I met my husband in 2006. That was only 9 years ago, but it might as well have been a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
When I met my husband, cellphones had just replaced landlines. Most people had flip phones with tedious keypad texting. As a result, texting was reserved for passing important, time-sensitive information. Almost no one used texting to chat. Because, seriously: Who had the time or the patience to hit the number 2 button three times just to get the letter C?
This was before Facebook messenger, but after AIM and MSN Messenger had run their course. You could send messages on MySpace, but it was considered a faux pas to do any proper communication like that. This meant that the easiest way to have an actual conversation was on the phone or in person.
One of my earliest memories of my relationship involves me sitting in the hallway outside of my dorm room (because there’s no such thing as privacy inside a 10’ x 10’ block with a roommate), sitting against the wall with my knees to my chest, talking on the phone to my then-boyfriend about anything and everything. It was one of those moments where I knew I had stumbled onto something special. I didn’t know what it meant, and I didn’t know where it would lead, but I knew I was going to keep coming back.
Even when flip phones were replaced with smart phones, keypad texting for autocorrect -- and eventually boyfriend status for husband status -- we saved texting for relaying information that didn’t require a phone call. When we talked, we did it face-to-face or over the phone.
Essentially leaving the dating scene in 2006 meant I wasn’t around for its most recent transformations. This was before OKCupid, Tinder, Grindr -- in fact, if you met anyone online back in 2006, it was probably through MySpace (and it was seriously frowned upon to do that). This was before you could get tagged in pictures on Facebook, before you could learn all you needed to know about the person thanks to a few Google searches.
Compared to modern dating, my time getting to know my husband was slow and subtle. And that’s exactly what I needed. I was a mess of low self-esteem, unproductive thinking, and a slew of failed dating endeavors that explicitly told me that the last thing I should ever do is fall in love (if I were even worthy of love in the first place).
If things had sped along the way they typically do in the 2015 dating world -- with that constant connection, the constant need to always be “on” -- we would’ve broken up within the first two months. I would’ve gotten spooked and I would’ve run in the opposite direction, sending a quick, “Sorry, not feeling this anymore,” text as I found a proper place to hide.
And that’s exactly what I see happening with my single friends in the present day.
I know I’m out of it. There are a lot of subtleties to the dating world that I just won’t understand because I’ve been out of it for so long. I’m the dating equivalent of a parent trying to use all the cool lingo with their children.
It’s incredibly easy for me to say this. I’m not the one logging into OKCupid and I’m not the one going on the first dates. And I know texting is not the only problem. It isn’t even the biggest problem. But it is a good representation of everything that is going awry with modern dating.
We’re impatient and we’re guarded. We’re all desperate for love and absolutely petrified of it at the same time. Whatever form it comes in, we want it easy, fast, and now. And technology has finally caught up to that desire. This only primes us for a whole lot of jumping in headfirst and then scrambling back out.
When you’re always on, you have no chance to sit back and reflect. When you text something at 10 a.m. and wonder why he hasn’t replied back by 11 a.m., you create an anxiety that doesn’t need to be there. You make it harder for people to see the real you – and they make it harder for you to see the real them.
Everyone hides behind their internet persona: the impervious texter who has complete control of what they say next and when. You can be anyone you want when you have time to cultivate and pretend. This only makes the “best behavior” phase of dating even longer and more inauthentic – and makes everyone feel even more like their true selves don’t deserve love.
Suddenly a dealbreaker can be something as trivial as they text too much, too little, at inopportune times, or about the wrong things. Suddenly you can just reply back with a, “I don’t think this is working out?”
The ubiquitous question mark after a statement, because we’re not sure of anything anymore.
What is it saying about us that we would take a back-up form of communication and use it as our primary means? That the main way we want to connect is in a way that strips us of the sound, sight, and experience of the other person – that boils them down to a few pixels on a screen that create some pithy comment or flirtatious remark?
It’s not healthy to check a Facebook page for comments made by other women – or for pictures from a night out when she said she had to work late. It’s not healthy to see if they’ve recently updated their dating profile, wondering what it means if he logs in the day after a good date with you. We analyze so much when we first start dating someone; the last thing we need is a downright tome of messages, pictures, quotations, and links that could potentially be taken the wrong way.
“What does it mean?” It means it’s time to slow down.
I say that it’s time to go back to text-free dating, fully understanding that texting is not going anywhere. But dating has become like fast food: quick, thoughtless, and disposable. I hate that people show their interest with emojis instead of emotion. I hate that my best friend can get ghosted by a guy after he promises her the world – via text. I hate that people feel obligated to parcel out their personality, hoping that the other person won’t ever catch on to who they really are. I hate that we’re all quick for the shortest path, even though it’ll hurt us more in the end.
It’s time to remember how complicated and confusing dating can be; that there’s something to the adage, “Quick to ripe, quick to rotten.” It’s time to remember that perpetually staying in the superficial will hurt us way more than putting ourselves out there ever would. It’s time to recognize that saturating yourself with a brand new person is a guaranteed way of getting sick of them – or they of you.
When I say it’s time to go back to text-free dating, I mean it’s time to go back to the slow simmer, getting to know you, not concerning ourselves with our online “presence” type of dating. To cherish time apart, and true time together. To remember balance.
We need to find that balance in every aspect of our lives. To go back to the text-free relationship, the text-free marriage. To cherish the sound of each other’s voice and not the witty remarks saved on our phones. To leave the serious talks for when you can seriously sit down and talk it out, when you can look into their eyes and know exactly how your words affect them. It doesn’t matter if you’re two months, two years, or two children into your relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been single for a few weeks, a few years, or since Clinton was in office.
Times will change, but some things should be more than just a cute throwback to a different era. Important communication should come from the heart, not a set of autocorrected words. I doubt there is a single person out there who will ever say something akin to, “And when he sent me a text with a two puppy emojis and a smiley face, I knew I had found the one.”