‘I still wince when I think about it’: 10 text messages – and the stories behind them | Relationships

‘I still wince when I think about it’: 10 text messages – and the stories behind them | Relationships

I sent a text to my sisters telling them I was gay. No reply came. Why?’

It was 2007: the nation was saying goodbye to Tony Blair and the tightness of my jeans was outrageous. I was 22, fresh out of university and in a thrilling new relationship with the man who would, 11 years later, become my husband. For ages, I kept this relationship from my family, but towards the end of spring I was done with the indignity of sneaking around. I wanted to be open. I eventually told my fairly traditional Ghanaian mother that I was gay and had a boyfriend who I had been seeing for months. Let’s just say that the conversation involved increasingly heated uses of the word “No”.

After that talk, I felt a mixture of vulnerability, numbness, anger. But I still wanted to tell my two older sisters. However, the prospect of another face-to-face confrontation wasn’t exactly appealing. So, a few days after I’d come out to my mother, I checked that I had enough credit on my scratched and scraped pay-as-you-go Nokia 3310 and set about composing a text to my siblings.

How do you come out in a text message? Verbosely, that’s how. My writing style, especially when I’m under duress, becomes quite … expansive. So the character count was flouted, sentences stretched on, there was no skimping on emotional detail. This message was, in fact, about eight messages strung together. I pressed send, pushed down the subsequent sicky feeling, hid the phone under my pillow for a bit. I waited. But no reply came. Not within the next hour. Not the next morning, either. Nor the day after that.

Were my sisters disgusted? As shocked as Mum had been? Upset that I hadn’t spoken to them directly? Perhaps they didn’t know how to respond? Questions like these hounded me over the next few days – it felt like months – of radio silence, while I photocopied and filed at my entry-level publishing job, working even more distractedly than usual. Something stopped me from texting them again. Some self-protective impulse. Maybe fear?

And then, at the end of the week, I was having a tense and tentative dinner with my mum, when my sisters made an unexpected appearance. They bundled in, the epitome of breeziness and chattiness, all hooped earrings and headwraps. They were delighted with the menu: plantains with bean stew. They pulled up seats, talked about how good the meal smelled – they were starving. I couldn’t touch the food on my plate.

When Mum got up to dish out their servings, I quietly asked if they had received a text from me. My older sister said: “Oh yeah – I got this bitty message from you, like the beginning but then it cut off halfway through. Like mid-sentence. Why? Was it important?”
Michael Donkor

It read: Listening to our song. i love you baby xxxxx. I knew it couldn’t be from my wife’

I was a latecomer to texting. In those early days bombarding people with words felt a bit impolite, and the messages themselves were an unfortunate combination of informal and permanent, like misspelt tattoos. I didn’t get it.

For the better part of a decade, the only person I really texted was my wife, because I felt our relationship was strong enough to accommodate the abrupt shorthand required. I could send her a message that just said “celery”. She could send me ones that said “bins” or “where u”. They looked like exchanges between two people barely on speaking terms.

Then one day while I was out I got a text from her that said: “I miss you, dreaming of you wishing you was here. Listening to our song. i love you baby xxxxxxx.”

I stared at the message for a long time. I knew it couldn’t actually be from my wife, because we don’t have a song. It was so unlike her that I wondered if it was a signal she was being held hostage, but it wasn’t part of a code we’d prearranged.

It turned out my wife was visiting a friend with teenage daughters, and this is what they do if you leave your phone unattended for more than a minute. Over the next few years, I would occasionally get a text from my wife that said something like: “I love u so much I am nothing without you let’s renew our wedding vows.” Although I knew what was going on, they were still nice to get.

