Text fail

Technology has sucked the romance out of relationships. Just ask my grandparents.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with the old people in my life. Every weekend this month I have flown 3,000 miles to the East Coast to listen to them recap the stories of their youth. I have listened to them talk about love and family, love and disappointment, love and everything else that comes secondary – or at least should. And I’ve come to the conclusion that old people lived during a time where people loved each other a little harder. Let me explain.

My Nana Lois says back then it was a “sweeter” time. Sure, you had the great depression and WWII and both my grandfathers grew up so poor one collected manure and coal chips from the streets at night while the other sold bread his grandmother baked to survive in the dust bowl. Maybe I’m romanticizing the whole thing, but life was hard. Love made it easier.

What I have gleaned from our conversations is that back then it was a time of candy and telegrams, standing on train platforms waving goodbye and waiting for the next time to say hello. There was wanting and longing and distance and sadness. And maybe with all that longing, it made everything seem so much more beautiful and meaningful when the two of you were finally standing in the same room.

“Back then boys carried your books for you, you know,” Nana told me over the weekend.

Boys threw pebbles at your window. They asked for permission to drive you home. They gave you promise rings. In sum: they made it clear that they liked you. They were bold. Not only do I appreciate the romantic aspect of it, I like the efficiency of it all. Back then, dating was the ultimate time saver. Think about it.

Scenario 1
Boy: Would it be OK if I drove you home?
Girl: Yes, thank you.
Message clear: I am interested, I might let you hold my hand.

Scenario 2
Boy: Would it be OK if I drove you home?
Girl: I think I’ll just walk. But thanks.
Message clear: I am not interested, you should move on.

There were standards of etiquette and communicating that were clear and easily understood by all parties. Kind of like ordering coffee at Dunkin Donuts. Everyone knows a small regular is two squirts of cream, two teaspoons of sugar. I like this method of operation because I enjoy understanding what people are asking for from me. With dating nowadays, I feel like it’s more like ordering at Starbucks. It’s confusing, I’m forced to speak a vocabulary I’m uncomfortable with, and leads me to suspect I’m not always getting what I asked for in the end.

Technology is just mucking up the clarity standards of communication and etiquette provide. If someone asks you on a real date – which entails dinner, is arranged at least 24 hours in advance, requires transportation and a change of clothes – that’s different from “hanging out.” It’s harder to ask for up front, but if you both agree, you go into the evening with intentions understood. It’s the ultimate green light that yes, I kind of like you, and yes, I kind of want to kiss you.

When my Nana Lois was dating, boys and girls operated within certain societal and economic constraints. And it was awesome. Back then most families had one telephone if one at all. So it was a big deal if a boy called you. And if someone took the train to see you it took days. It meant they liked you. Now, if someone is willing to pick you up at the airport and sit in traffic for 30 minutes after you’ve traveled 3,000 miles it means they like you enough to want to actually sit in traffic with you while they plug in their iPod. It’s a sweeping gesture of romance.

Upon returning from Boston last week I found myself admitting that since moving to the Bay Area I have never felt more lost in the dating world. Why is this?

Did I somehow lose my game in baggage claim five years ago? Is the dating pool that much more attractive here? (Answer no. Here’s a tip gentlemen: if a girl can bench press you, she probably doesn’t want to date you.) Is it the proximity to Silicon Valley and a culture of serial upgraders? Or is it because I am in the middle of a city that loves its social outcasts and the fact that it does not have to play by the rules? I suspect this is the case. And I, unfortunately, am a person who loves rules and etiquette.

When I was in college not everyone had a cell phone and Facebook was just rolling out to the first wave of selected schools. Six years later everyone over the age of 7 owns a mobile phone and even my dad is on Facebook. (He still won’t friend me.) I’m pretty sure the rapid proliferation of these tiny pieces of technology is ruining my love life.

A device that is supposed to make communication with people easier has only made me more confused. (Save for the GPS function.)There is an ever increasing number of ways you can contact me using it. My iPhone has an application for Twitter, an app for Facebook. You can contact me via text, or email on one of my three accounts. You can contact me over Flickr. I’m certain during the time I began writing this post until now, that yet another method is gaining traction that I will have to play catch up on.

These tiny key to the universes have altered the way we speak to people, when we speak to them, how we speak to them, at a rate faster than we have been able to devise a proper etiquette of interaction around. (Or at least faster than I have been able to adapt.) And because the methods keep changing, so do the rules. For instance, texting isn’t just because you need a quick answer anymore. It’s the way. Phone calls are for old people.

