The Problem With Our ‘Fexting’ Habit

ILLUSTRATED BY SARAH CLIFF
In a recent interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Jill Biden, First Lady of the U.S., made a deeply relatable admission. When discussing her 45-year-long relationship with the President, she revealed that the pair like to take their beef cellular. While their reasoning is to avoid fighting publicly in front of the Secret Service, the term ‘fexting’, which she so graciously coined for our benefit, was born. 
Unlike its intimate cousin, sexting, 'fexting' refers to the act of fighting over text. And whether it’s with your partner, parents, friends or flings, we’ve all done it. But though our reasoning may not be as high-stakes as that of Dr. Biden’s, conversations around the concept of fight-texting have ignited some discourse around how healthy it really is. And, well, there are pros and cons. Is fexting a modern way to handle conflict that enables all parties to sit with their thoughts, or are we really just devolving, losing the ability to resolve conflict because ghosting and blocking are easier than confrontation?
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In a world where 62% of the population communicates with their peers online, it’s no wonder that arguments would take place in the digital sphere. And in a lot of ways, this can be quite beneficial. 
If someone isn’t very good at articulating themselves in the moment, fexting allows for them to voice their concerns and navigate issues in a more comfortable setting, while not feeling talked at or overwhelmed by heated discussion or sensory overloads. As people who don't like being yelled at (who does, really?), it’s understandable that introverted people in particular may prefer to take their quarrels online, where they can be read and evaluated in their own time. 
Having to read through points allows us to see the issue in front of us, and gives us the time to process what’s going on. And without pressure to respond straight away, we can actually come back with more thoughtful insights, responding more carefully than we might in person, particularly when dealing with people that are more conflict-inclined than us. 
And when we are in a fit of rage, sometimes having the words spelled out in front of us can be just what you need. Seeing your words take physical shape is daunting, but not only does it mean we approach conversations with more care, but it also helps to keep us and others accountable. We can’t deny, contest or argue our words when they’re staring back at us in blue light. 

When we’re in person, faced with body language, facial expressions and other cues, it’s easier to understand where a person is coming from and gauge what we’re doing. The consequences of our actions are palpable, and the pressure to settle things is greater.

The thing about conflict, though, is that it can help us understand people and ourselves more, and we’re often better for it. 
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For most of us, our argument styles are informed by childhood. If you grew up in a conflict-avoidant environment, chances are that you get a bit flustered when confronted with a problem. Sure, fexting can give you the tools and time to speak your mind openly, but where it fails is in enabling you to never learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy way. And, on the other hand, if you were raised in a household of ‘passionate’ people who speak their minds loudly without a second thought, you might never learn the impact that words can have on people when you’re not there to read the person’s emotional cues. After all, 55% of communication is non-verbal.
Just like with flirting, online communication can get dicey when it comes to making your point and reading theirs, too. There are complex politics involved and we don’t all have the same understanding, making it easy to misinterpret meaning and emotions and read between the lines where there isn’t anything. Or, on the flip side, not read what’s actually behind the words the way we could when faced with someone’s presence. With the wrong choice of punctuation or slight delay, how easily someone’s pain can be misconstrued as anger. And that’s when we may fall prey to rage texting.
Rage texting, while cathartic at the time for the keyboard warrior, is hardly a healthy outlet for our feelings. We say things we don’t mean, digits flying at the speed of light before the logical parts of our brain can stop us, going for jugulars before the other person can, just to fan the flames. And, more often than not, that’s when we end up with fallouts and nothing learned instead of working through our problems the way we could when in person. Because when we’re in person, faced with body language, facial expressions and other cues, it’s easier to understand where a person is coming from and gauge what we’re doing. The consequences of our actions are palpable, and the pressure to settle things is greater — unlike on our phones where it’s only too tempting to skip a reply and archive chats. 
Fighting in all forms with people you care about is hard, but the good thing is that we often can move on and get back on track, quietly taking away learnings for the next time. But the thing with a digital footprint is that it’s kind of permanent… just kind of there… forever… haunting you every time you scroll up on the chat. And as we all likely know, the conflict can rear its head again when we look back on the exchanges and remind ourselves of the issue. Unless you both agree to delete the history, how do we move on without a clean slate? 

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