Myself being a follower of proper work ethic, I once had an affair with my co-worker. Possessing the typical spine-tingling bravado attributed to all things generally looked down upon, this affair in nearly every way was stereotypical: Secret, awkward, and sexual. However, one basic difference separated this affair from your typical make-out-in-the-backroom-and-behind-closed-doors deal. This was an affair done solely through the phenomenon that is text messaging.
Like all liaisons, my flirtation started innocently enough: A playful trading of numbers during a shared lunch break (we both happened to adore Baja Fresh) to see who could text whom faster. We worked in a rather large chain bookstore in Santa Monica, and let me tell you– us booksellers are nerdy and bored, bored people. We found the simplest of things amusing. How was I to know that a simple G-rated text such as “Hi I can text faster than you” would, a week later, lead to the soft-core porn of “I want to bend you over and fuck you hard”? (Imagine getting this message while driving away from an eight-hour work day and you can see that the thrill of a text message liaison can, at times, far out do the thrill of a real affair—danger involved alone.)
After all, I only texted the guy. In our era of avoidance, text messaging is the ultimate vehicle for communication and evasion. Hell, it’s even safer than instant messaging online. With the internet being people’s second homes, getting someone’s screen-name involves a near knowledge or trust of the person. Screenname means friendship… or the possibility of one. (You could, after all, block the person or always have an away message up.) And don’t even get me started on Facebook… once you are Facebook friends with someone they might as well be one of your drinking buddies, unless you are really diligent about what particular photos you display. Today, nearly everyone has a cell phone. Giving out your cell number is no biggie. And neither is texting. It’s just another part of our obsession with communication without really communicating.
The beauty and secret lure of the text message is that you never have to acknowledge it. Coworker and I could be working the same shift, texting one another the most flirtatious (later, dirty) of sentences and act perfectly natural around one another. This was a reticent rule. The text message world we visited outside of work could never be visited while we habited our bookstore or were within view of one another. This way, we never, ever had to face up to what we were doing. Our cellular connection took us to a world without consequences.
For a time.
Like the liaison itself, the breaking of the rules also started relatively innocently. One night, as I lay down under faded purple plaid sheets dressed in my favorite college-days pajamas (an over-sized Winnie the Poo nightshirt) my cell made the familiar gurgle of exclamation that had already started to bring a smile on my face. I knew who it would be. Secretly I checked my suggestive text, and there was Coworker’s newest and latest “Long and hard or soft and gentle?” I giggled and looked around, ashamed. I didn’t tal like that, not with anyone else. (And certainly not since.) Yet, as my blush lessened, I suddenly felt free… wild. Nobody could see! Nobody could hear. The only mood music was my roommate’s breathing. With a sly grin, I texted him back. We proceeded to have the strangest version of phone sex I have ever had. My thumbs had calluses.
The next day, a customer wearing a bikini top came in and asked for a book on anal sex. (No.) Coworker was stacking the ever-popular Men Are From Mars books near me. I looked up and caught Coworker’s eye. He winked. I blushed. We connected.
And suddenly our connection wasn’t so technological anymore.
Swiftly, a text message about how we should copulate standing up would come to mind when a customer told me they couldn’t reach a book in the C++ section. Coworker started to bend the unspoken (and even un-texted) rule by texting me about how cute I looked in my skirt. Pleased, I replied that he looked cute in his metrosexual way—he is still the only man I know who can pull off pink and tight jeans.
Yet our flirtation brought with its fling and fantasy, a problem. The more we texted, the more we flirted, the more I liked Coworker. It had started to become something other than sexual, something other than cellular.
I took the ever-bending line of our decorum and straight up broke it about a month in when I texted Coworker about something non-sexual while working. I asked him about his ex-girlfriend with whom he had a dinner date that night after work. Coworker was wearing a nice green plaid shirt; he looked good. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was jealous.
While text messaging is just a bunch of letters showing up on your cell phone screen, the words can convey emotions. I could feel the shock in his in reply to my text “Nervous about dinner tonight?” Where was the sexual innuendo (“I’d do you for dinner” for example)? Where was the flirtation? This sounded needy. This sounded…
“A little,” he replied. “Surprised you asked.”
I opened a Dummies Guide To BBQ and hid my cell phone between recipes for grilling sauce as I replied, “Just interested. Curious.” I paused, watched as a customer across the store chose a book on Labradors. “Do you still like her?” I bit my lips and hit send. My heart was beating as I put the Dummies book back in its place, and hid my cell back in my nametag. The thrill of the forbidden (cell phones on the floor are a strict no-no) was overcome by the worry as to his reply.
My phone buzzed. “Maybe.” A few seconds later, just as I could feel a customer approaching (we develop a second sense for you guys): “Yes.”
Suddenly, text messaging wasn’t so thrilling anymore. It was painful. Just like a real crush. Holding back tears, I helped a nervous old lady who smelled like bad fish find Angelina Ballerina for her six-year-old granddaughter. I then proceeded to lock myself in the backroom closet and cry. Somehow, even through the barrier of wires and screens and bad connections, my heart had still managed to get hurt.
The next night a group of us went out to a late night dinner at Denny’s. Coworker and I did not—could not—look one another in the eye. I spent most of the time being passive aggressive and ignoring him. He spent most of the time hitting on a lesbian in front of her girlfriend. Both of us engaged in futile efforts of fun rather than facing the predicament: my obvious upset.
There is constant talk in our media today about how the internet requires new laws to control the freedom of communication it promotes—freedom of speech, freedom of downloading, freedom of porn, whatever. But the internet, while breaking boundaries, can also create them. Its wires can tangle up a heart just as easily as any “maybe I’ll call” from a guy or a wink from that foxy lady down the street. When is that ever brought up? We don’t discuss, not seriously, at least, how the medium of electronic media—be it my cell phone or even the internet—affects day to day human interaction. Sure, we joke at a party that we spend more time on AIM than we do doing homework, we brag to our gal pals about how we Facebook stalked whatever cute guy caught our fancy and made the mistake of telling us his last name, or the casual study is released on CNN about how children need to spend more time in the park than watching the boob tube. But what about us adults and our relationships? Online dating is becoming more and more popular. One of my friends is now living with a woman he met on Ok Cupid; and I now know two married couples who met on eHarmony. So while technology has certainly helped the lonely and more socially inept, I do believe it can cause a whole new form of awkwardness. Nobody “talks on the phone” anymore, none of us use up our minutes. Now when we sign up for phone plans what matters is not unlimited daytime minutes, but unlimited texts. And I know now that I am not the only one who flirts, dear heavens, conducts full blown relationship communication, with her cell.
And there’s the catch. In the end, reality hits. Sure, kids spend “too much time” watching television or playing with their Wii or whatnot. But they are, thank God (or Zeus or whomever), forced to eventually go to school, grow up, talk to fellow geeks (and I write that with love). I was—and so was Coworker—eventually forced to have real human interaction and feelings. What the digital media does is simply put it off for a while. But not forever. In the end, pesky human need and curiosity always peeks over the fence, reaching through the wires and over the keyboard for a fellow human hand.