Confessions of an Emoticon Addict

I have an addiction for which there’s no twelve-step program or support group, making my hope of recovery dismal at best.  People sometimes ask me how my addiction got started.  Like most addictions, I suspect – in one brief moment of weakness.  I thought, “Hey, I’ll give it a try.  Everyone’s doing it.”  I didn’t see the harm in trying it, and I rationalized that I could stop whenever I wanted.  And in that one moment of keyboard experimentation, my emoticon addiction was born.

Long before I started texting, I was an avid emailer – that’s where my introduction to emoticons began.   At first, I used them sparingly; a single smiley face to emphasize a particularly funny joke.  I would sometimes go a couple of paragraphs without using a single emoticon.  Not ONE…. I know, hard to believe.  It’s been years now since my first emoticon, and I’m sad to report that my addiction has only grown stronger.

Only for emails?? That's just what the emoticons want you to think....

It’s gotten so bad that emoticons have nearly taken the place of proper punctuation when I write.  But in my own defense, what good is a period?  All it does is let the reader know that the sentence has come to an end, but leaves them wondering about the writer’s true emotional state.  For example:

“My grandmother died yesterday.”

After reading the above sentence, most readers would assume that the person is experiencing grief and depression at the loss of their beloved grandparent.  But what if Granny was geriatric hell on wheels and beat the grandkids with her cane every time they got within hugging distance?  A simple :- ) or :- ( placed at the end removes all doubt about the writer’s feelings, and spares the reader time spent on unnecessary speculation.  A smiley face at the end of that sentence might also save the reader money – no need to send a fruit basket or sympathy card if grandma was a total bitch, right?

And then texting came along, which only served to intensify my addiction – emoticons became my insurance policy against misinterpretation.  When you only have a sentence or two to convey your message, there is a lot of room for misunderstandings.  For example, you go out drinking with your friends, and you send your best friend this text the next morning:

“Quite a night last night, huh?”

Now your friend, who has a spotty recollection of the events that preceded their screaming hangover, is left to worry and wonder, “Oh no!  What did I do last night??”  Why not reassure them with a smiley face at the end of that sentence and let them know that they didn’t make a total drunken ass out of themselves?  With just a few extra hits of your phone’s keypad, you can make your friend’s blackout seem a whole lot less scary.

When I started texting with my thirteen-year old daughter, Meghan, about a year ago (click here for further details on that nightmare: My Two Left Thumbs), she took it upon herself to educate me about which emoticons were “acceptable for society” (yes, that’s a direct quote), and which ones weren’t.

The emoticon lesson came about because I unknowingly texted her an unacceptable smiley face that looked like this  :- ).  She actually rolled her eyes at me and said, “Mom, nobody makes them like that anymore.  That emoticon is SO old fashioned.”  Old fashioned?!  Seriously?  How can something that’s been around for less than a decade have a version that’s considered old fashioned?  It’s not like I’m making my emoticons out of sticks and rocks or painting them on cave walls.

When I asked her why it was old fashioned, she told me it was because of the nose.  So let me get this straight – just because teenagers are too lazy to make a dash for a nose, they decide to tell everyone that it’s not cool?  Brilliant.  I plan on implementing the same strategy with my family’s dirty laundry – I’ll tell my children that cool kids don’t wear clean clothes anymore.  Maybe if I roll my eyes and look at them like they’re stupid for wanting to wear clean underwear, they’ll believe me.

At the conclusion of my lesson, Meghan went on to text me ten or fifteen acceptable ways to show my emotions (to save me from future emoticon embarrassment).  Just to save you from the same, I’ll share her list with you (please note the lack of antiquated noses…. SO much cooler):

: )

:{ )   (the mustache smiley face, made cool by Victoria Justice – it makes me sad that I know that.)

: D

; )

; D

: p

: l




Okay, I get it… just about any combination of eyes and mouths that the keypad can make, as long as the dash-noses stay the hell out of it.  But despite Meghan’s insistence, I still use a nose every now and then, coolness be damned.  One of the perks of not being a teenager anymore is the freedom to flaunt my old-fartyness without fear of peer persecution (though I’m sure I’ll still get progeny persecution from time to time).

Truth be told, I don’t use most of the emoticons on my daughter’s list, despite the apparent cool factor they bring to my text messages and emails.  I have more or less whittled my list down to three emoticons that I use for everything…. got stuck in an emoticon rut, I guess.  I think  : )   : ( and  ; )  pretty much cover all the emotional bases.  I tend to favor the winking emoticon because I know when I put it at the end of a sentence, I can be as sarcastic as I want and all will be forgiven.

