Recently, a girlfriend of mine was ranting about this boy she is seeing. She wanted to take their relationship to the “next level,” whatever that means, and she was really angry at the way he was acting.
“I text and text and sometimes it takes all day for him to text back,” she lamented, indulging in a cocktail for moral support. “I know he checks his text messages like umpteen times an hour.”
“What happens when he does text back?” I inquired. “Does he apologize? Does he act like he didn’t see it?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “He always apologizes and he always has an excuse. ‘In a meeting. At the gym. Driving his car.'” She rolled her eyes, as if not crashing his car into a wall head on at 70 miles per hour was the stupidest reason not to text back.
“Well,” I continued in my sagacious I-have-been-there tone. “You could either believe him and not obsess about it, or you can choose not to text him. Let him text you.”
“I can’t do that,” she said incredulously.
“What if I have something I need to tell him? What if something so funny just happened that I know if I text him the story, it will brighten his day?”
I mulled her ideas over in my head. They were valid reasons to text, yet, she was vexed that he did not respond. Of course, if she texted what she was telling me, it seemed that often times her messages were one-sided, and frankly, maybe he did not feel the need to reply.
Nonetheless, I did not want to say that I felt her vexation was in vain. I did not want to tell her that as an outside observer, the relationship appeared to be moving along at a nice pace, and if it was a ring she was after, they had only been together for three months. She needed to slow down and enjoy it. No, I did not want to say any of those things because I was once a young girl in love, and I too, wanted assurance that my boyfriend was truly “my man.”
Thus, I decided to share a story.
“It was a lot easier to date before cell phones,” I said. I put my hand on hers to show I was commiserating, to show that as women, we were unified. We were the Venus girls; and we both knew the boys hung out a wee bit farther from the sun.
“Well, cell phones were really hitting the market about the time Tom and I started to date, and neither one of us had one. Thus, it was impossible to be at each other’s beck and call. We had to make a plan when we would speak next.”
“That sounds awful,” she said. She was pouring herself another cocktail.
“No, it really wasn’t. Tom had an advantage, however. He had a pager. When he was out-of-town on business, I could call it, leave my number, and he could call me back.”
“How is that any different from a cell phone?” She was right, it really wasn’t.
“You’re right. It was similar to leaving a message, or in your case, a text,” I agreed. “And around three months into our relationship I was feeling exactly like you are now. The difference is, I felt I had to fix my situation.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said. I must admit, I was being a little cryptic.
“Well, Tom was travelling a lot back then, and we had a deal that when I had free time, I would page him and he would call back as soon as he could get near a phone. However, personally, I felt our relationship was at the junction where we were about to turn a corner. We had already said “I love you” a couple of times, but I still wasn’t sure he felt as into it as I was. I needed ultimate reassurance.
“So, anyway, he was out-of-town and I paged and he did not call back in what I deemed a reasonable amount of time. So I paged again. Then an hour later I paged again.”
My girlfriend started to laugh. “Sounds like me and texting.”
“Exactly. I think I paged seven times before he called back. He wasn’t happy.”
I could tell she liked my story, she had moved closer to me on the couch.
“What happened?” She was wide-eyed.
“Well, he said to me, ‘You know I am in California. I am working. If I don’t call you right back, there’s a reason. I will call you when I can.’ To be honest, I felt hurt. I felt like he should want to say “hi” in the middle of his work day, especially because we went weeks sometimes without seeing each other.”
“What did you say?”
“I think I whined a little and said something like I just said to you. But what really put me over the edge was his response.” I paused so that I could offer it the proper build up.
“What did he say?”
Strap on my storyteller hat. I had her at “what really put me over the edge.”
“He said, ‘I am really busy on the road. Sometimes, it would be easier if we didn’t talk every day.’ ”
“Well, to say I was pissed would be an understatement. We had gone from not paging so often to not talking every day in the matter of seconds. However, I did not want him to know I was pissed. I did not want him to think I was some whacked out chick or something, nor did I want him to think he had some kind of hold over me.”
“Which he did,” she laughed, sensing the all too familiar theme in my story.
“Which he did, but it was clear to me that he didn’t see it. So, I played it off. I said to him, ‘Yeah, I understand. You do have long work days, so if I don’t hear from you, I’ll understand.’ ”
“Wow, that was pretty big of you.”
“No, it was all mind fuck, really. I purposely said ‘hear from you’ because I was putting all communication into his court. Secondly, I was determined that I would not page him nor would I pick up the phone for the next three days.”
“Three days!” She was skeptical, I knew it.
“Yes, I was in a weird ballsy state. I was like, ‘Fuck it. If this ends our relationship, if he can’t see my point and my needs, than this boy is not the boy for me.’ I stayed clear of my apartment, ignored my phone and answering machine, and gave him a taste of his own medicine.”
“Oh my Gosh, did it work?”
“Yes, but it was the hardest three days of my life. The first day, he called in the evening and left a message, but he knew it was dart night, so he just assumed he missed me. The next day, he called two different times. Once, I was actually in the apartment, and I still let the answering machine pick it up.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” she said to me shaking her head.
“I thought that as well, and don’t think it wasn’t hard listening to his message and not running to the phone to pick it up. But, I was proving a point, and the only way I was going to see if this was really going to work was by holding my ground.”
“So what happened?” she asked. I could tell she was mauling what I was saying over in her mind, thinking about how she could manipulate my story into the year 2012.
“Well, the third day, he called four times. Each message was a bit more desperate than the one before. I finally felt like I had him on the ropes, worried that something was wrong, wanting to really talk to me. The fifth time the phone rang, I picked up. He asked if I was mad at him and why I hadn’t paged him in three days. I said, ‘No, you’re in California working. You’re busy, I know you can’t talk every day, so I gave you some space.’ There was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds.”
“Was he mad?”
“Actually, the exact opposite. He finally got my point. If you were going to say “I love you” to someone and mean it, you had to make time in your day to talk to that person.”
That’s it? What was she expecting, a fucking proposal?
“Yes, that’s it. That was the day that I gained the upper hand. I may not always have it, but that was the day he realized that we were both in the relationship, and we both had needs. That was the day I knew our relationship was going the distance.”
She and I sat a moment while she thought about all I said.
“So you think I shouldn’t text?”
“Not only do I think you shouldn’t text, I think you need to ignore him for a day or two. When he gets anxious, you can throw his excuses back at him: at the gym, driving in the car, doing yoga, reading a book.”
“Okay, I’ll try, but it would be easier without a phone.” She twisted her fingers.
“It would, but if you want hand, you’ve got to exert yourself.”
My friend never could give up her modern technology and hold her ground. She and the boy still date, but she has not gained an equality in the relationship. She is still anxious, questioning where he stands and his intentions.
It was a lot easier to gain the upper hand in 1996.