Are Emoticons The New Pick-Up Lines?

Who'd have guessed? 

Men are more jealous when a member of their own sex uses an emoticon in a text to their significant other than women.

According to new research,“Men were more jealous when emoticons—specifically winking ones—were included in messages to their significant other,” says Dr. Denise Friedman, associate professor and chair of psychology at Roanoke College, and author of the study. She adds that women were more jealous when there were no emoticons.

Say what?  

Now I'm lucky because my husband hates computers and only uses one when he absolutely has to.  A few years ago his office moved to electronic medical records and he was forced, kicking and screaming, to enter the digital age.  He wouldn't know an emoticon from a leprechaun.

Men and women also reacted in different ways, depending on how the study questions were asked, according to Women reported more Facebook jealousy in general, especially when surveyed, but men reported equally or more jealousy when allowed to freely respond to a scenario in their own words.

I suppose it's because emoticons connote a sort of intimacy between people.  I can see how a winking one might send a lover over the edge.  

The questions in the study were aimed at college students, who were asked how they would react if they opened their partner's email or Facebook account and found an emoticon from a member of the opposite sex.  Although it serves them right. But don't take it from me.  (I went ballistic recently when a letter in unfamiliar handwriting addressed to my husband came in the mail.  Things blew up when he refused to tell me who it was from.  He's gotten over being scared to come home.)

But here's the crux of the matter. Emoticons convey signs of emotional infidelity to women, while to men, it's all about sex.

“Women react more strongly to signs of emotional infidelity, while men react more strongly to signs of sexual infidelity,” says Friedman. “Because men tend to use winking emoticons to flirt, and women interpret these as flirting as well, men may be reacting to them as signs that their partner is sexually unfaithful. This was likely true in the described scenario which described private messaging between their significant other and an unknown member of the opposite sex.”

Full disclosure: I've never received a winking emoticon, though I've received a fair share of smiley faces.

 “It seems that emotional infidelity online makes women seek social support,” says Friedman, “but sexual infidelity online evokes an aggressive reaction in men. That aggressive reaction to perceived sexual infidelity may have real life implications to consider. For example, romantic jealousy has been associated with spousal abuse and even the murder of one’s wife.”

Well,we won't go there.

But with kids today spending so much time online, forming and sustaining many of their relationships through social media, are they going to learn how to be -- and make -- good partners? Navigating romance and commitment through real life is hard enough.  Can you really do it with a wink? 


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