25 May 2022

Digital Dating | The ‘text whisperer’ reveals what those messages really mean

Digital Dating | The ‘text whisperer’ reveals what those messages really mean

Swiping, texting and scrolling are all part of today’s online dating culture – and messages can go some way to determining if you’ve found your perfect match.

So says ‘text whisperer’ Dr Mimi Winsberg, a psychiatrist who has spent a lot of time deciphering the love language of texting.

Ill-advised emojis, over-sharing intimate thoughts and obsessing over response times can send dating hopefuls running for cover, she explains in her new book, Speaking In Thumbs.

Winsberg, 56, who has 25 years of clinical practice and spent three years as the onsite psychiatrist at the Facebook Wellness Center, found herself single when her 16-year marriage ended in divorce. She started to explore Bumble, Tinder and Hinge, and says: “In using dating apps, I began to joke that I could make a psychiatric diagnosis in less than 20 texts.”

Sifting through texts to find golden nuggets of information, her experience in psychiatry helped her see the people she engaged with on dating apps clearly – often after exchanging just a few messages.

“I’ve met a lot of interesting people through dating apps, and have made some dear friends as well as quite a few romantic partners. I’ve had quite an adventure.

“But one needs to check one’s expectations, which are inversely proportional to the happiness that we derive from these tools,” she advises. “Take a fun and relaxed approach to it, and don’t think you’re going to meet the love of your life.”

The book attempts to identify specific personalities through the language of texts, empowering people to read between the lines to find out if your potential partner is suitable dating material.

In the book, she explores the ‘big five’ personality types, using the acronym OCEAN – Openness to experience; Conscientiousness; Extroversion; Agreeableness; Neuroticism. These can tell you a lot about how compatible you may be with your date, she says – and it can be identified through their language.

“Take time to understand what personality type might be right for you. An extrovert, for example, might give you a better social life, but pay you less attention at a party, because they are going to be off talking to other people.”

How to spot a liar

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“There are telltale signs of lying over text, such as dropping the first person pronoun,” Winsberg says. “When we tell a lie, we tend to distance ourselves from the statement. Instead of saying ‘I’m running late’, you might text: ‘Running late’.

“You may also speak in a repetitive way. Liars tend to say the same thing over and over again, hoping that makes it seem more true. It might be repeating the same thing three times about how the car broke down.”

Red flags

“In terms of text clues, we can start to see red flags when there’s an imbalance in the way people are texting each other. Is there a level playing field? What’s the pace at which people are replying to each other? Is somebody leaving you hanging for a really long time before responding, which doesn’t fit with the way you’ve been texting them?

“It says there’s a mismatch in either expectation or the power gradient. Who is holding the reins in the text message?”

Too much information

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“A notion of intimacy, too much information too soon, or trying to develop too close a relationship before the relationship has had a chance to progress, can be a red flag of insecure attachment, and a neediness in their approach.”

Rushing into a relationship without a strong foundation rarely lends itself to stability, and instant infatuation is likely to disappoint, she observes.

Too little emotion

A text exchange with no emotion could be a red flag, she notes. If the texts are flat, with no smiling in the language and little energy, this might be an indication the date is emotionally aloof.

Control issues

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Some people manage the anxiety of attachment by trying to control their environment, Winsberg points out. This could be an early text displaying the desire to control or a lack of flexibility – such as presuming you’ll want to meet them without asking first.

Language chemistry

“How well does your own language match with theirs? Is there chemistry in the language?” asks Winsberg – saying how well your humour styles match might be an indication of compatibility.

Exclamation marks and ellipses

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Exclamation marks have an “anxious, excitable, ‘pay attention to me’ quality”, says Winsberg.

“Exclamations tend to be more of a neurotic feature. People who use the ellipsis (three dots to indicate a word or words have been removed from a quote or to add a pause before the end of a sentence) frequently are likely to be more flirty and have more innuendo in their language. There may be less certainty involved in a relationship with a person who is using a lot of ellipses.”

It’s only words

“An extrovert will use the word ‘mouth’ more often, along with ‘drinks’, ‘other’, ‘restaurant’ and ‘dancing’. Those high in neuroticism, in contrast, are drawn to using the words ‘awful’, ‘though’, ‘lazy’, and ‘depressing’,” she says.

“Extroverts are more likely to use the thumbs up emoji and the winking face emoji, and are less likely to use the exaggerated emojis – like the tired face or the eye-rolling face.

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“The masters of long-term relationships, those high in the agreeable dimension, will use the words ‘wonderful’, ‘together’, ‘morning’, and ‘spring’ with greater frequency,” she explains in the book. “Those extremely conscientious types will pepper their language with ‘completed’, ‘stupid’, ‘boring’ and ‘adventure’.

“A person high in conscientiousness is likely to follow through on what they say they will do, or be a little bit more responsible. They may be a more stable relationship partner,” she continues.

Colons correlate with conscientiousness, perhaps because they can be found in organised lists. “People who use expressions like ‘could’ve’, ‘should’ve’ are lower on the conscientiousness scale, so when you see a discrepancy between intent and outcome in language, that will betray a lower conscientiousness.”

What he wants, what she wants

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“In general, men prefer shorter messages. One study showed in the course of a relationship, if there’s a lot of texting happening, women tend to think, ‘Oh good, we’re getting along well’,” says Winsberg – whereas “research found men tend to find longer messages a bit scary initially, and see less communication as a sign of health in a relationship”.


“Everyone has their deal-breakers. It may be one person really doesn’t want to be with anyone who has addiction issues. Another is infidelity. There isn’t a uniform red flag for everybody.

“Without directly asking someone if they’re an alcoholic or if they’re going to cheat on you, how do you bring up issues that may be sensitive for you?”

Winsberg’s advice is to: “Introduce the subject and elicit their formed opinions about it”, asking “open-ended questions and seeing what emerges”.

Green flags

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“Green flag indications include a similar style of humour, language style matching, the cadence between the length and frequency of the text messages, and the timing of them.”

Speaking In Thumbs by Mimi Winsberg is published by Bluebird Books, available now.

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