by David Lacy
On our first date, I took Tawny to the movie of her choice: “Paranormal Activity 3.”
I got a haircut, freshened my shave, splashed on cologne, washed the car (OK, I paid for someone to detail the car, inside and out), and picked her up at her home — one minute early.
In the early stages of dating I “pulled out all the stops.” I took her to her favorite films, her favorite types of restaurants. I picked her up chai tea lattes from Starbucks or Gummy Bear smoothies from Jamba Juice and randomly delivered them to her house on days I knew she would be stressed with work or school.
We used our phones to snap goofy, sometimes blurry, impromptu pictures of the two of us enjoying the so-called “honeymoon phase.” We’d text these pics back and forth, and occasionally post them on Facebook for our friends and family (many of whom live hundreds of miles away) to begin witnessing our burgeoning relationship.
A nice dinner and a movie. A surprise tea on a cold and lethargic morning. A Jamba Juice dropped off at her work immediately prior to a long and frantic shift. We made larger plans as well (we visited Tahoe, San Francisco, the Berkeley Hills, San Diego twice) but it always seemed to be the littlest things that really brightened Tawny’s day.
These small gestures were reciprocal of course; she would frequently cook me homemade dinners, spend literally hours creating intricate scrapbooks and hand-made thank you cards, and she quickly became the most important confidante in my life.
Fast-forward four months. My own work becomes overwhelming and stressful. However, I am still head-over-heels about my girlfriend. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to provide regular small gestures of thoughtfulness. We’re both just too damned busy.
That’s when it all begins.
It’s nearing spring. I know Tawny has a long day of both work and school ahead of her. However, I too have a hectic schedule (classes and a faculty meeting) and both of us are on edge over everything we need to get done. Tawny is stressed and I can tell. She would appreciate the smallest kindness, the littlest encouragement to help her get through her day (which for her would end around 2 a.m.). And I am 20 miles away.
So, I whip out my iPhone, download the Starbucks app, and text her a gift card for a chai tea latte. At first the novelty of the electronically-delivered gift is touching. I get a grateful text in reply that ends in a lot of winky-faced emoticons that lead me to believe I’d be “more thoroughly” thanked later.
Ironically, over the next few months I’d become increasingly reliant on technology (with its dearth of personal intimacy) to make myself feel as if I were continuing to “pull out all the stops.”
One evening we were lounging in bed watching TV when I noticed a film Tawny had been interested in seeing was available immediately through iTunes. Foregoing the haircut, shave, cologne, and carwash (I was wearing a running t-shirt and faded boxers) I grinned at the opportunity to do something for my girlfriend. I picked up my AppleTV remote control, ordered her movie, landed a kiss on her cheek, and fell back into my pillows.
“For you, baby,” I announced yawning, curling myself into my favorite sleeping position (for the record, it’s fetal). “It’s all for you.”
“Ahhhh, you’re so sweet,” she replied sarcastically and with a quick sneer. But it wasn’t unappreciative sarcasm. Tawny has a knack for never making people feel bad about their gestures, however small they may seem.
Throughout the summer I would electronically “gift” her game apps for her iphone. She is studying like a mad woman for the L.S.A.T. and enjoys short moments of respite playing puzzles, scrabble, and any game that involves zombies or eradicating the human race.
But the gestures were still electronic, and I often felt that I was substituting real effort – real work for the relationship – with the equivalent of push-of-the-button trinkets and knick-knacks.
My brother had done this on Christmas the year prior. He procrastinated shopping for the family gift exchange until Christmas morning, at which point he was chastised by our mother. Finally, one hour before all of the guests arrived, he hopped on Amazon.com and ordered a gift certificate for $40. He sent the card from his laptop to our stepfather’s printer, folded the gift in half, and stacked it with the rest of the gifts under the tree.
Incidentally, it was the most popular gift at the exchange.
I’m being a bit hard on myself here. I still take Tawny out for dinners and movies and every day she makes comparable relationship gestures.
But I’m still intensely ambivalent about this whole technology-and-relationships thing. On the one hand I love the ease with which I can send a last-minute surprise to those I care most about.
But the other side of me wishes that every Chai Tea Latte, every Gummy bear smoothie, and every small gift were hand-delivered.
Because in a world of “i” products, it’s the face-to-face moments that truly exemplify the “I.”