations is a good rule of thumb.
“Agreeing ahead of time on the amount of messaging that both partners feel they can do wholeheartedly can help manage expectations and reduce upset or disappointment,” advises Cook.
“If one member of the relationship likes to message, they can understand that – for example – three messages from their partner shows a significant effort.
“Likewise, for the member of the relationship for whom constant contact is not necessary, they know they can respond three times and that will be meeting the needs of their partner, and will not be subject to criticism or complaints later on.”
Don’t want to shoot the (non) messenger? Best follow Cook’s simple advice.