I was watching the vintage “Real World” marathon this past weekend on MTV. On the San Francisco season, you may remember that episode where Rachel goes to a coffee shop to give her number to a dude. It doesn’t end up working out, but oh man, this scene gave me a crazy bout of dating nostalgia. I started remembering all the things I used to have to do (most of them terribly embarrassing) when I liked someone. Before the days of Facebook and Google, it took some serious ingenuity just to figure out a guy’s last name. I had to stalk a guy at Little Caesar’s Pizza every day after work just to get his phone number! That’s a lot of individual pizzas to order on an allowance! You have to really like the person to put in that kind of financial commitment. And if they like you back? Whoa. Now it’s all a mouse click away. It’s just too easy. Let’s reminisce some of those extinct pre-Internet dating rituals.
1. Sleuthing. Before the internet, having a crush meant being a first class sleuth. It meant calculated planning, sometimes for months. If you saw a guy you liked, at say, a ska concert, you first had to find out who he was. This required a lot of digging. You had to ask people, find someone who knew him, figure out what school he went to and if he had a girlfriend … or a boyfriend … or a reputation for being an asshole. And once you had accomplished this, if you ever did, then you had to figure out how to see him again. This often involved even more months of planning to find out if he was going to be at the next ska show and make sure you would also be there, looking cute and ready to skank. P.S. Skanking is a kind of ska dance, not a synonym for sluttiness. Now this whole process happens in three to five minutes on the internet. So anti-climatic.
2. Notes. Luckily the first guy I had a major crush on in high school went to my school, so that made the whole finding out his last name and tracking him down thing much easier. First I saw him on the bus and he told me he liked my bowling shoes. I was smitten, so I wrote him a note that said, “I think you’re swell.” I know, soooo dorky. But I thought I was being cool because there was an indie store in my hometown called SWELL, so I thought referencing it would let him know that I was down with alternative culture. Anyhow, after I wrote this note, I put it in an envelope and wrote his name in crayon. CRAYON. I had to carry it around in my backpack until I figured out his class schedule and could “nonchalantly” run into him between classes and drop him the note. When it finally happened about three weeks later, I gave him the note and ran away, tripped and nearly fell down a flight of stairs. So slick.
3. The digits. People used to have landlines and talk on the phone. This seems unfathomable to me now considering I hate talking on the phone so much, but I used to do it because I had to. After I gave the “I think you’re swell” note, or whatever embarrassing thing I had to do to make contact, my next step was the exchanging of phone numbers. I was not the most forward girl, writing a dumb note was about as bold as it got for me. So, this meant me visiting Little Caesar’s Pizza every day after school or Jamaican Blue coffee shop, or wherever he worked, make small talk with him until he asked for my phone number (which was always tucked in my back pocket at the ready).
4. Phone calls. With the exchanging of phone numbers came actual phone calls. This almost always happened before hanging out because you had to talk on the phone to make plans. This first phone call produced so much anxiety. What would you talk about? Would there be weird awkward silence while he strummed on his guitar or would the conversation flow? More pressing: Who would pick up? Him? His brother? His roommate? Or God forbid, the answering machine? Dun … dun … dun.
5. Answering machine messages. To leave or not to leave a message, that was the question. The answer largely depending on whether or not you knew if he had Caller ID. If you knew for sure he did, you had to leave a message because otherwise you’d seem like a weirdo stalker. If you didn’t know, you had to assume he did just to be safe. If he didn’t, you were in the clear to hangup and keep calling back obsessively until he picked up. If you are the type that gets nervous when an answering machine picks up (ME!), then the messages you left, no matter how many times you practiced, always came out sounding way lamer than you had intended. In college, I once left a guy a multiple choice message. “A) You’re home and just don’t want to pick up or B) You’ve been abducted by woodland farm creatures. If it’s B, call me back.” Obvs, he didn’t call me back. I’m dying of shame to have shared that.
6. Love letters. Love letters used to have to be written down and in paper form. Even better if they were folded into some crazy origami shape. Love mix tapes were acceptable, too. My first boyfriend sent me a love letter with a mix tape in it when I went on summer vacation. The letter told me about all the music he was listening to and then the mix tape had all the same songs. It was very meta. I challenge Facebook to live up to that.
Talk about dating rituals you miss in the comments.