You Want Love? Put Down Your Phone.


Flirting is awkward.

Flirting with strangers is really awkward.

Being forced into a position where you have to explain to a complete and total stranger why you were crafting a tweet about how you two ought to get married while waiting in line behind him at CVS is tantamount to wanting to crawl into a hole and never, ever, ever rejoining society.

Which happened to me the other night.

Because I think I’m funnier than I probably am, and because I apparently think people care about play-by-plays of strangers whom I find attractive even though they will never see this stranger to judge for themselves, and because the woman behind me in line decided to look over my shoulder and read the tweet-draft aloud.

I wish I were kidding. And I wish that this was just an unfortunate happenstance of the poor guy passing through the drugstore on his way back to his own neighborhood, that he was now going to go back to Murray Hill or Bushwick and explain the craziest thing that just happened to him up in Washington Heights, but seeing as he was buying pretzel Goldfish and cat food, nobody buys that little unless they’re around the corner from their own place. So I had to explain to my neighbor how I’d planned on using him as the subject of a punch line – whether or not my plan to use a Missed Connections Meets Twitter premise was at my own lame expense. (Having this conversation means it most definitely was.)

But I realized that my Twitter-averse father, upon hearing how his daughter is completely hopeless, would only have one thing to say: “You wouldn’t be alive if I’d used a fucking tweeter about your mother.”

He’s right. I wouldn’t.

See, my parents met when my mom was on vacation in Puerto Vallarta and stayed at the hotel where my dad worked at the time. He was lounging at the employee pool when he saw her walking across the courtyard, called her over, and asked her to go dancing that night. They dated long distance before he moved to America; I was born shortly thereafter.

If the technology had been available, and had he – God forbid – posted about that hot woman he saw on Craigslist, I wouldn’t have been born.

(Don’t worry. The man doesn’t know what twerking is, let alone how to sink to the depths of M4W. He talked to my mother. I would be born.)

So often we use our phones and social media not only to connect with other people – albeit ephemerally, with Twitter and Facebook and a million other apps and sites and devices – but to avoid other people. The social in social media is almost a bit of a lie, if we choose it to be so. Don’t want to talk to that person? Send a text as an automatic response when they call. (You don’t even have to punch in your phone’s security code, Steve Jobs knew how little we wanted to hear other people’s voices.) You can experience a hell of a lot of FOMO by double-tapping your way through your Instagram feed, but you can also portray your life as being a lot more interesting than it really is. You can hide your deep aversion to socializing with a glossy little filter about Netflix, and people take it in stride. In fact, it’s become not only an acceptable rimshot cue, but acceptable, period.

And yes, it’s nerve-wracking to send a drink to somebody when they might reject it, or take the drink but refuse to talk to you. You could be stood up, you could get shot down, you could face any amount of rejection by putting yourself out there in any circumstance, but for whatever reason, when somebody rejects you – not your ideas at work, not your money when you get outbid for an apartment, but you, your looks, your personality, and your affection, that’s when things hurt most. When you have the most on the line, it’s easy to see why we’d all revert back to the safety of Candy Crush and Instagram. In that filter lies a barrier. In that filter lies safety. It hurts less when people don’t like your photo. It hurts less when people don’t fave your tweet.

But that’s not what human interaction was meant for.

And human interaction – flirting or otherwise – is becoming obsolete.

Standing there at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, toothpaste and mascara and Nutter Butters in hand, um-ing my way through explaining my harebrained attempt at humor though yes, I did think his blue gingham shirt was nice and that he was attractive and that maybe the fact that he clearly owned a cat could mean a lifetime of happiness for us both – some relationships have been founded on much less – was awful. But he was kind, and he took it in stride, and offered me a sympathetic smile before we parted ways. As if maybe he was in on the joke, or at least didn’t take offense to it.

If I ever see him again, out on my run in the morning or buying ice cream in my sweats at that same CVS on a Saturday night, I’ll take it in stride. I won’t tweet about it.

But maybe we shouldn’t resort to Candy Crush the next time we’re in line at the grocery store. You never know – the love of your life might be standing right behind you, summoning up the courage to say hi.

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image –nasrul ekram