It's 2017, which means the amount of fluent emoji users in the world may now actually outnumber English speakers. Whether you feel angry-face emoji or heart-eyes emoji about this, it's getting harder to deny emojis have irreversibly changed our day-to-day communication.
Just look at the new set of emoji—approved by Unicode this past March and pending approval by Apple later this year. Among the newcomers are gender neutral people (for a fun experiment, try explaining this concept to your parents!), a woman in a hijab, and a breastfeeding woman. More people are getting to see themselves represented in the technology they use everyday.
But increased specificity doesn't bar the possibility of getting our signals crossed. I mean, there's really no excuse anymore for thinking the eggplant emoji means your date is about to cook you a fantastic vegetarian dinner, but what about symbols that are less obvious?
Collected below are stories of emoji that sabotaged friendships, ended relationships, and convinced total strangers they are possibly being stalked.
About a month ago, one of my female friends posted an image on Facebook. I knew the photo was special to her because it was uploaded as a profile picture and was receiving a fat stack of likes. I wanted to contribute in some way but I liked the idea of being different—so I left an angry face reaction.
About a week afterward and not even remembering what I'd done, I was at a local bar with some friends. As I was walking to the bar I said hello to a group of girls I knew from university. One girl got up and grabbed me by the arm and asked me what the hell was I thinking leaving that angry react. She proceeded to explain that Karen (the girl in question) was devastated and almost removed the picture despite the 99 percent favourable reactions on it. I was totally taken off guard. Thinking quickly, I told her that I only do angry reacts instead of just 'liking' photos.
To my relief she stopped her attack on me. She even told her group of girlfriends about the 'misunderstanding' and we all shared a laugh. Later I sat down with my mates and I told them about my dodge. It was all giggles until one of the fellas pointed out that, to stave off any suspicion, I would have to continue my angry reacts. Which was an easy task at first. Until one day, a girl texted me minutes after she uploaded a lovely photo of her and her boyfriend. I had no choice but to emblazon my trademark angry react on the photo.
Little did I know, I had zeroed in on her domestic issue of having recently been caught cheating by the pictured boyfriend. An issue which had been patched up. So he saw the angry react and immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was expressing disgust at the continuance of their relationship, and that 'word must've gotten out.' So then, out of embarrassment at appearing to be a fool for continuing the relationship, he broke up with her. According to her, it was all my fault. So now I sit here as a homewrecker in an endless cycle of supposed social media rage and disgust.
I'm a situational emoji person. Which maybe isn't a cool thing to say, because I suppose that makes me a follower or bandwagoner in some regards, but I'm wary of appearing overeager or childish in certain situations. So, if I don't know a person well, I'm not going to be signing my messages with sparkle emoji or a rainbow—even though I kind of like those symbols. I actually think emoji can be pretty personal and/or self-revealing. They make you vulnerable in certain contexts.
A few months ago I had a friend who was coming to town from overseas. He was a really nice guy, lots of fun, but he was also my ex-boyfriend's really good friend. My ex and I were on good terms then, and still are, so the fact that his friend was going to be nearby, and probably looking to hangout since he was new to the city, wasn't a problem at all. In fact, I was excited to hang out and catch up. But every time I'd invite him to meet me and my friends, he'd respond with a grimace face emoji. You know, the stressed-out one with the clenched teeth? And he put it at the end of almost every sentence. So he'd say "are you guys going out tonight? " and I'd say "yeah, you wanna join?" and he'd say "Sure " And this happened over and over, which was really confusing to me. I wondered if our hangouts were a source of anxiety for him. My breakup with my ex was relatively new, and so for a second I wondered if this friend was harbouring some kind of mixed feelings towards me, like maybe he felt that hanging out with me was a betrayal of his buddy, or that seeing me with a new guy—because I was seeing someone new at this point—was super awkward for him.
I poured over the meaning of that stupid grimace face for way too long: was he confusing me on purpose, an act of spite? Or was I supposed to be picking up on some kind of odd subtext? It all seems pretty dumb and childish in hindsight. Anyhow, I started to invite him to things less frequently because it seemed like hanging out with me was somehow very stressful for him. The grimace face became a source of tension in our friendship—at least on my end.
Recently I read an online Cosmo article called "Apparently the 'grimace face' is actually smiling," and I was like, ohhhhhh noooooo. The article shows this chart depicting the different versions of the grimace face on different devices. On Android phones, it's actually a big smile! So he was probably just happy or eager to hangout. And now I just feel like a moron for letting a little yellow circle affect our friendship.
I can't say I really like emojis. Maybe I'm old fashioned but I actually preferred it when you just typed in a bunch of characters, and had to look at them sideways to understand what image they created. So, colon + right bracket = smiley face. Et cetera. I don't like how Facebook automatically transforms your typed letters and symbols into manic-looking yellow characters. Because I feel like those emoji are really ambiguous.
A while ago I was on a slightly awkward footing with a lady I'd just met. I'm a stand-up comedian, and at the end of my set I sang a somewhat ridiculous ukulele song about old school stalking vs. cyberstalking. Anyhow, I got chatting to this woman from the audience after the gig and we got on pretty well. After an enjoyable chat and a drink she said she had to head off, so we said our goodbyes and off she went. I then went to the toilet, and on the way out I bumped into her again, so we smiled and said goodbye again and I headed off to find my mate Geoff. But I couldn't find him anywhere. Eventually I went outside to look for him. He wasn't there either, so I turned around and made to re-enter the pub, at which point I bumped into the lady once more.
It made for one of those totally clumsy, never-ending goodbyes. And so I said, "Oh dear, you can't seem to shake me off, can you? Goodnight." I laughed awkwardly and walked inside. Later on I was still feeling super awkward, and so I sent the woman a message that said, "Sorry about all that accidentally bumping back into you malarkey. I'm not a real stalker. Well, not anymore…. :P," but Facebook automatically changed the ":P" to the tongue-out face emoji. She replied pretty quickly, saying, "I know James, it's fine. Although if you don't want people to think you're a weirdo stalker, maybe don't use emojis that seem to say 'I want to lick you.' Take care." That experience has definitely solidified by distaste for emoji overall.
I was dating someone a few years ago who had an Android. And this was before there was any, or very little, cross-compatibility between devices. Like maybe you could send a heart but that's all. And I remember feeling really frustrated by that because there were so many simple emotions or feelings that I wanted to send her while at work or whatever, but these feelings, expressed in words, felt too intense or maybe dramatic.
Her lack of ability to receive emoji was a big problem! We even tried to download some kind of interpreting bundle or something, but it got kind of complicated, and she wasn't really willing to figure it out—which maybe should have been a red flag.
We didn't break up because of emoji per se, but we weren't able to properly understand each other via text without them. I mean, I just feel like emoji are super important in terms of the everyday communication between people who are dating, and the fact that we disagreed over this was pretty significant. The irony is that a few years later, she got an iPhone and apparently just loves emoji now. So I was like, ugh, eye-roll emoji.
I'm engaged now, to someone else. One of those Tinder success stories. And as for emoji in our relationship, it's actually kinda gross. We've designated emoji for our kittens, we send kissy faces, hearts in all colours, all that stuff. We're both 'emojinal' people, which I think just underscores our compatibility. The beautiful thing about emoji is that the feelings and things they express are sometimes hard to translate directly to English. So, for example, I recently received a text from my friend saying that her mom is officially cancer free. I responded with three exploding hearts because that's the maximum number you can put if you want the hearts to appear large. And then I added an effect, too—the balloons floating up. I like the idea of language and communication having a pictorial element. And I think emoji help with that.
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