I gave up texting for December, and I didn’t become a better person. I didn’t feel relieved and cleansed. I didn’t decide to give up texting forever. I did learn something, though. Texting is like alcohol. Not in how difficult it is to give up, but in its correlation to relationships. Are you friends without alcohol? Can you hang out sober? Could you try? Could you be friends if you talked on the phone? Could you talk longer than five minutes? Is it awkward at the beginning and then thank f*cking God you have someone to talk to?
I received one text that petrified me. I mean that in the realest metaphorical sense possible: I swear I almost turned to stone when he texted me. My name was in that text. It was sent through the cosmos on waves of science to just me. And I couldn’t text him back. I had to call. What if he doesn’t answer? What if he does? What if he thinks I’m weird? (And why is that still my main concern? How old am I?) He did answer and for a second I was stupid and for a minute I was breathless and for an hour I was ecstatic. He told me about his father, about their trip to Europe, about their relationship. We talked about home and writing and Snood – I tried to explain it and he laughed at me. He said he pictured me in my high heels, tapping furiously away at a keyboard. He was picturing me.
Text messages would have said none of this. Nor would they have carried my laughter, my smile. They wouldn’t have conveyed the comfortable quiet as I listened to him rummage through the kitchen. They wouldn’t have had the crescendos and decrescendos of sweet words and boisterous laughter. Text messages would have made me think we had a chance, but it was that phone call that allowed me to know we do. He didn’t think I was just weird. He thought I was weird and funny and pretty and cool and he talked to me for an hour.
But not every text is the beginning of a love affair. Some of them are sent secretly from the backseat. Some of them are drunk reminders of old scars. Some are cowardly goodbyes, birthday reminders, directions, nice-to-meet-yous, and “running a few minutes late!” And some people are mass texts. They’re head nods and polite smiles, Facebook messages and wall posts. They’re reblogs, retweets, e-cards and tags. But some people are something else. Some people are hope and maybe and love me and did you know that new movie has Ben Barnes in it? Some people are worth those first couple minutes of “is this weird?”
I wasn’t surprised at the ease or difficulty of texting; I was surprised by the emotional reaction of having to call the different people who texted me. I was surprised by how I would rather have just not spoken to some of them at all. And had texting not existed, some of those people would assuredly have not reached out to me either. So why were they speaking to me at all? Because we need each other. Because we want to feel connected. Because if we show a little kindness, maybe a little will be shown back.
Don’t let natural human hesitation be mistaken for inability to communicate. Like the first taste of bitter alcohol, it goes down rough before it goes down as the best night ever.
This is how I suggest we use texting. Pretend for a moment you’re ten years old. You are in the principal’s office with a co-conspirator. If the principal turns his back, you have just enough time to wink at your accomplice. That wink is a text, because your accomplice might know you well enough to understand completely, but usually if someone winks at you, you’re left thinking, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” If, however, the principal leaves the office to ask the secretary to call your parents, you have enough time to discuss and agree to a plan. That is a phone call, because at first you’re tripping over each to talk, panicked by the situation, but you even things out and come to an understanding. Now, is the principal in the office or isn’t he?