Nancy Slotnick: Are you there, Buddy? It’s me, Margaret.

I’m going to make it official: communication is no longer linear. What do I mean by that? Linear communication is the tennis volley. You write a letter to a friend or lover. (Snail mail, anyone? I don’t think so.) You wait for a response. You email someone. They reply to your email. Your text bubbles are evenly matched and go back and forth in a relatively equal fashion.

What’s non-linear communication? Posting Happy Birthday on your friend’s Facebook wall and never expecting a reply. Texting someone multiple times because they never reply to your texts. (Not recommended in a dating context.) Needing to email someone a few times before they notice. Tweeting.

We have come to expect one directional communication. Is this human connection? Yes, it’s a form of it. Is it a good way to promote a cause, share breaking news or start a revolution? Totally. Is it a good way to make you feel totally popular on your birthday? Absolutely. Does it help you stay in touch with acquaintances and stay on their radar screen for party invites and the like? Yes! Is it healthy in the realm of dating and romantic relationships? Hell no. There’s the rub.

I am considered to be a dating expert (Well, Oprah called me one so that makes it so.) Yet I don’t have many hardfast rules in my arsenal. I’m not a Rules Girl in that way. But I have always had one rule in dating that is extremely useful:

“Don’t make two moves in a row.”

Useful until now, that is. The reason why it works is because you get to find out if the person is truly interested or not. The convention wisdom is that if they are interested, they will reply back. You can avoid a lot of wasted time this way. Rather than continually reaching out to someone who says they’re busy when what they are really trying to say is: “Not interested,” you just wait to see if they reply. Radio silence gives you your answer.

Nancy SlotnickBut these days it is pretty impossible to tell if someone just didn’t get the message. How many times do you get a little Facebook chat push notification on your phone and then it marks it as read before you even open it? And how many friends do you have that either never reply on Facebook, or only reply on Facebook, or will reply to a text but don’t read your email or vice versa? And then if you ever attempt to date someone 10 years your junior or your senior, you completely can’t synch up your communication methods?

In the words of Charlie Brown, “Argh!!” And speaking of Charlie Brown, it often feels like the people on the other end of all of my communication media are just like those grown-ups on the Peanuts: “wah-wah-wahwah-waaah!” I want to crawl under a rock. But that doesn’t play well in dating either. So what to do?

Always stay confident and think positive about the other person, whilst trying to keep the conversation as linear as possible. Notice what’s you and what’s them. (In other words- “Are your text bubbles HUGE and they reply: “K.”? But never never make assumptions about why the person isn’t responding in the way you’d like. You can have hunches, and certainly don’t hold off all your other plans while waiting for a reply, but don’t give in to getting paranoid.

I had some business dealings recently with a company that I found online. They make patches that iron onto uniforms and T-shirts. I couldn’t find a phone number on the website so I emailed them to ask if we could talk by phone for them to answer some questions for me. It seemed so much easier for me to deal with it by phone. But the very nice guy on the other end of email kept answering each question I had quite promptly. He never answered my question about speaking by phone. I resisted the urge to be annoyed with the fact that I couldn’t talk to him by phone and we got the deal done.

At some point after the items shipped, it became clear that the company was based in the U.K. So I said- “Oh, that explains why you didn’t want to talk by phone.” And the proprietor replied: “No, it’s actually because I am deaf.”

You just never know. Or as my Polish mother-in-law says: “You never don’t know.”


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