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September 2017
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A few weeks ago, my best friend (who preferred to remain anonymous) came over to my apartment to enjoy a supposedly wonderful night full of watching movies and drinking wine. She has a boyfriend: Chris. While I went to the kitchen to get some snacks for us, she casually texted him to ask what he was up to that night. Chris did not reply. The grey bar on top of her phone’s screen indicated that he had just been online: “last seen at 21:53”. He received her message. She was nervously ticking on her phone and checking her internet connection. He read it. She texted him again: “Why are you ignoring me?” including a suspiciously looking emoji. He was online. Her hopes went up and she took a sip of wine. Chris went offline again. Her eyes were spitting fire. In the twinkling of an eye Chris screwed up his relationship badly.



WhatsApp has not only been a catalyst when helping relationship problems to escalate due to miscommunication, it has also been the origin of a new category causing headaches due to its several features that indicate a little too much information about its users. Honestly, aren’t we all facing this daily?

Reading a message but procrastinate answering it has not been a real problem in history. By writing a letter, you could take all the time you needed to think about what and when you were going to write it and how you would structure your message. It would take a while to get to the receiver, especially back in the days when the carrier pigeons were used. With the invention of e-mail, messages could be exchanged more quickly. Still, you were able to reply at a later moment without anybody noticing. An excuse would be that you simply did not receive the e-mail, your computer crashed or your internet connection was not working. It became more difficult to find excuses for not answering your friends when you were online on platforms like MSN Messenger. Nonetheless, you could still just turn your status into ‘busy’ or even ‘offline’. When cell phones enabled text messaging with SMS, you could continue ignoring people, because it was not known whether receivers had their phone with them, or whether they had any connection.

However, with the advent of online instant messaging, things started to change rapidly. WhatsApp, the most popular and influential online instant messaging app provides people with information that could not be noticed before. First, they introduced the ‘last seen’ feature, which indicates the last time someone has been online and thus read your message. It takes away your freedom of replying at a more convenient moment, if you don’t want to deal with angry, impatient friends.



Consequently, when already being part of the biggest annoyances in relationships, WhatsApp introduced the blue ticks, proving that things could indeed become worse. These tiny blue ticks in the bottom right corner were the devil for people who tend to easily ignore messages from some of their friends, their mother in law or even their partner. When they turn blue, the message has been read. No doubts about this technology, no excuses are valid, not replying is the ultimate worst case scenario if you want to maintain your relationship status. “Oh well, I did not see that message!?” doesn’t work anymore.

blue ticks


Mediator Anneke van Tellingen acknowledges the WhatsApp problems in relationships. She describes a session of a man and wife who were constantly suspicious and distrusting each other. The main evidence for their feelings were WhatsApp based. In the session, the man stated: “You have been texting that other dude, while I was just lying next to you! You checked your WhatsApp 2:31am the latest. Why wouldn’t you just wake me up if you need company?” With social media offering an extensive amount of information online, a new era of checking your partner has arrived.

Rianne, a 20 year old student at Leiden University, told me about texting her boyfriend full of relief and excitement about a presentation she did that day. She waited for his response to share her feelings about it. She saw the blue ticks, but she got no response. “It may sound childish, but I became very angry with him because it looked like he had no interest in me at all.” She explained having a big fight over WhatsApp: “It is the worst medium to communicate through at certain moments. You give each other so little information, since you don’t type life stories, which leaves a lot open to interpretation. Miscommunication has given us a lot of conflicts.”

A new era of checking your partner has arrived.

So not only the features and the information about users WhatsApp offers could be origins of arguments in relationships. The absence of certain information can cause the bomb to burst as well. Mediator Amber Droog states that: “Communication between people is composed of 93% non-verbal, such as attitude, rate of speech and gestures and only 7% is verbal communication. Now, with the increased online contact between partners, the nonverbal cues are lost. Therefore, chances on miscommunication increase.” She describes that people talk less nuanced and more easily state what they think when texting. Simone, a 19 year old Erasmus University Student, confirms this: “If you are being sarcastic or if you forget to include an essential emoji, you may misinterpret each other’s messages. It happens too often that an issue arises between me and my boyfriend around a wrong reading on WhatsApp.”

All in all, WhatsApp’s features are mostly hated. However, some men and women might just not be that open and willing to talk a lot on an online chat, or they simply don’t have the time to reply every moment of the day. Aren’t we all sometimes sick of this always online mentality? Therefore, we might want to look at those blue ticks more sceptically. Still, while writing this article, I texted my possible date:

“Hey, how is it going?”

Two blue ticks.

He read it.

No reply.

Forget it.


Enthusiastic communication and media student at Erasmus University Rotterdam with a great interest in the effects of new media (technologies) on our daily lives.

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