Alice Zhao's #TheGiftOfData Shows How Texting Changes in Relationships from Dating to Marriage

To celebrate one year together as a couple, Alice Zhao's now husband gave her an anniversary gift inspired by their shared love of information. He presented her with a Word document full of all the text messages they exchanged since their very first date in 2008, calling it #thegiftofdata. When the couple celebrated their six year anniversary this year (and their recent marriage), Zhao decided to do something similar. She collected all the text messages the couple exchanged as newlyweds and compared them to those sent in the early days of their relationship. The result was a fascinating comparison of how text messages change from dating to marriage. (Side note: you don’t have to love data as much as Zhao and her husband to think this idea is so sweet.)

Amidst one too many articles about how texting is ruining communication as we know it, it's interesting to see a "study" that explores the role of texting in a personal, romantic relationship. As relationships change and grow, so does the way people communicate within them. Text messages provide a concrete way to analyze and observe some of that change.

Using the information from the couple's Word doc, Zhao was able to determine some of the more commonly used words exchanged between she and her husband while they were dating, engaged, and married.

At face value, some of the results are a bit surprising — the word "love" was used less frequently after marriage, for instance — but it actually makes sense when viewed in the larger context of how Zhao's relationship with her husband has changed. For example, Zhao also used "hey" less frequently in 2014 than she did in 2008. As people become more comfortable with each other, dropping formalities comes natural, so it makes sense to see that reflected in texts. The same goes for the decline in using each other's names. You know who you're talking to, and you're dropping the formality of always addressing that person.

But even patterns that don't reflect obvious change require another look. Although the usage of words like "home" and "dinner" remained relatively the same over time, a closer look by Zhao showed that the meaning of the words still changed with their relationship.

And the time of day when messages were exchanged changed as well:

On her blog, Zhao explains her findings this way:

As a new couple, since we were apart the majority of the time, we had to check in with the other person every now and then, especially during the evening and late at night when we had no idea who they were with! It was also to tell the other person that we were out late doing something cool without them… and wishing they were there, of course.
As a committed couple, the only time of the day that we aren’t together is during the workday, so that’s when we text. We know exactly where the other person is each evening and if we’re doing something cool, it’s likely that we’re in it together and telling each other about it face to face.

As Zhao points out, when you’re married, you’re no longer seeing if your significant other wants to get dinner with you; instead you're trying to figure out the logistics of when and what dinner is, since it’s usually a given you’ll be eating together. Same goes for texting through the night. There’s no need to send a late night text to make sure your special someone got home safe when they’re right next to you.

Zhao understands that texting is just one part of how she and her husband communicate, and it's fascinating to see how what they say changes. But it's also interesting to note what doesn't get said — at least not via text message. If you’re confused by the decline in the word “love," for instance, it’s because the word has moved to another medium.

“We no longer have to text 'I love you' from a distance in the middle of the night,” Zhao wrote. “I can now roll over, snuggle with my husband and whisper it into his ear.”

Images: Getty Images; Alice Zhao (4)