A short while back I flirted with online dating and by “flirted” I mean spent about five hours every night for 14 days obsessively scanning ads and sending out messages to men whose profiles interested me.
Those who contacted me with a simple “Hey” or “You’re pretty!” I summarily ignored while those who mentioned something related to my own profile (“I see you like documentaries. Have you seen Monk with a Camera?”) warranted further conversation.
But there was one type of respondent that excited me more than any other. These men were intriguing, flirtatious and oh so sexy. I couldn’t wait for their next message. In fact, I couldn’t wait to meet them in person. Why?
Three little dots…
Yep. They knew how to use – and work – the ellipsis.
In the world of texting and messaging, the ellipse is pretty much the equivalent of the suggestive pause. It’s the online raise of one eyebrow, an invitation to the imagination.
Here’s an example.
Me: Wow. You built your own bike? Ikea furniture must be a breeze for you.
Him: Well, I am good with my hands…
(Note: during these two weeks, I had not had sex for a very long time.)
Reading this I imagined the best erotic massage ever!
Of course, what he might have meant is: I’m good at baking, building birdhouses and fine needlepoint. I don’t know because he didn’t finish the sentence. I did.
Once I noticed this pattern, I went back through emails and texts from former lovers and boyfriends and realized they too were rife with ellipses. It seems I had a history of being seduced by my own thoughts. All I needed were a few words and three little dots to lead me to them.
This on its own isn’t bad.
Flirting with ellipses is fun and harmless if used in moderation. But, when deciphering these online messages on sites like Plenty of Fish, I often found myself creating entire characters in my head based on what wasn’t said after the ellipsis:
“I live in a great residential neighbourhood downtown…” Interpretation: He’s lives within five blocks of me!
“I love ethnic food…” Interpretation: He wants to accompany me to dozens of new restaurants AND foot the bill!
“Until then…” Interpretation: He’ll be thinking of me and picking out the china pattern for our wedding.
This, of course, set up unrealistic expectations that inevitably would be dashed a few messages later when I found out, for example, that his definition of downtown was an inner suburb and that he ate nothing but Korean food – ever!
Frustrated with the whole experience, I closed down my online dating accounts and went back to my regularly scheduled programming.
But ellipses, I realized, aren’t just a danger in online dating.
They happen in other parts of life every time someone says something vague or general and we fill in the blanks with our imagination.
“All staff meeting at 2 p.m. today.” Interpretation: Layoffs!
“Interesting haircut.” Interpretation: I’m hideous.
“The doctor called.” Interpretation. It’s cancer!
You don’t know what you don’t know. The all staff meeting could be a surprise birthday cake for the intern, interesting haircut could mean the person is considering it for themselves and the doctor could be calling because you left your scarf in his office.
In The Four Agreements, Don Migual Ruiz puts it bluntly: avoid assumptions. When in doubt check it out.
And if you’re online dating, don’t give in to lazy writing. Ask the person what they mean by those three little dots (that in itself can be flirtatious), and save your own ellipses until you’ve firmly established the object of your affection is indeed as sexy as your imagination in real life.