And that may be the crux of my problem. It’s too easy to contact people now. You can zip a text over to someone while sitting at a red light. You can forward a link while waiting for your latte. You can comment on a status while popping into the elevator. With so many ways of getting in touch, I really don’t understand why people contact me anymore at all. I think some folks are just bored. Maybe someone needs to write a user manual. Maybe that someone should be me.

While I’ve always known that old people are wiser than me, I’m starting to think they are geniuses. My grandparents are amused by my generation. And I deeply suspect they think ours is a bunch of idiots incapable of the level commitment they had. My Nana Lois laughed when she heard how we communicate with each other now. “We didn’t have texting and the Twitter back then,” she said. “Matters of the heart are too important … Be bold.”

6 thoughts on “Text fail

  1. And now you know why your mother puts so much emphasis on “thank you” notes, and actual handwritten notes to friends. It is the committment of time and thought that she puts into each note. It tells people that they are special; not just a “tweet” (is that the right phrase?). Look at how much time Mom puts in at the Hallmark store?…she pays rent on the parking space there. Your grandparents are special people, but not unique to that time; that “greatest generation,” when kids grew up in desperate times and went off to fight a desperate war for the greatest stakes because their country asked them to. They learned self reliance young, and their romances were bold and clear. When Nana Lois met Grandpa Charles in the middle of WWII on the west coast, they never knew when they would see each other again-if they would ever again. They had no phone, TV, Ipod, computer, email as communication crutches; they just had each other to hold on to as the world fell apart. They did OK, those kids who aswered the call, and gave their youth to the country, and to us.

  2. Very poignant. There are people your generation who have the values, and appreciation of simple things, of your grandparents, and your awesome dad.

    Technologies and the myriad modes of communication are tools…which you can choose to use or not. You seem to have embraced them in some ways, but bemoan their ubiquity where romance is concerned. Having more opportunities to connect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Using them in moderation can give them greater meaning too. They have worked for me. Well, phone, email, Internet, and text at least. And I imagine for you as well.

    Some food for thought: I think there is something romantic about the fact that all these modes of communication and connectivity played an enormous role in electing our nation’s first African American president. Something unfathomable in the era of the “Greatest Generation.” Yeah, maybe this tidbit doesn’t help you in terms of dating, but I think it’s a matter of how you use the technology, and how you present yourself. (On this site, I think you present yourself fabulously, for what it’s worth. 🙂

  3. Hi Technoromantic,

    I think you are absolutely right about using everything in moderation. It does make interactions mean more. The fact is having more ways to communicate is better. As much as I complain about it, that is how I am able to interact with you right now having never met, and likely, never to meet. That’s how we were able to elect Obama. It’s how we participate in the conversations going on around us. More info is good. More talking is better. Less texting is best (when the topic is romance related.) Thanks so much for stopping by the site. I really appreciate your thoughts on everything.

  4. Great post. I can understand your meaning and sentiment in this one, as opposed to when you write about teams of well paid men who wear matching outfits and throw balls around.

    It’s an interesting debacle, no? the good/evil that comes with humanity’s desire to jump onto more communication, regardless the side effects?

    Think about it, every major leap in mankind’s history was about transportation of ideas. Both the manner to transport physical things (boat-wheel-road-rail-train-car-plane) and intangible ideas (printing press-pony express-mail service-telegraph-phone-internet-cell phone-facebook-twitter)

    So I don’t see the world slowing down any time soon. And things will be different, but not worse. Not better either. Just different. I think you have some major life lessons floating around in your head from spending time with wise old folk, like

    slow down and think before you speak sometimes.
    Not having everything right now has it’s advantages.

    I think you should rejoice that there are no strict rules right now, and that your opportunity is to write the best selling book about modern communication ettiquite, and your perplexing journey towards attempting to define it.


  5. I knew you were going to actually read this post DC. And as always, love your input.

    I find myself thinking and reflecting and unplugging myself from things lately. Probably because you look like an ass checking your phone while laying next to your Nana in bed. All of a sudden, nothing is more important than rubbing her back or listening to her breathe.

    When I logged back on after a three week hiatus from Twitter and FB it was funny how not much had changed. Life went on. People made too much noise about things they forgot about a day later. But at the same time, I missed hearing their thoughts and ideas. Things may never slow down. But as long as I keep up I can sit back and wait for the appropriate moment to re-engage.

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