Using Emoticons Isn’t Sexy


Remember when the whole concept of signing off an email with an “XO” was a relatively new idea?  When I wrote this piece for The L.A. Times, I recall being genuinely flummoxed by the fact that a married guy I only knew because we’d both taught writing at the same place was suddenly X’ing and O’ing it up in emails to me. Up until then, I’d thought such flirty but benign sign-offs were solely meant to be used in communication with close friends, family members, and people you were dating.

Can you believe there ever was such an innocent time? Now I’m just as likely to get an XO from a publicist pitching me a story as I am from the author of a newsletter I allegedly signed up for though I have no memory of doing so. X’s and O’s are now so prevalent that they’re barely worth mentioning. Especially now that their redneck cousins, emoticons, have gurgled to the surface.

Oh, emoticon — or, dear God, emoji — is there every really a place for you? In the admittedly judgmental world I live in, not really. (Perhaps this particular judgment is my birthright: Larry David — not, alas, despite our same last name, a relative — feels similarly.)

Now, look: I’ve been guilty of the odd smiley face at times. But by “at times” I probably mean twice and they were in all likelihood occasions where I was stricken with co-dependent guilt and fear that what I was writing would surely get taken out of context and I’d alienate the recipient forever if I didn’t sign off in a way more fitting for an 11-year-old than a grown woman. This Spartan use of emoticons seems appropriate in light of what I’ve read about the emoticon’s origins — apparently it was simply the easiest way a Carnegie Mellon Computer Science research professor could communicate whether something he wrote was a joke or not.

But emoticons have opened the door to all sorts of other forms of “just joshing” text and email communication that surely no nice Computer Science professor could have possibly imagined. Take the communiqué I once received from a guy I was supposed to go out with: Hey, it read, wear something sexii.

I tried to rein in my judgmental side. I tried, in other words, to not be me.

But some things cannot be reigned in. What adult with an IQ high enough to know how to text would choose to text someone he supposedly wanted to meet an instruction that she wear something sexy and choose to make the Y into two I’s?

I wanted to cancel the date. But, I reminded myself, I knew men who would never do such a thing who turned out to be terrible in some other way. Maybe, I reasoned, I needed to open my mind to the segment of the population who would issue such sartorial instructions and exchange two I’s for a Y.

Sexii? I texted back.

One for you and one for me, he responded. Pretty good, aren’t I? Wink, wink.

This was no mere smiley face, no cheesy spelling or forgivable abbreviation. This was willful idiocy followed by a prideful demand for congratulations and several winks. I didn’t care anymore if I was being too judgmental: I feigned a sudden emergency and never met the guy.

Look, I know it’s not original to complain about the way text language has taken over our culture. But I’m not doing that. In fact, I throw down btw’s and tmrw’s with the best of them. Still, I do this to save time, not because I’m trying to be clever. I’m not doing it, in other words, to try to incite a reaction.

But clever and creative texting is. I was recently telling a male friend the “sexy with two I’s” story and he theorized that the guy was simply trying to communicate the fact that he wanted to get laid.

Really? I asked. This hadn’t crossed my mind. Some women out there are turned on by sexii’s?

He said something about how emoticons are all we have in a world that’s growing increasingly technical and unemotional. Rather than saying I love you, he pointed out, we write 143. Now, as someone who obsesses day and night over words and how they should be placed together in sentences, I’m not sure how to feel about this. Are we making it easier for people to express their feelings — to, say, tell others they love them — because they can now use symbols instead of words or are we distancing them from their emotions by allowing them to communicate in tech speak?

I don’t really know. But I do know that if someone told me they loved me by texting me 143, I wouldn’t find that sexy — not to mention sexii — at all.

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