In the end those messages taught me something important about the potential of texting: you could use it to mess with people’s heads.
Tim Dowling

It was a gift to be able to screenshot our texts. But with new tools came new punishments …’

Bellamy texted me something annoying. I can’t remember what exactly, but he was showing off about some party he was going to or some famous person he was working with. Nothing terrible, just, you know, a little bit annoying. Like I’m starting to be right now. I screenshotted his annoying text and sent it to my friend Alex, who shares with me an understanding that Bellamy can be a little annoying sometimes. Alex will get a kick out of this, I thought. “Wooop.” The screenshot flew across the skies, into space, down again, and then instantly back on to the screen I was speaking to Bellamy on. Yes – I had sent the screenshot straight back to Bellamy. My heart stopped. I looked at the bar under my message. One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. Dot dot dot …

When we were first given the means to screenshot our texts, we thought it was a gift – this quick snap of a conversation to share, proof of someone’s foolishness, their selfishness, their dick. But O Prometheus! With new tools came punishments. The end of privacy, the end of trust and, most cruelly of all, the risk – ever present – of sending a screenshot of a conversation straight back to the person the conversation is with. Personally? I’d rather have the eagle eat my guts.

Accidentally sneering about Bellamy to Bellamy himself would not have been possible before texts. Before smartphones you were unlikely to have a conversation with Sophie, excuse yourself, walk around in a circle back to Sophie and say to her face: “Oh my God, you won’t believe what Sophie just said.” But the first step of gossip these days is charged with the danger of immediately notifying the soon-to-be-slandered of your betrayal. I now load up the screenshot, and check the name of the person I am sending it to three times. I then hand my phone over to a team of scientists, who prove through a process of reverse-cryptography, metadata analysis and tea leaves, that I am in fact sending the screenshot to the intended recipient. Having them all on retainer is expensive, but you can’t put a price on peace of mind.

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t be a gossip, Phil,” you may be thinking. “Maybe the occasional embarrassment is a small price to pay for your disloyalty.” Well, to that I say: “Shut up.” You do it, too. We all do. Now that texting has evolved into WhatsApp, every conversation is split in two – its original encrypted form between the intended parties, and a second screenshotted life, floating in 5G, bouncing between smirking commentators, themselves suffering unknown mockery in screenshots they aren’t aware of.

But knowing this doesn’t help. Still my shame lingers. In my quiet, private moments, when I’ve put down my phone, and turned off the lights, when I lie in my bed and try to slip into sleep, the words of Bellamy’s reply form in my mind’s eye. “That was meant for Alex, wasn’t it?”
Phil Wang

Phil Wang tours his new standup Wang in There, Baby! from 23 March to 18 June 2023. His standup special Philly Philly Wang Wang is streaming on Netflix now.

‘His message was so thrilling that I had to sit down on my bed to take it in’

It was a text about vegetarian sausages. But it was so utterly thrilling and unexpected that I had to sit down on the edge of my bed to take it in.

Who knew the sentence “Was it you I was discussing the merits of Linda McCartney sausages with the other night?” could make a heart pound? I was in my late 20s and had spent the best of that decade dating, with very little success. The one who had come close to capturing my heart now lived 5,000 miles away and since then there had been a lot of ghosting, egos, neurosis and an abundance of meh. I felt thoroughly deflated. The last date I had been on prior to this text arriving was with someone my flatmate and I had nicknamed “Disinterested Dave”. I needn’t expand.

This fateful message was sent in February 2013 after I had spent the majority of my brother’s 30th birthday party chatting to a seemingly nice guy with a lovely smile. We ended up sharing a taxi home as we both wanted early nights – I had a deadline; he had a football match to play in the morning (apparently). There was to be no funny business for a) he was my brother’s friend and b) I was staying at Mum’s that night – a harrowingly awkward combination. Towards the end of the journey, I decided to straight up ask him out – I was so utterly bored with playing games, plus there was something about that smile. “Would you like to go for a drink sometime?” I asked and then quickly realised how excruciating it would be for him to say no. When it was just the two of us. Trapped in a taxi. So I immediately followed up with a flustered: “You don’t have to say yes just because you are sitting next to me.” He was, understandably, a little taken aback, and, while we did end up swapping numbers, I got out of the taxi feeling mortified and sure I wouldn’t hear from him.

