We met at an indoor badminton party I co-hosted, and I’m aware that’s not how most love stories start. He was cute, with a messy mop of wavy brown hair, and I was newly single. Actually, to be completely honest, he was in his early 20s, about 10 years my junior, and I was trying very hard to keep my hands to myself. But his nice-guy charm – he stayed behind to help clean up the half-full beer bottles and burger-stained paper plates – was winning. I smiled when a message from him popped up the next day on Facebook, requesting a private badminton audience.
Given the age difference, my new prospect resulted in immediate hassling by friends and family. “How’s his paper route going?” asked my brother. My friend José gave me a new nickname: “All Ages.” I had to police my Facebook wall, especially after another friend, Shawn, started writing one word – stroller – on a semi-regular basis. But it turns out that age was the least of our differences. When we met up for a drink, in a booth at the back corner of my favourite bar, he revealed his real secret.
“I don’t have a cellphone,” he said. I looked up from my vodka soda, wide-eyed and disbelieving. “Or internet access. Or a computer.” He shared a land line with roommates. He worked with his hands, packing and lifting in a warehouse, and he only checked his email every few days, at the library. When he wanted to listen to music, he would close his bedroom door, curl up on his bed and listen to a Discman with oversized headphones. I pictured a prison cell, cut off from modern technology, but he seemed so positively upbeat about it.
Still, I couldn’t believe this guy, barely out of his teens, was less plugged-in than me – and I don’t even have cable television or a driver’s licence. But later that night, after I wrestled my common sense to the ground and allowed him to walk me home, I found out that he had something to offer that was better than a cellphone. While he may have lacked modern technology, he more than made up for it in make-out technique.
We started to sort of see each other, every now and then, and it was different. Almost every relationship I’ve had in the last six or seven years has involved an early courtship of near-constant information exchange, where the first weeks or months are spent sending emails and text messages and then eagerly awaiting the replies. I would scan my phone while at dinner with family or having drinks with friends; I would break from work every five minutes to check my email, desperate for him to volley back and let me know I was on his mind.
But that wasn’t even an option with this guy. He couldn’t call or email me during the day, and he couldn’t ever send me a text message. And so I relaxed. When I saw him, he was completely focused on me – instead of pawing a BlackBerry – and when we weren’t together, I was less distracted from the other things in my life. I went to movies and my phone stayed silent in my purse instead of on vibrate in my pocket.
I felt smugly liberated from my habit of all-consuming dating. Instead of hanging off and analyzing the minutiae of our every exchange, I simply carried on.
For years, my friends and I have formed a sort of dating task force, coming together at brunches or over drinks to examine all of the forensic boy-related evidence at our disposal. Text messages have been produced and emails have been printed and presented for group analysis. “Listen to how he pauses after mentioning that party,” I once said, playing a voice-mail message to my best gals as we huddled together over our half-eaten waffles and huevos rancheros. “What does that pause mean?”
A friend of mine recently lost her mind for a few days, thanks to modern dating technology. A man she had been seeing, who lives in Vietnam, had recently returned home from a lengthy mountaineering trip in Nepal. She was not upset when he was in Nepal and, due to the circumstances of poor infrastructure, unable to contact her. For a month, she seemed almost Zen, recalling their wonderful time together and relatively liberated from worry about the relationship. But now he had been back for over a week and she still hadn’t heard from him. “Before, I wasn’t worried about it because he couldn’t contact me,” she told me, anguished. “But now he’s choosing not to contact me.”
My friend finally heard from her faraway love, in an email full of affection and reassurance. In the meantime, my pseudo-boyfriend got a cellphone. He had moved into a new apartment, with a bunch of strangers, and could no longer depend on the kindness of his former roommates and their land line. He was less than thrilled with his concession to the 21st century, but I was elated. I assumed that I would hear from him more, that the reason our relationship had failed to progress in the several months I had known him was his less-than-modern personal infrastructure.
But then I still rarely heard from him. I stared at my cellphone, calling it occasionally from my land line to ensure that it was still working. Instead of being liberated from patterns past, I was still waiting. My theories about the glory of semi-consuming love went out the window, and I realized that being detached and out of contact is a lot more fun when you haven’t spent three months unwittingly building an attachment to someone. I started to wonder if I was just one of many girls he wasn’t calling.
When a friend asks, I like to pretend that his age put the kibosh on things. But what I really couldn’t abide was someone who seemed content to touch base with me every couple of weeks. Alone one Saturday morning, I suddenly realized this was one of those relationships that doesn’t alleviate the loneliness that being single sometimes brings, regardless of how much you like your life.
I’ve decided to embrace the all-consuming early stages of love, of having someone on my mind and knowing that I’m on theirs. There are few other things in life more thrilling than someone you can’t stop thinking about. And there are few things less satisfying than the awareness that he’s probably not thinking about you – and then having it confirmed by a new cellphone that still doesn’t call.