Drew Johnson has learned that when it comes to asking a woman out, texting beats calling every time.
"Most of the girls I've hung out with lately prefer a group activity rather than one-on-one," says Johnson, 30, a mechanical engineer from West Chicago, Ill., who plays bass in a band. "From my observations, the response rate on, 'Do you want to go for dinner or meet for a drink?' is very low compared to 'I'm here with a group of people. Show up if you want to,' " he says.
Casual, easy and non-threatening — the simple beauty of text messaging is upending American dating culture. Not since the dawn of the automobile has a technology — the cellphone — so swiftly and radically changed the way people interact, meet and move forward (or not) in a relationship. Texting has created a new brand of mobile etiquette, and for dating, it has given rise to new ways of flirting and even defining exactly what's going on between two people.
A new survey of 1,500 daters provided to USA TODAY reveals how deeply mobile technology has rocked the dating world. The daters, ages 21 to 50, give even greater insight into mobile behaviors and a new range of dating questions: Do you check your phone during a date? How soon must you reply to a text? Should a friend call or text you to see how the date is going? Hearing someone's voice on the phone is still a key element for a relationship, yet people are increasingly more likely to rely on the relative "safety" of a text for initial contacts as well as keeping in touch as a relationship develops.
Although the survey was commissioned by two niche dating websites — ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com — their members did not participate. Rather, an independent research firm conducted the survey in May. The data illustrate just how much mobile technology has altered dating behavior, communication and expectations for romance.
Among the findings:
•Approximately one-third of men (31%) and women (33%) agree it's less intimidating to ask for a date via text vs. a phone call.
•One in four say an hour is the longest acceptable response time to a text to someone you are dating or interested in dating; one in 10 expect a response instantly or within a few minutes.
•More men (44%) than women (37%) say mobile devices make it easier to flirt and get acquainted.
"Texting is kind of an ongoing conversation. It does make it easier to flirt. Maybe you're talking every day," says Alex Pulda, 27, who works in product research in San Francisco. "It's not like text conveys a ton of emotion, but you are getting a little more comfortable with each other."
A SAFER WAY TO FLIRT
Clinical psychologist Beverly Palmer, a professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, has researched flirting and non-verbal behavior. She says that because text doesn't afford the level of intimacy that voice does, relationships can be ended much quicker.
Palmer says men traditionally make the first move and women respond, which she says is "very difficult" for men. "In texting, a man can pull back quickly if he gets rejected, and it's easier to say 'no' to the guy because you're not having to confront the guy."
Men and women are adjusting to this new reality of dating in a mobile-dependent society. According to a report released this year by Nielsen based on actual phone bills of mobile contract subscribers, about 764 text messages per person were sent/received each month in the USA in 2012, compared with about 165 mobile calls per month.
The rise of text in the world of dating is another indication of how much has changed in the way relationships develop. Young adults are used to being overscheduled and multitasking. They've grown up with group activities and are more comfortable in packs. Experts say it should be no surprise they're treating their romantic relationships in much the same way — not wanting to invest too much time or effort in case they don't click.
Texting vs. talking keeps it casual. First dates are largely a chemistry check anyway, and to many young adults, the one-on-one time spent on an actual date feels too much like a commitment.
"If you're sitting down for a dinner date, that's putting way too much time out there for a first date. You don't know how it's going to go," says Adam Diamond, 29, a movie trailer editor in Los Angeles.
Preschool teacher Rachel Goetz of Manhattan likes the flexibility a drink allows for both parties.
"It can also work for the woman. If I'm not interested, then I don't feel bad that the gentleman spent a lot of money on a dinner," says Goetz, 34. "People are too worried that they're not going to like the person they're meeting, and the drink is an easy hour if it doesn't work out."
HIDING BEHIND TECHNOLOGY
Being time-efficient means text blasts for dates, says Ruthie Dean, 28, of Nashville, co-author of Real Men Don't Text, being published in September.
"Guys are using text messages to send the same message to multiple women. 'Hey, do you want to hang out tonight.' They're kind of fishing for a response," she says.
Dean, a Millennial who writes about her generation — generally born 1982 to 2000 — says, "We really see this generation as having a huge handicap in communication. We have our heads down in our smartphones a lot. We don't know how to express our emotions, and we tend to hide behind technology, computers and social media.
"People are uncomfortable using the phone. A text message is easier. You can think exactly what you want to say and how to craft it. When they are face-to-face or over the phone, there's this awkwardness," she says.
Pulda says he texts for everything, including dates.
"I don't love phone calls," he says. "They have all the downsides and don't have the benefit of face-to-face communication. It's kind of this in-between. And part of it is, it's a lot more work than a text."
Millennials' love of texting is rubbing off on other generations, suggests Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University in Washington who studies electronically mediated communication.
She says telephone calls are often thought of as an intrusion, while texting affords a way of "controlling the volume," a term she uses to describe the sense of control that text gives users that they can't get with a voice conversation.
"We tell ourselves we don't want to disturb someone. Sometimes it's true, but more often, it's because we can't get them off the phone," she says.
In texting, "we don't have to talk to people or listen to what another person has to say. We decide how we want to encounter or whether we want to encounter other people. Technology gives us tools for controlling our relationships."
Baron co-authored research, published last year in the journal Language Sciences, which studied mobile phone use in five nations, including the USA.
Among the study's findings: "More women than men reported choosing to text rather than talk because 'talking takes too long.' In the focus groups, students in several countries noted how easy it is to become embroiled in a lengthy voice call. With texting, senders manage the interaction, circumventing potential obligation to hear the other person out."
Johnson knows that firsthand.
"Often if I call, I get a text back saying, 'What's up?' I find that people not only prefer texting but have no problem making it blatantly clear that they only want to handle the conversation by text," he says.