All the kids are doing it (apparently) and from my experience talking to men and women in their 30s to 60s, so are the adults. “Chumming” is not nearly as gross or explicit as it might sound. It’s more literal than that.

Chumming occurs when a person loosely throws out bits of open ended correspondence to see what kind of reaction they get, in order to gauge interest and attraction in a potential date.

For most people it comes in the form of text messages. It’s a non-emotional and indifferent text sent in order to see if the other person is interested in you, but without showing him or her that you are interested. It’s essentially an emotional stalemate. It’s like trying to turn someone on while having a staring contest. It usually sounds like this:

  • “What are you up to tonight?”
  • “Hope you had a nice holiday.”
  • “Just saw the new Hunger Games movie. So awesome.”

The appeal of chumming is that it gives people a chance to ease into interactions with potential love interests and test the waters with minimal risk of rejection or embarrassment.

But there is a huge downside to chumming. You build an enormous gap between perceived expectations and real expectations. We want to come off as cool and disinterested so we send open-ended text messages. But if you DO have expectations – if you are really interested in the person that you are texting – then you’ve given them absolutely no reason to respond the way that would move the relationship forward. You’re setting yourself up for passive rejection, which I think is worse than an outright “no thanks” rejection.

I saw a friend of mine get caught in a chumming black hole a few weeks ago. While we were having drinks she spent half an hour composing a cool, easygoing text to a guy she was really interested in. She didn’t want to come on too strong but wanted to give the impression that she vaguely remembered their brief conversation from the bar where they met. “What was the name of the French film director you mentioned?” He didn’t respond for a few hours and she sat there staring at her phone completely ignoring my hilarious barside banter. When he finally sent a quick response with the name of the Frenchie, she was ecstatic. She started to weave together a story of their romantic potential and all the things they shared in common. She didn’t want to be too forward, so she waited 15 minutes before replying to him. She set an alarm and everything. He never replied. She was devastated.

I asked him later about it and he barely remembered the conversation. He said he doesn’t check his phone and the conversation wasn’t going anywhere so he ignored it. But he liked her! He said they had a great time and that he wanted to hang again, but she didn’t seem that into him.

She had played it too cool. Chumming had backfired.

And honestly, chumming has started to confuse the immature games of subtle communication as the art of seduction. Nuance and sensuality only live in our heads even when we have the best of intentions. And when we use technology (especially text messaging) to convey our message, it strips it of any subtlety and seduction. Everything gets lost in text message translation.

That barrier that you think you are building to keep out the potential humiliation of being rejected via an unrequited text message almost guarantees that you will receive a reply that will fall flat, or worse, you’ll get no reply at all.

 There are two major rules I learned from failed chumming:

1.You can’t replace vulnerability

The one thing that is attractive in absolutely everyone is vulnerability. Your willingness to put yourself out there and say “I like you, we should hang out sometime” or to actually call someone takes a boldness that most people don’t have. But that’s the stuff that amazing relationships are built on. You can’t have trust without vulnerability. You can’t have great communication in a relationship if you aren’t willing to say what you really mean.

2. You’re responsible for your own text messages

If you chum someone (I don’t know if that’s the proper use of the word “chumming”) you can’t get mad when they don’t text you back. This is the number one complaint I get from literally everyone (men and women, all ages). Chumming is built on insecurities and desperation. Those are the two most unattractive qualities in a potential partner. If you’re doing the chumming thing, you are supposed to be indifferent to whether or not they respond. So if you ARE interested, be bold so they know you are interested. If you truly are indifferent to whether or not they like you, you might want to wait until you find someone who does move you to send overenthusiastic text messages with a regrettable number of exclamation points. If the person likes you (and they probably will when you put yourself out there) they will be flattered and giddy to get a real message from someone that isn’t vague and confusing.

Bold and vulnerable people always win at relationships.