(Photo: Tyndale House Publishers)
After a good friend was dumped by text message, Michael Dean took to his wife's blog to call for the responsible use of technology in a relationship.
"I was just getting tired of hearing over and over of guys looking for an easy way out for break-ups, or simply not responding over text message so I wrote a blog post for Ruthie's blog, called 'Real Men Don't Text,'" Michael told The Christian Post.
Ruthie, whose blog focuses on relationships and marriage, said that Michael's post struck a chord with her audience and intersected with much of what she had been hearing from about relationships over the years.
"We just heard from thousands of men and women that relationships weren't working and a lot of it went back to technology. We felt like the face-to-face great relationships, communication, were just fading fast and so we wanted to challenge that norm," she said.
The post's popularity and the prescience of the topic encouraged the Deans' to expand Michael's article into a book, "Real Men Don't Text: A New Approach to Dating," that assisted women both in boldly navigating the murky waters of technology and relationships but also avoiding social media and texting's pseudo-intimacy.
"It's easier to text, it's easier to write a Facebook message because…it doesn't require you to really approach someone," said Michael, who added that people are often looking to avoid that "awkward conversation or see if the other person is going to be disappointed."
"It's easier to hide behind a screen. You're not really, really being vulnerable with someone when you can hide behind a computer screen or behind a phone screen," he added.
To Ruthie, even if the words are the same, the medium changes meaning, often generating confusion for the recipient of the message.
"With texting you can say the same thing to someone's face but when you say it in a text message, it just kind of loses its value. The confusion comes in about whether this is what this person really means because of the ease of the medium," said Ruthie. "So when a girl gets this text that says 'I love you,' 'I miss you,' 'I'm dying to see you,'—[you can't judge the sincereity of it] like you can when you're face to face."
Another reality that made complicated intimacy was social media's trend of making your whole life available to the world digitally.
"You think about what Facebook and social media has done to us where we share very intimate parts of our life and very vulnerable parts of our life for the common public," she said. "A lot of times when there's this serious text relationship, or social media relationship between two people it can seem like you're a lot of closer than you really are. I think there's this false sense of vulnerability."
Some of the couple's advice and principles have been drawn directly from their own life.
Shortly after the couple began their friendship, they migrated to different parts of the world: Ruthie to China and Michael to Germany. Before he left, Michael, who had recently ended a serious relationship, non-committally sent Ruthie a Facebook message to "keep me updated."
At the age of 23, Ruthie had committed to "setting standards for her dating life" that she hoped would prevent her from getting strung along in texting relationships. After consulting "like 38 friends" she messaged Michael to tell him that she could not interpret his message.
"Ruthie's response to me was so mature. She basically said, 'Hey if you want to go get to know me, if you're interested in developing this relationship, I'm interested, why don't you call me?'" Michael recalled.
"I knew, she's not going to put up with me just saying 'Hey, keep me updated,'" he added.
Much of the Deans' book encourages women to emulate Ruthie's decision to put her foot down and not settle for casual texting and social media relationships — but rather to demand to be called and interacted with in person — two of the practices that they see as being crucial for a foundation of good communication.
"The main thing I see is that people are losing the ability to express themselves face-to-face, to have a hard conversation, to have a minor disagreement to a major one face-to-face," said Ruthie. "Our relationships are becoming more shallow as communication has become easier."
The Deans, who have been married just over two years, have set own rules as a couple to prevent themselves from being overly attached to technology. They make sure that they put their phones away when they get home at night to make sure they aren't distracted trying to connect with other people in the midst of trying to spend time with each other.
"Technology is not bad. We were texting earlier," said Michael. "There just haven't been any rules—for lack of a better term—applied to texting and to technology and so that's why the book's subtitle is 'The New Approach to Dating.' We've seen what technology has done; let's see how we can change the approach to ensure you really end up with Mr. or Mrs. Right."