How To Tell People They Can’t Borrow Your Phone

Seriously, has this ever happened to you?

How do you tell somebody in a public place that they can’t borrow your phone (cause you’re afraid they’ll steal it, duh, but you can’t SAY that)?

Oh god, what if people started explaining their motivations for each and every use of technology and social media? “You can’t use this because I think you might steal it.” “I’m texting you ‘what are you up to’ because I want you to express romantic interest in me.” On the engagement-related Facebook status of the person you hated in high school: “Your perceived social advancement ahead of my own makes me uneasy, depressed, and furious, and the only thing that will help is if your wedding photos are as tacky as I expect them to be.” This column would cease to exist, but also everyone would be dead.

You have every right to deny the use of your personal belongings to strangers in public places, and here is how you say no if that is what you would like to say: “I’m sorry, I’m just about to make a work call,” and then keep walking while proceeding to make a call, real or fake. This is one of those instances in which having a white lie excuse just makes the experience better for everyone involved, like turning down an invite to a party you don’t want to go to. (“Will you come celebrate my birthday?” “Uh, no.” “Any reason?” “No.” Baaaad.)

Here, though, is something to consider: maybe let a stranger use your phone when s/he is visibly distraught (i.e. crying, bleeding, and/or shaking). Nobody can promise this will always work out in your favor, but I think it’s important to try to be helpful, especially when your help is apparently needed. Take care of your own safety, and be cautious, but sometimes, in extenuating circumstances, just think about letting the phone go.

Is there a limit on unanswered texts sent in a row? Is it bad if I send several unanswered texts over, say, three or four days?

What if I told you there was a limit, and it was 19? What if I said you could send up to 19 messages to someone, without a single response from him or her, and that after that, if your phone still doesn’t vibrate in return, you have to stop? You would text this person 19 times in a row, wouldn’t you? Maybe it would be over two weeks, or even a month, but I think you would still do it, because you sound like someone who is missing a pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. (I Googled “part of brain that determines shame” and found this. Science!)

Let me take this question maybe too seriously for a second: It is creepy to ask how long and how intensively you can one-sidedly interact with a person who is uninterested in interacting with you. I don’t necessarily think you’re there yet, but it’s a skip and a jump — or about three text messages.

This depends on the person and the context, of course. If we’re talking about your best friend or your girlfriend or your mom, and nothing major has gone wrong, there is no limit, really, but you should probably try another approach after three in case someone is trapped or just really pissed off. If we’re talking about a woman or a guy you met briefly at a bar, you get ONE unanswered message before you must move on. If it’s someone you’ve had two dates with, you get two unanswered messages. These numbers are only a guideline, because I know almost everyone means well. But the most important thing to remember is this: people who really do want to talk to you WILL.

Can you give a brief overview guide to Facebook flirting? I’m one of those sad individuals that were in a relationship so long that I missed the training on this etiquette. Thanks!

Here is what I think of when I read the phrase “Facebook flirting”: going to bed while it is light out. I think about participating in back-and-forth messages that, without warning, abruptly stop, and then I think about getting into bed and listening to a playlist of fewer than four sad songs, on repeat. Facebook flirting makes me think of that feeling where you’re pissed to have to attend to basic human needs, like eating and going to the bathroom. I think about all the likes — so embarrassing that it’s called “like,” so explicitly — that cannot be unliked. I think it’s pretty goddamn terrible. But also fun maybe? No, it’s a swamp, I hate it.

However! Haha, ahhh. Facebook flirting can, in theory, be a more positive experience. I have no reason to believe this is true, but some people tell me that it is and in this one area I am too exhausted to fight them on it. I asked my friend Chiara Atik, dating expert at HowAboutWe, to share a bit of her wisdom (and cheery optimism) on the matter. Here are her tips:

“If you’re friending a crush for the first time, mutual friends can be a great icebreaker — write “Oh weird, how do you know so & so?” in a message. That starts a conversation. Liking an older Facebook picture (a few pictures back at most!) means you were curious enough to click through old photos. Getting a Words With Friends or other Facebook game started is a great way to flirt. Sharing a relevant link or article on their wall is great, but sending it in an individual message with a note like, “Hey, did you see this? It made me think of you because __.” is obviously more personal and can get a nice little message exchange started. NO chatting ever, and birthday greetings, a must, HAVE to be different than every single message on their wall!”

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Katie Heaney is a writer and volunteer text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey

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