How An Unexpected Emoji Can Screw Up Your Relationships

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

In computer technology we talk about “edge cases,” which basically means, “Stuff we didn’t expect to happen a lot.”

Edge cases are where the bugs happen.

Like a URL. Most of the time, URLs are nicely predictable: You have, or, just these series of plain-text addresses to paste into your browser. And if you need to get reports on these URLs, well, it’s pretty simple to collect and collate them.

But what if you put an emoji into a URL?

I mean, you can do that. ?.fm is a legit URL… in some places. But some older browsers will choke on that, and if you’re using a library that does simple ASCII string operations, emojis are outside-the-box Unicode characters that break those comparisons in half.

Things act in weird ways when the assumptions they were built around shatter.

The same can be said of people.

A lot of concerns in the dating and kink communities are, “Is this person a good person to interact with?” And then we treat that answer as if it’s all-encompassing: Yes. This person is Safe. This person is Kind. This person is Helpful.

Which works until you paste an emoji into ’em.

Everyone has edge cases where they don’t act optimally; yeah, there are breakups that are either perfectly peaceful or totally one-sided-maliciousness, but I find that in most breakups both partners usually a little bit meaner than they normally would be. That’s not necessarily because they’re mean people, but because breakups are where you’re discovering that things you really wanted to work out aren’t gonna, and that puts a strain on ’em.

So: regrettable things are said. Does that make them bad?

Again, not necessarily. They just got an emoji stuck in ’em.

Likewise, people have weird edge cases personally – they’ve got good taste in partners until they fall down the rabbit hole of That One Person who mashes all their dysfunction buttons something fierce. They’re kind until someone pisses them off in the ways they consider inexcusable, and then it’s Katy bar the door. They’re thoughtful until they stumble across some buried racism/sexism/genderism they hadn’t had need to contemplate before, at which point they say some real stupid things until, hopefully, they learn.

Everyone’s got a few edge cases – places where their normal functioning breaks down.

And for me, rather than stamping someone with the label of “GOOD, ACTUALLY,” I try to be more nuanced: This person is reliable under these broad circumstances. How will they react when they’re hit with the grief of a lost loved one or a lost job, when they open up their relationship for the first time, when they feel threatened a friendship blossoming in someone they considered their closest buddy?


Which is not to say that they will break down! Depending on what you’re trying to do, maybe that ? in the URL works fine. “An edge case” isn’t a guarantee of a breakdown of normal functioning, it’s just an unknown whether the code’s robust enough to handle unexpected inputs.

But it does mean that I tend to judge people by their expected parameters. If you ask me, “Is Morgan safe to do kinky stuff with?”, my answer will not be “Sure!” but “I’ve never seen ’em have a problem in public spaces.”

What are they like when those circumstances change? No idea.

(And “No idea” is a perfectly good answer. Remember, you don’t have to offer an opinion if you’re not sure.)

So yeah. Normalize that concept of “A person isn’t a constant state, they’re the sum of their inputs.” Most folks will act differently at a tuxedos-on dinner party than they will at a dive bar. Recognizing the circumstances under which someone’s reliable (“You need a ride to the airport”) and under which they are not (“You need a shoulder to cry on”) will make your relationships run a lot more smoothly.

And if you don’t take those circumstances into account, well, things might just go to ?.

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