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.
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.
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.”