I once surfed the web to find new emoticons because I was getting really bored with the three I was using.  I know…. I need to get a hobby.  But I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emoticons out there in cyberspace.  I knew when I saw smiley faces for Elvis, a priest, and a buck-toothed vampire missing one tooth, that I didn’t stand a chance in hell of EVER remembering any of the new emoticons.  After a few minutes, my brain shut down and decided that three was a really good number.  If you have a better memory than me, you can check out this  Ridiculously long list of emoticons.

Then in February 2012 my WordPress blog came along, and made my addiction even worse.  I didn’t think it was possible to depend on my emoticons more than I already did, but adding those stupid faces at the end of my comments has become an undeniable compulsion.  I wage a war inside my head every time I post a new comment or response – “Should I put a smiley face there?  No, I just used one two sentences ago!  It’ll look like I’m trying too hard.  But my last comment sounded kind of snarky.  What if they don’t know I’m only joking?  I NEED them to follow my blog!!  Screw it, I’m putting it in.”

I find that the compulsion gets worse if I’m writing to someone I don’t know well (especially on WordPress, where nearly everyone is a stranger).  I’m afraid that my teasing or sarcasm will be taken the wrong way, and I’ll accidentally piss somebody off.  But with friends and family, I know they’re familiar with my sense of humor, and won’t be as quick to think I’m an asshole….well….most of the time.

I think I may be too far gone at this point to even hope for a recovery from my addiction.  I can hardly remember a time before the invention of emoticons, a time when I trusted my words alone to express my feelings.  What the hell did I do back then to ensure that people knew when I was happy, sad, or only kidding??

My version of a confused emoticon.... this is why I'm a writer and not an artist.

19 thoughts on “Confessions of an Emoticon Addict

  1. I can relate to this; I always include emoticons unconsciously into my posts and comments, then I realise it’s probably not a good idea and have to go and delete them all. xD (that’s the one I use the most).

    Though… you know you’re truly addicted once you start including it in your writings. Like novel writing for example. I would be so caught up in the moment that I do not notice that I’ve included several emoticons in a paragraph until after I’m completely done.

  2. Thanks for responding – it’s a comfort to know there are others who wrestle with their emoticon addiction too. The emoticons run rampant through my comments/responses here on wordpress and also in my comments/status updates on facebook. But rarely (if ever) do I get the urge to use them in my blog posts. Not sure why that is…. maybe because when my official “writer” cap is on, I’m not trying to please or amuse anybody but myself 😀

  3. Thanks for sharing your struggles with emoticons. I loved your list of acceptable ways to write them. Seems like we need to be educated by the younger generation what’s new, hip, and correct! Keeps me on my toes, for sure!

    • Les –

      Thanks for taking a peek into my blogosphere – always happy to have you 🙂 Oh, please don’t tell Meghan that we need her generation to educate us… her head will get even bigger than it already is. I do love her little life lessons though – they make such great fodder for my blog!

  4. I didn’t even know they were called emoticons…..and I have no idea when I started using them. Creepy :E (those are fangs).

    • See that? My blog is entertaining AND educational 🙂 Your “creepy” emoticon looks like the “buck-toothed vampire” from the ridiculously long list of emoticons I found.

  5. “I plan on implementing the same strategy with my family’s dirty laundry – I’ll tell my children that cool kids don’t wear clean clothes anymore. Maybe if I roll my eyes and look at them like they’re stupid for wanting to wear clean underwear, they’ll believe me.”–Thanks for that. I needed the laugh. And frankly, this is a good approach and one I might wind up using. Now, as for the dash with smiley face, I’m in the fuddy duddy old-timer group that uses that one as well. So you’re not alone. 🙂

    • Your very welcome – I love it when people write in and tell me their reactions to some of the things I write. Always interesting to see which lines hit and which ones miss.

      As for the old- timer smileys, I like the noses too. Besides, how happy could an emoticon really be without the body part that helps it to stop and smell the roses? 😀

  6. I do this all the time with emails! My fear of emoticon use has only been exemplified by an article in the Mental Floss Magazine stating that women are more often to use emoticons in emails then men (also !!’s and beging with a salutation such as “Hello Bob”). So now when I write emails I have to stop and consider all those things and emoticons!

    • Amy – In doing some “research” for this blog entry (can I really call it research when it involves looking for smiley faces on the web?), I found out about the interesting fact you just mentioned – that girls are more likely to use emoticons than boys. And I was surprised to find that many of the women shared my reasoning – because they are afraid to piss people off with their sarcastic sense of humor, so they use an emoticon to soften things up a bit.

      Since reading that, I have curtailed my emoticon use… if for no other reason than to screw with the sexist emoticon statistics 🙂 Damn…. guess I still have a way to go….

  7. Pingback: How to Stop Emoticon Addiction | ASCII Artist

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