Two, maybe three years ago, I was the biggest supporter of text messaging and all other forms of written communication. Letters, emails, DMs, tweets, you name it, I loved it. And why not? Think about it: texting is easy, efficient and private (most of the time), it allows for multitasking and removes nearly all anxiety in communication for those of us gifted with generous amounts of awkwardness. With texts, there’s no pressure to fill the silence with words, there’s no awkward fidgeting, no nail biting, no nerve jangling when the conversation tapers out. Simply text your “good night *insert emoji of your choice*” and go to sleep.
I abhored voice calls. There seemed to be so much pressure to perform on the spot, to be witty and honest and amazing and somehow still only yourself. Calls represented too much pressure for me, pressure I could very well do without.
However, lately, I’ve found myself considering the ability of text to create and sustain true intimacy. As much as I love and trust words, I know that they are malleable, and in the right hands, mere clay to create whatever fantastical beings the sculptor imagines. It is easy to veil one’s true self over text. It is easy to create and project the best possible version of oneself or the best possible version one wishes, and have others wholeheartedly believe it. It is easy to clean up one’s mistakes with a simple click of the backspace key, it is easy to mask confusion with an emoji. If you don’t want to confront a particularly embarrassing subject, it’s okay, don’t worry, just leave for a few hours and come back when you’re ready. Or not. It’s entirely within your control. But this is my concern: when we knowingly or unknowingly hide behind the veil that text provides, are we showing who we really are? If we can evade certain aspects of ourselves, polish up others, then that cannot be the real us, and if that isn’t our truth then the possibility of intimacy is removed altogether. If what we are presenting to others over text isn’t our real selves but the tidied version of it, then how is true intimacy formed?
I like the word ‘intimacy’. Its sound, yes, but its meaning much more. It has become desirable to me, in small increments: that peculiar baring of one’s soul before another with no safety net, no veil, just trust. And in my search for true intimacy with myself and with others, I find texting to be a particularly stubborn stumbling block. When there is so much free rein to create whatever version of myself I wish, I wonder if I’m being truthful, if the person on the other end is.
How is it possible to learn the truth about a person, the intricacies of their heart if I cannot see the light burn in their eyes when they talk about the things they love, hear the catch in their voice when they describe their worst fears?
I recently read an article titled “how to be a good friend to someone who has depression” (or something like that) and among all the suggestions, the one that caught my eye was this: ‘Be There’. And I thought: how? What if my friend is a gazillion miles away on the other side of the world and there’s nothing between us but a fragile internet connection and words too hollow to accurately describe the depth of feelings that propelled them to the surface? How can I be there for my friend over text? What words will not sound inadequate or redundant when I try to express how much my heart beats for you and how much I want you to be better and how lost I feel?
We come into this world and move through it utterly alone. But our arms are outstretched and our hearts are open, hungry for connection, to feel the link between us and something greater than ourselves, a warm, familiar weight. And I think that we owe it to ourselves to ensure that these connections are the truth, that our hearts remain linked by something raw and unshakable. That we are, and should be, above all, true.