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The Rules Of Laughing In Text

Ha! Heh? Hmmm. Also: What happens when you run into an OkCupid human offline? And using your ex's HBO Go password.

Posted on April 26, 2013, at 2:57 p.m. ET

I've always thought that typed laughter written as "HA" or "HEH" seems at worst, mean/mocking and at best, half-hearted — until I talked to someone who did it who assured me that's how he laughs IRL. It still feels off-putting though, so: do you think people have some sort of polite-looking-laughter obligation on the internet?

This is how the (inarguable! non-negotiable!) list of the Worst Single Word-And/Or-Letter-Expressions To Type Online starts out: 1) K, 2) Nah, 3) :p, 4) Uh, 5) lol, and 6) Ha/Heh. (The full list is in progress and is over 30 items long.) These are items which may appear fairly innocuous, but which are RARELY used without an explicitly jerk-y/gross intent.* (*OK, except "nah," which some people seem to [wrongly] believe is just a more casual no, but that's a lifelong battle for another day.) My dream is that all will be banned, whole hog, from the written/texted word. Think of all the time saved on follow-up "Are you mad?" messages alone.

So yes, we're agreed that typing HA or HEH is a stupid way to type laughter on the internet. In real life, people usually only say "HA" when their mom has proven them right in an argument with their 9-year-old little brother. And "HEH"? When I read that out loud I sound like a high school student playing a gangster in a musical theater production. Most people laugh in a series of little "ha's," and that's why the best, most foolproof brand of typed laughter is a simple "haha." (Or, if it's really good, "hahaha." Go crazy!) That being said, there are special daffodils among us who really do have their own weird little bark-like laughter and who want to type it out as such, and in those cases you'll just have to ask for confirmation that you're not being cruelly mocked each time your Gchat buddy "laughs." Plus, it usually does not go over that great when you ask people to change the way they laugh for you. (But don't ever give up hope!!! Haha. ← :p)

Nowhere is free from the OkCupid Recognition Problem, to be honest.

What are you supposed to do when you see an OkCupid person IRL? It's always happening to me, LIKE RIGHT NOW at this cafe.

I mean, get the hell out of there? Taking the time to send me this email when you're still AT THE SCENE was a mistake, but I do appreciate the correspondence. But seriously, leave. Print out a map of your city and draw a big X over every place you've ever seen a live specimen from OkCupid, and never go there again. I mean, or, be normal about it. That's an overreaction on my part, if an incredibly fun one that involves drawing Xs on a map like a spy. It's just that I think the only thing more stressful than recognizing in public someone you know from real life is recognizing someone you don't know, from the internet.

Of course, the practical and reasonable and polite thing to do when you see someone from OkCupid (assuming, here, that this is someone you do not KNOW-know from OkCupid, i.e. no one that you've met in real life and no one with whom you're currently exchanging messages) is to ignore that person. If that sounds counterintuitive, it's only because we've usually been taught that ignoring someone is … rude-ish, generally speaking. But! When it comes to seeing someone you recognize from a somewhat private, intimate setting (which a dating site no doubt is), giving that person space and the permission to pretend you don't know where you know him from is the kindest thing you can do. The chances are high that he isn't any happier to be unintentionally confronted with human proof of his online dating presence than you are. It's not that either of you should feel embarrassed (you shouldn't!), but you also don't want to go so far the other way — sitting down with him to say, "Hey, given any more thought to what the sixth item you can't live without should be?" for example — that you make him uncomfortable. If HE tries to initiate contact, then, well, I stand by the map plan.

When you break up with somebody, but you have their password for HBO GO, should you give it up, or just wait until they say something?

Because you haven't provided me with the fullest possible context here (primarily, who broke up with whom, but also, just because I like to hear the full story on things like this, what happened? Did you have any pretend, almost-breakups before this one stuck? What do your friends think? Have you dramatically ripped any pictures of the two of you in half yet, and if not, when do you plan to start?), I'm going to have to separate out my potential responses. Choose your own adventure, so to speak.

If you were dumped: keep using that password for the meantime, because goddammit, you deserve this. Or you don't DESERVE it, per se, because the account isn't yours, and you have no legal (or even theoretical) right to it whatsoever. But whatever!! It would be SO like your ex to hold some shitty, superior reasoning like that over you. Typical, just typical. But no. You need this. It's the only little thing that's helping. And love is fleeting (and so, probably, are borrowed HBO GO passwords) and you might as well take hold of these moments for as long as you possibly can. Never let go, until you have to.

If you did the dumping: you give up the password. Are you kidding me?? If even for one second it crossed your mind to use the HBO GO (or Netflix! Or anything!) password belonging to the person you just DUMPED, you are a piece of shit. Oh, don't look all surprised and sorry. Spare me! Oh, and give me back my sweatshirt, I know it's in here.

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey

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