Those first awkward clicks of a keypad

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, September 15, 2012

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“Denise likes you.”

With that simple phrase, furtively uttered at recess by a mutual friend when I was in the sixth grade, the story begins.

Bob Buckel

I was already quite the ladies’ man. I’d gotten a peck on the cheek from Kayla Young in the first grade, worshipped Debbie Armstrong from afar in the second and had my shins kicked repeatedly by Michel Evans in the fourth. But I had never formally “liked” someone before.

It being the 1960s, I said, “Cool!” The message was relayed and just like that, we were “going” together.

Us being sixth graders, that, of course, meant nothing. We scarcely looked at each other, never spoke and certainly never held hands or actually “went” anywhere.

All it meant was that neither of us could “go” with anyone else.

The world has been transformed since the 1960s. I’ve been off that market since 1981, but I’m willing to bet that courtship has changed, too.

Sixth graders today lug around iPads, study math that was (literally) rocket science back then, and learn history that hadn’t happened yet when I was their age. I’m sure they still spot each other across crowded playgrounds and cafeterias, but sadly, I’ll bet the days of summoning a loyal friend to go and make that initial pitch have disappeared.

“Meet me after school!” likely gave way to “Call me!” At some point that was replaced by “Text me!” and then, “Friend me!”

Now that first tentative outreach – that toe cautiously dipped in the rushing waters of romance – is all wrapped up in technology, and one of life’s most vulnerable moments occurs online. Instead of two kids with their heads in the clouds, or one walking on a cloud, romance now begins in The Cloud.

At first glance, you might think technology would help ease the awkwardness, provide a little buffer from the occasional “Ew! Him? No way!” But in another sense, it may make it worse.

As much courage as it took me just to pick up a phone, today’s kids must post, in writing, a plea that amounts to “Will you be my friend?” Any answer other than a “yes” is devastating rejection – but instead of the privacy of a playground, it occurs on the Internet.

Would personal, eye-to-eye contact change that answer? Maybe. If a girl can’t see the freckles on your nose, the twinkle in your eyes and the way your hair stands up in the back, what’s she got to base her answer on? Your typing skills?

The town where I grew up had a square, like Decatur, with a courthouse on it. On Friday nights, when young men and women wanted to meet, they went to the square. The boys would drive around on the inside, turning right, and the girls would drive on the outside, turning left.

If eyes met, a nod would set up a meeting on “Wall Street” – a block off the square where a lumber yard had built a block-long, 16-foot brick wall that generations of high schoolers had covered with graffiti, with the owner’s blessing (he sold paint). Girls would park on one side, boys would park on the other side, and everyone would sit on the tailgates of pickup trucks and talk into the night.

Many a grandchild has endured the story of how their family’s history started with a trip around the square and a tentative “Meet me at Wall.”

I suspect that at some future family holiday weekend, bored kids will be snatched from their holographic video games so their grandparents can tell them one more time how they first “friended” each other on an ancient thing called Facebook, shared pictures they’d taken with their iPhones, found they “liked” many of the same things and began texting.

At some point, they decided to Skype, and the story began again.

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