Then he flashed up on my screen a few days later, with his meat-alternative opener. And with that text he sent what everyone battered by the cruel, thankless world of dating craves – a smidgen of hope. I remember replying something about the far superior Tivall vegetarian sausages, which I am sure was the stuff of poetry. I wish I could find those texts. It would be nice to show our kids one day.
Abigail Radnor

‘I dashed off a quick question to my prospective mother-in-law: MARRY DAUGHTER ANSWER ASAP?’

Apparently, about 70% of marriage proposers do it the old-fashioned way, seeking the permission of a future parent-in-law before getting down on one knee.

I wonder what percentage have asked for that permission via text message.

In 2011, I decided to propose to my then girlfriend while we were on holiday in Cornwall. We were staying in a run-down cottage full of dead flies and smelling of old curtains and medicine. I bought tea lights, laying them out in what I trusted were mesmerising and sexy patterns on the patio. These candles, repeatedly extinguished by the breeze, required constant maintenance. Steaks were cooking.

Distracted, it occurred to me very late in the process to ask permission. I dashed off a quick message to my prospective mother-in-law, and, although the exact wording has been lost to our family history, I know it was written at speed and in not a lot more detail than: “MARRY DAUGHTER ANSWER ASAP?”

I ran about relighting candles. I finished preparing the steaks. Time was up and I popped the question. Later, I found a reply from my mother-in-law, who had given us her blessing, also forgiving me for a method of request that now makes me squirm. Had an emoji been available to me then I would have sent her an embarrassed face. I might send her one now.
Tom Lamont

Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

‘I woke up covered in my own vomit and sent a text blaming a random. Had I got away with it?’

Damn those 90s brainiacs who invented the text! Did they not consider for a second adding an “un-send” feature? Did they not factor in the social hell that would inevitably come from giving literally anyone the ability to ping across instant messages to people they fancy, or have grossly wronged?

We all live with the guilt of our historic-chaos texts. From texting aloof, nasty boys that you’re thinking about them rn 😉 to monologues to your BFF lamenting how she’s offended you, there’s a lot that can be, and is, texted and instantly regretted. For example, the time I forwarded an offensive gif to the new guy I was dating because I misunderstood the premise. I refuse to go into this in detail, but when he replied “y the fuck hav u sent me this?” I saw what was happening in the background of the boomeranging image, and wanted only to go to live on that island with Wilson the volleyball and knock my teeth out with an ice-skate. He dumped me a few weeks later; I was like, “No problemo, buddy. I get it.”

My absolute worst text happened when we were 17, and our cool friend (whom I’ll call Sasha) was a promoter for a club in London. This status had secured us Friday-night entry. For us messy teens anchored to the Woking strip of Yates and Wetherspoons, this was a very big deal, and we rose to the occasion.

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of the evening – but when I woke up stinking of spirits in Sasha’s kid-sister’s bedroom, and became aware of the vomit covering the bed, floor and, somehow, walls, I did have just enough memory to know for sure that “Hell, yeah, that was me.” A “random”, as any non-mate used to be called, was also staying at Sasha’s – one of those teenage boys who is quite hot but has no chat. That guy, let’s call him Marcus, had gone, nowhere to be seen; the other members of our party were still snoozing off the rum and mixers. I escaped under the cover of dawn’s hungover darkness, and texted Sasha that I had woken up among all that puke and remember oh-so clearly that it came from the gob of that Marcus guy. “What a dick!” we texted each other, united in our disgust.

Then, I texted our mutual friend Charlotte, telling her the whole story – I had thrown up all over Sasha’s brother’s bedroom, I know it was me, I remember holding my hair back, et cetera, et cetera – but I had blamed mysterious Marcus and got away with it. I had overcome my pissed-out-of-my-mind adversity and come out on top.

