This is a column I’ve wanted to write for some time.
I’ll never forget my first relationship.
Young love burned so deeply in my heart during a week-and-a-half of bliss, commemorated by the “<3 i LuV cOnNoR <3” etched in comic sans across my AIM SubProfile. It was the early 2000s — the beginning of the end of traditional courtship and chivalry for my generation.
Back then, I’d chat with that “qt” Connor on AIM for hours, avoiding at all cost a phone call that would involve asking a parent or sibling to hand my beloved the phone. Indeed, Connor and I didn’t really talk; we typed. We solidified our relationship, albeit brief, in front of our online community.
In the years since that first relationship, the bitter breakup that ensued and the posting of song lyrics to my SubProfile as I nursed my broken heart, I’ve grown wiser and more Internet savvy. I’ve also come to a major conclusion: though I look upon my days of “n2m’s” and “LOLs” with self-deprecating nostalgia, it seems that, in fact, little has changed.
Despite my abandonment of the lingo, fonts and other general tackiness of youth, my reliance on technology has grown rather than dissipated. My dependence on non-verbal media to communicate has developed in stride. And I don’t think I’m alone.
I’ve observed my peers receding with me into the comfortable confines of our cell phones and computers, especially as we navigate the collegiate dating scene. For starters, the criteria for an ideal mate have expanded. They no longer include just the physical and intellectual specifics. I, for instance, am not seeking the proverbial “tall, dark and handsome” guy. I’m looking for a “tall, dark, handsome, grammatically correct gentleman who uses emoticons sparingly,” among other things, such as good taste in music and film outlined on his profile.
You see, if I develop a crush on someone, I don’t have to keep him shrouded in a veil of mystery if I don’t want to. I can look him up on Facebook to see if he fits the bill. For at this point in time, I can essentially know as much as I want about someone before I actually know him — depending on the degree of creepiness with which I can live. Such is the reality of social media.
And if a man who passes the Facebook test initiates something more, our courtship brews and blossoms in a written form. For us, spoken flirtation and banter have long been cast aside in favor of text messages and online chats.
Of course, as a writer, this format suits me — but it also unnerves me. I hate waiting in a “will-they-or-won’t-they” limbo of sender and recipient. I hate the naked, anxious, fidgety sense of anticipation I feel when I leave my cell phone at home during a day on campus. And I hate that, if my carefully worded and tactfully delayed texts impress a guy enough, he usually doesn’t have the — for lack of better a better word, balls — to call and ask me out. Worse, if he does, well — I actually have to talk to him. I have to practice an art form about which I know shockingly little.
So in the rare case that I get that date, my inner dialogue runs rampant. “You mean, I have to converse?” I ask myself. “With spontaneous responses? And eye contact? And arm-grazing? Oh boy …” I’ll calm myself with a motivational mantra: “Remember, this could end with a Facebook-official relationship.”
But wait. What, in the name of all things holy, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, have I become? It seems that I haven’t veered far from the sixth-grade me: a young, tech-savvy girl, afraid to talk on the phone with her love interest. More than a decade later, I can adequately generate my feelings in text, but I’m still nervous to sit across a dinner table and communicate with someone on a human level.
On one hand, technology gives me all the time I need to plan what to say. On the other, I lack the confidence necessary to speak it.
So unless I can come to terms with becoming an eHarmony spokeswoman in the future, I need to step offline and into reality.