Although flirting via text and chat is more casual, the anxiety remains.
A few days ago, I was agonizing over the wording of a text message. Would “certainly” be too flirty of an adverb? Would an exclamation point send the wrong message? Is a five-minute turnaround time too desperate? It’s too early to use emoticons, right? None of this nitpicking concerned me. Not directly, anyway. Instead, I was serving the role of advisor to a friend. A guy friend.
After five minutes or so of careful editing, typing and retyping, the text was sent. And we waited. Words, words, words. I guess they still matter — to both sexes — which is comforting, in a way. Those of us in the under-50 age group may not write love poems or letters anymore, but we have text messages and Facebook chat to fill with mushy sentiment. But maybe these mediums are more romantic than we give them credit for. After seeing the kind of anxious thought a guy put into a simple 70-character or so text, my perspective changed ever so slightly.
With this experience and the coming of Valentine’s Day, I slipped into an uncharacteristically sentimental mood. I got to thinking about written communication in its varied forms — letters, texts, instant messages, poems, notes passed in class — and the sizable role each has played in my life in terms of romance over the years.
In the third grade, I gave my first and only secret valentine to a boy. I can picture exactly the small, heart-shaped wooden box I stealthily purchased from A.C. Moore. It was the kind of cheap unfinished wood that you’re supposed to paint over. Instead I used a black Sharpie marker to draw a curly “J,” the first initial of my crush, on the raw, beige surface of the lid. I stuffed a carefully folded note inside. I have no idea what that note said, but I remember pulling out my Webster’s Student Dictionary to look up how to spell the word “anonymous.”
He never found out it was from me.
I can still remember middle school conversations over AOL Instant Messenger that make my stomach swell with a mix of embarrassment and nostalgia. Even more cringe-inducing, I can remember printed transcripts of said instant messages — with my screename in blue and his in red — that my best friend and I would pour over at the lunch table.
At the all-girls high school I went to, boys were all talk. They weren’t there, so all that we had to do with them was discuss them in their absence. Boys weren’t the only thing we mulled over between classes, but when we did talk about them, discussion was limited to pure analysis and little to no immediate action. Text messages and online chats were rehashed and dissected for the slightest nuances. Responses and next steps were planned.
In college, with boys all around, the tendency to analyze hasn’t changed as much as I’d imagined it would. Some might say actions speak louder than words, but a writer and frankly anyone who’s ever had a crush, knows better.
There are so many words that I’ve received and stored away — literally and figuratively. There are the poems boys wrote and read to me in high school. There are the books boys recommended to me, whose every sentence I turned over carefully in my hands, looking for some subtext. There are the notes that were left under my dorm room door. There’s the “I love you” I didn’t know how to respond to.
I can remember all these things, but for some reason, I’d never really stopped to consider that all the words I’d said to boys — or didn’t say — mattered as much as the ones I’d heard.
The wait was over. About 10 minutes later we — my friend and I, looking over his shoulder — got a text back. She had responded somewhat apathetically, in that calculated, distant way I’ve been perfecting since sophomore year of high school.
I told him not to worry about it. She’s just being coy.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Duly Noted appears every Monday.