The twist: I, of course, sent that text to Sasha, not Charlotte. Fifteen years on, and I’m still cringing. Sasha was deeply unimpressed. She and I no longer speak. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: no problemo, buddy. I get it.
Emma Sidi

Emma Sidi stars as Emily Maitlis in Prince Andrew: the Musical on New Year’s Day on Channel 4.

‘I will for ever wince when I think of him reading that

The first text I ever received was from a boy I sat next to in RE that read: get your tits out. While I never did get my tits out for that particular boy, it represented the free-flowing, remorseless ease with which my fellow teens and I communicated in the early 00s. Nowadays I am frightened to share any honest thoughts over texts in case they’re screengrabbed, but back then I’d monologue left, right and centre, night and day, or at least until I ran out of credit. I could even text without looking, often doing so covertly while sitting at the dinner table with my parents, eyes glazed over as I stared at my plate of cold peas.

Naturally, I sent the wrong texts to the wrong people, and vice versa, but my biggest regret was a text I sent aged 16, towards the tail end of a two-month relationship with a puppyish boy at school who looked like The OC’s Seth Cohen. We got on OK but I wanted the cinematic experience I’d seen on TV: I wanted fireworks, I wanted a bed of red roses, I wanted walks on the beach. In all honesty, I wanted him to get his tits out. To vent my frustrations, I messaged my friend Greg to tell him that it wasn’t working with “Seth”. “I don’t fancy him and I want to dump him,” I wrote, possibly with a list of other inadequacies that I can’t quite face to publicly document.

The next day, a group of friends, including Greg and my boyfriend, were playing kiss chase in my parents’ garden. After 30 minutes, I noticed that my boyfriend had gone missing, so I went inside to find him, only to see his lanky body arched solemnly over a Nokia 3210 that wasn’t his.

Hearing me enter the room, fake-Seth dramatically placed the phone down on a table – the screen open on my message to Greg – and said he thought he should leave. Which he did, after silently waiting 40 minutes for his dad to pick him up.

I will for ever wince when I think of that text message; pained by the thought of someone so sweet reading words so brutal and unwarranted. I will for ever curse myself for being so gossipy and cruel. But, most of all, I will for ever be grateful for passcodes.
Harriet Gibsone

Harriet Gibsone’s memoir Is This OK? is out on 25 May 2023.

Illustration of person lying down covered in envelopes
Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

‘The first text wasn’t funny. By the 27th, it had soared into surrealism’

It was April 2005, and my mother had gone to a stained-glass conference in Iceland, because, of course she had. My sister was texting me roughly every hour, to say “Mum’s gone to Iceland” – a reference to the supermarket slogan. The first time, it wasn’t funny; then around the fifth, the sheer audacity of how unamusing it was became hilarious. Sometimes I sent a reply that was deliberately even less amusing, and then around the 27th text, it soared into surrealism, and I think I genuinely did laugh, out loud, for some considerable length of time. This was when there was still ambiguity about whether “lol” meant “laugh out loud” or “lots of love” (per David Cameron in the Leveson inquiry). So I texted her back: “That actually did make me laugh out loud but please stop now. Please.”

She did not stop. These were the days before emojis and photos, so there was very little scope to mix things up. “Mum’s gone to Iceland,” she’d text again. By this time we were on day four, or day 400, who knows? Our dad had died the November before, and for ages our text communication had alternated between the tersely existential (“No metastases yet”) and the grindingly administrative (“Tried to take those meal replacement cans back to Boots but you can’t return prescriptions so I have to THROW 36 CANS OF DISGUSTING BUT SERVICEABLE MILKSHAKE SOUP AWAY”). That sad time was buried, now, underneath a thousand timeless texts: “Mum’s gone to Iceland”; “Stop it now.”

On the fifth day, my sister called me, and I ignored the call, reasoning that a joke that wasn’t funny by text was likely to be even less funny vocally; I ignored the next 13 calls, too, finally answering on an in-breath, ready to tell her how much she was bugging me in the form of a yodel. It turned out our mother had had a heart attack. She was fine; Icelandic healthcare is amazing. Still, though.

