My boyfriend and I met 976 days ago. I know, because we are both data freaks who consume charts and graphs and spreadsheets as if they were life-giving nourishment. We keep individual counters on our phones that tell us how long we’ve been together, we have a synced calendar of obligations, and we keep running logs of every place we’ve ever been (Foursquare), every book we’ve ever read (Goodreads) and every beer we’ve ever drunk (Untappd), among other entirely neurotic ticks. We are the couple who snuggle up in bed next to our phones. Never, ever, in our relationship have the words, “Could you put down your phone and pay attention to ME?” been uttered, and they never will.
But back to our 976 days together. Mr. Perfect and I met online, and, if any of you out there find yourselves in the market for a paramour, I can’t possibly recommend it strongly enough. Even when I was happily married (or at least, thought I was), I knew that online dating would be right up my alley, and I was always sort of butthurt that it wasn’t invented when I was in my 20s. As life would have it – because Life has a hell of a sense of comedic irony – I’d get my chance. I wound up divorced and on the business end of the digital dating scene at 36… and I was happy to be there.
I’ll spare you the full story of the Online Dating Experience; you can barely throw a stick into the blogosphere or stand-up comedy circuit without hitting a personal account of someone’s foray into that special brand of hilarity (and with good reason – the stories fucking write themselves). So we’ll fast forward past the guy who LOVED IRONMAN, the guy who said even the most special woman could never be as important as his mother, and the guy who inexplicably stopped mid-date to change out his license plates for an out-of-state pair he had in his trunk. (Why that night didn’t end in date rape will forever be a statistical anomaly to me.)
A very short time later, thank the merciful cosmos, I found myself unwittingly falling for a man on the other end of the tubes. A man who, so far, amounted to only a screen name, a bio paragraph, a handful of photos, and about a dozen emails. I was smitten, so naturally it stands to reason I would fuck it up but good.
Now here is the batshit part, and the fun fact with which we delight in confounding friends: in the months leading up to our IRL meeting and in the 976 days since, we have never spoken on the phone. Not once. We went from dating-website messaging to emailing to texting, and that is where the evolution of our communication hit a wall. Neither of us like talking; we are both writers by trade, and feel unnatural encoding our messages verbally. We stutter, we stammer, we search for the words we need to articulate our thoughts, and get frustrated when the English language falls short of our needs.
On the phone the problem compounds, because a writer-type doesn’t have limitless time to craft the ideal sentence structure or to pluck the perfect words from the depths of his communicative soul. At least in person, a desperate speaker straining to get his point across can employ hand gestures and facial expressions to help his cause. But on the phone, we’re expected to just… mouthtalk?! Well it’s exasperating.
And so it has always been with us.
Several hours before we were to meet for the first time, my girlfriend joked, “What if he has a terrible voice or some unforgivable accent? What if he walks up to you and he’s all like, half The Fonz and half Mike Tyson?” We stirred ourselves into a tizzy, coming up with un-datable voice/accent combinations. I’m happy to report that Mr. Perfect approached us later that night in the pub (I say “us” because I am the girl who brings her friend along on first dates) with a perfectly normal voice and no trace of an off-putting accent.
We live together now, and we have still never spoken on the phone. We accomplish all we need to accomplish in person or over text/email (needless to say, it is imperative that we carry unlimited texting plans). What’s more, I believe it strengthens our relationship: we’re called on to forge prettier, more eloquent delivery, which always winds up being more poignant than, “love you,” and ‘love you too, bye!”
It’s a dumb thing we do and a dumb thing we’ve become… but it’s a we-thing.
Once last summer, I was getting frustrated trying to find my way to a house party in a gated community, to which he’d already arrived. I called another attendee had also already arrived but who was too drunk to give reliable gate code instructions, so she passed the phone to him. “Hello?” he said, and I hung up the phone.
That’s the closest we’ve come to mouthtalking on the phone, and the closest I care to get.