One new message received. Read?
“Mark but this flea, and mark in this / How little that which thou deniest me is / It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee / And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.”
Save? Delete? Reply?
“WTF? Perv!!! Haz u got crabz? LOL. Hookup l8r?”
All things considered, we should probably be grateful that John Donne didn’t have BlackBerry Messenger back in 1600. Would our great romantic poets have troubled themselves with erotic odes of seduction if they had SMS or Twitter to hand? In Donne’s case I suspect probably he would, whereas, much as I revere him, I have a strong feeling that Robert Burns would have simply sent a photo of his penis instead(18th-century adult content warning).
The digital revolution may have brought us instant communication and easy textual gratification, but it hasn’t exactly been a boon for romance. Nor, intriguingly, has it done much for clarity. While students of English literature may have spent centuries trying to decode the meaning of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 128 (hint: it’s filth, sheer filth), Generation Text is left with the equally demanding challenge of intuiting meaning from a string of abbreviated characters. An online industry has emerged to assist stressed paramours in demystifying those ambiguous texts received the morning after a romantic liaison. The leader in the field is hit website HeTexted.com.
Recently redesigned and relaunched, the site is horribly compelling, in a rubbernecking voyeurism-meets-schadenfreude kind of way. The format is simple: women post the texts and social media messages they’ve received from friends and suitors, ask for advice, and other site users vote “he’s into you”; “he’s not into you” or “verdict is still out” before analysing the nuances of the messages to often bewildering detail in the comment threads. Many of the messages are unintentionally hilarious, others are steeped in pathos or naivete. Many are just plain weird, while a few seem to be little more than blatant humblebrags (Text: “Hey there beautiful. I know it’s almost your bedtime so i thought i’d say hey, and that you’re awesome and cool, and sweet dreams!” Question: “Does he like me as a friend or more?” Correct answer: “Stop being so bloody daft.”)
Taken as a whole, I think the site does reveal something rather endearing about our youthful generations. For all the huff and puff about a sexualised, pornified society, girls gone wild and promiscuous hook-up culture, it seems young people are still performing ritualised dances of seduction, even if it is tapped out to a different tune. The ambiguity in many of the messages stem from a reserve bred by vulnerability, insecurity and fear of rejection. Other messages are clearly attempts to wriggle out of nascent relationships without causing hurt and offence. Both phenomena can be documented in the history of romance dating back to Roman times. As everything changes, everything stays the same.
The nature of the site encourages a gendered perspective but women have their own tactics of self-preservation, which are just as baffling to men as the reverse. I doubt a SheTexted.com would ever take off, because of course we men do not doubt our charms for a moment. We swoop. We conquer all before us. We slink back to our bedrooms alone and secretly sob into a pillow. That’s the manly way.
The social and sexual radical in me would love to see a world where men and women are open and honest about our desires, our wishes and our needs. I have no doubt there are many harms caused by the culture of the pursuer and the pursued, and the hypocrisy of the slut-stud double standard. On the other hand, it would be a human tragedy to lose sight of the mysteries of romance and the thrill of the chase (if not the chaste). I’m sure, given the technology, Donne could have composed a text message of delicious beauty, or a 140-character tweet of irresistible seduction. At least I suspect he could have done better than this, from HeTexted.com: “I want to peel an orange in one thin continuous strip, rub it in scented kitty litter and wrap it around your neck like a scarf.”
Can you? Go on Comment is free, seduce me.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Image via SmashGods