It seems that one fundamental rule of texting had yet to penetrate my consciousness: when someone switches medium, it’s because they want to say a different thing.
Zoe Williams

Traditionally, I have steered clear of SMS grenades. But then I had to pull out the pin’

The text message after the night before is a cruel mistress. Sometimes it appears like divine intervention, bringing truth and light into the dark fictions of my mind: “What if I said something bad?” goes the hangxiety. “There’s probably a WhatsApp group called ‘Coco is problematic’ being created right now!” But then it arrives: “Great to see you!” and all’s right in the world.

And sometimes the messages hurt: the “We need to talk” from a partner let down by the night’s antics. Or the silence to/from an acquaintance that went too far.

I’ve traditionally steered clear of such SMS grenades, even when necessary (read: people-pleaser!). But the morning after my birthday party a few years back, I had to pull the pin: “Hey, I need to say this … ”

It took several hours to draft the message. Revision after revision trying to hit the right tone, searching for “dignified disappointment” but finding only “sad”.

I was sad because as a small group of (white) friends peeled away from my party, I stopped them by the exit for a photo. A man, maybe drunk, maybe unwell, but definitely loose and bigger than me, started harassing them. I intervened. He honed in on me, inching closer and closer till he was close enough for me to feel the wet when he spat the P-word into my face. But I was most sad because when he left, my friends did, too, leaving me in shock and, mere minutes later, in tears.

I’ve thought a lot about how in this “single-use” era, friendship can also be treated as disposable. Perhaps it’s because we use “friend” too freely, applying it to people who are nice enough, but won’t be there to visit you in hospital, or lend you their last £10 if you need it more. But from that night – from those texts – I’ve learned that good friends aren’t found, they are made, through tests and growth; through openness and honesty about sometimes being wronged and sometimes being wrong, and wanting, above all else, to work it out.

Fast-forward three years and many of those same friends were my bridesmaids. We’re closer than ever. The text after the night before might be a cruel mistress. But she’s a damn fine healer, too.
Coco Khan

‘It took me three days to work out what that envelope meant’

It was the evening of Christmas Day 1999. The presents had been unwrapped hours before, the traditional bout of festive-gift disappointment was beginning to lose its bitter edge. We had peaked and were all prepared to slip into a snoozy, snorey gentle turkey coma. Suddenly, there was an electrical sound I didn’t recognise, an unfamiliar “ping” emitted from my Motorola V3688. The phone was never far from my side. In fact, the phone was always on my side, as I chose to wear it in a handy, snazzy mobile-phone holster (not because of the high number of calls I was receiving, but because it made me feel a teeny bit like Captain Kirk in Star Trek with his much-coveted flip-open communicator). Popping the holster clip with my thumb and flipping open the phone for closer inspection, I noticed a small envelope symbol had appeared on the top right of the monochrome screen. I showed it to my partner. “What’s that mean?” “Dunno, never seen that before.”

My first thought, because panic is my go-to place, was, “Oh crap, the phone is malfunctioning, I bet that’s not covered in my One2One contract.” I started fiddling with the buttons – maybe I could get the cursor thingy up to that mystery envelope.

Despite being house-brick basic, these early phones were frustratingly difficult to navigate. You could wear a finger down to the bone clicking on buttons just trying to set the sensory challenging ringtone. So, it won’t come as a shock when I tell you that it took me three whole days to work out what to do with that little envelope. When I finally managed to stumble across the right combination of button punches, my efforts were rewarded with a three-word message that appeared on the screen. HAPPY XMAS ZOE. There was the number of the sender at the bottom but no name. I hadn’t worked out how to use the contacts options. I had absolutely no idea who it was from and why on earth they had bothered to send me this “thing”. I distinctly remember thinking, “Huh! That’s silly, that will never catch on!”
Zoe Lyons

Zoe Lyons’ Bald Ambition tour starts in February 2023;

#wince #text #messages #stories #Relationships

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