David Brooks is sort of the Andy Rooney of the New York Times, always baffled by modern ways of life and love, and wishing we could return to the good old days, maybe even in Lake Woebegone, where the men don’t have iPhones, the women don’t have Facebook, and all of the relationships are hookup-free until marriage. Brooks’ latest column is about how cell phones and texting have killed romance.
Brooks’ column is littered with proof of how he just. doesn’t. get. it. (He notes that the daters he quotes make up nicknames for their partners, not catching that “Stage Five Clinger” is a “Wedding Crashers” reference. He also seems to think Bruce Springsteen is an appropriate cultural reference.) I sort of imagine that Brooks does his phoning on a Jitterbug. He seems to almost want to return to the days of arranged marriages:
Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.
Now we have a dating free market, and free market conservative though he is, Brooks DOES NOT WANT!!! Why? Because “texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination.”
Columns like Brooks’s irk me because they demean not only my lived experiences, but those of everyone I know. To offer a slightly more modern rebuttal, Sunday was my one-year anniversary with my girlfriend. A bit more than a year ago, we first met, the sort of short encounter that could easily have slipped by without follow-up. A year and a week ago, she sent me a friend request on Facebook, which makes it easy to reach out after chance meetings. A year and five days ago, we were sending tentative jokes back-and-forth. A year and four days ago, I was steeling myself to step things up to instant messages. A year and three days ago, we were both watching the “Iron Chef” offal episode, and IMing offal puns back-and-forth, which led to our first date. A year ago today, I was anxiously waiting to leave the office for our second date.
It is not for David Brooks to tell me those IMs lack poetry, or romance. I treasure them. Electronic mediums may look limited to him, but that is only because he has never seen his life change within them. Texting, he says, is naturally corrosive to imagination. But the failure of imagination here is on Brooks’s part.
I have to say I’m with Ezra. Jon and I may not have met online, but after our short summer together, we started at separate schools, and dated long distance for three years. Email and IM were some of our main modes of conversation. And how I wish I had thought to save those emails and IMs, precisely because they were full of poetry and passion. The medium itself doesn’t stifle imagination and romance, only the way a user chooses to use it.
So, technology enhanced, rather than killed, our budding love. But what about now that we’re married? Is technology killing the love and trust built in those years of IMs and emails and weekend 100 mile drives for dates?
Apparently, according to a piece I read at Air America, it’s a growing trend for Christian couples in particular to share one online account (be it email, Facebook, Twitter…) “as a safeguard against the ever-expanding temptations of the Internet.” The couples quoted in the piece who share accounts seem to think this is a great display of openness and trust. I guess I see that argument, but it seems to me that finding it necessary to do this, especially if neither partner has a history of infidelity, is in and of itself a display of distrust. Not to mention, potentially a violation of the privacy of those trying to contact you. If I were to email a girlfriend about a personal issue I needed to pour my heart out over, and her husband read that email, I would be hurt and betrayed. Some things, though they are not salacious, are intended for the seer’s eyes only, not for the eyes of his or her spouse.
This idea also troubles me because so many people seem to completely lose their individual identity upon marriage. Just browse some STFUMarrieds if you don’t believe me. Sharing one email, Facebook, or Twitter only makes that problem worse.
The way it works in my house is this: we each have our own Gmail. Sometimes, yes, we see each other’s inboxes (and Facebooks), because we both tend not to sign out on our shared laptop, and because both of our Gmail accounts feed into the Mail App (which we pretty much only use for ease of emailing photos from iPhoto, for quick emails with mailto links, and for notification of new emails without having to use a separate Gmail notifier). I’m pretty sure we both know each others’ passwords to things, because we each have one word we tend to use as a password, and because we do share some online accounts, at Amazon and Mint, for example. The thing is, we don’t regularly read each others’ email. There is absolutely no need. We can actually trust each other *not to* read each others’ email, even though it would be very easy to do so.
Sure, sometimes issues arise due to our online presences. Jon, for one, doesn’t like to have to read about my life in my blog– he’d rather hear things from me first and not be surprised to read them online later. I try to be sensitive about that and not break relationship news online before I’ve broken it in person. I, on the other hand, have been a little cautious about him friending ex-girlfriends on Facebook, and we eventually settled on some boundaries that work for us: he can friend them, I’m just not comfortable with any of their contact being private, in the form of “messages,” and prefer for it to take place in the openness of wall posts and comments. The way I see it, it’s sort of like not meeting privately with an ex.
To me, handling issues that may arise as they come, rather than heading them off wholesale by giving up any concept of online privacy, shows that we trust each other enough to negotiate our boundaries and to communicate whenever we feel uncomfortable with the other’s behavior. Just the exact way we handle everything else in our shared and individual lives.