Love’s Language Lost

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July 12, 2007

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there used to be a language of love. I mean a tactile language you could plunge into and swim around in, caressed by the largesse of words. 

I used to anguish over the right words to put in a letter to the latest object of my desire. The letters and poems I received were (usually) thoughtfully written, replete with descriptions of where said object of desire was sitting, what he was doing, a reflection on his latest musings—and how I figured in them. 

One poem delivered to my doorstep wooed: “with a last kiss, a butterfly brushes lightly over her eyelashes.” 

But that’s all in the past. I’m finding the language of love is losing its power of seduction.

Messages used to be simple, but heartfelt: “I’m sitting in a café, drinking plum tea, and thinking of you.”

Nowadays, that message would read more like:  “sittin in TH drinkin coffee thinkin of u :-)”  TH, I am told, means Tim Horton’s, apparently today’s version of the café. The smiley face gets punctuation, not words, to express feelings.

Instead of arriving on a glossy card or crisp paper, the words flash across the screen of a computer, cell phone or blackberry. 

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I can’t help thinking that all this technology is leading to a faster-paced language that focuses less on style and more on a basic exchange of information. 

Emails, text messages, websites like Facebook and online dating sites are modifying the language we use.  Words are often truncated.  

Laugh out loud becomes LOL; thinking of you is TOY; miss you so much becomes the peculiar-sounding MUSM.  Basic spelling and grammar rules seem to be shelved in the relentless pursuit to get the message out.  

I don’t see any excuse for writing “danceing” when your fingers can waltz a few inches over to the spell check function.  And what’s happened to our punctuation pals: the apostrophe and the comma?  

The apostrophe is often glaringly absent or misplaced; the comma sprinkled maniacally throughout a sentence. I’m noticing traditional greetings like dear, even hello, as well as from and love, are disappearing. 

What’s more, it seems language is becoming less creative and reflective in our effort to state our purpose and get on with things. 

A friend shared the following insightful descriptor on an online dating site:  “I love conversations about anything and everything and if I find our conversation stimulating then you can bet that I might want to listen to you more.” Well, that’s an enticement if ever I read one.

We say that language mirrors society.  So, as technology pushes us forward at break-neck speed, it’s creating a language that is fast, less thoughtful, and flouts basic principles. 

Is this language, in fact, reflecting a new kind of romantic relationship? 

Rosemary Sullivan says the longing for intimacy has not changed over the years, but the attitude towards language has. She’s an English professor at the University of Toronto and author of Labyrinth of Desire.  In an age where people say one thing and often mean another, she says: “there’s an anxiety where language is not to be trusted—it’s just rhetoric.” 

Sullivan adds that the language of love has been exhausted by the world of advertising we live in: sensuousness and seduction can now be found in everything from cars to cosmetics.

Maybe I just have to get hip and accept that the language of love—or at least the attitude towards it—is changing. 

I turned to the younger generation for enlightenment. Twenty-year-old Saira Khan is a 4th year public policy student. She sends and receives more than a dozen text messages per day and is constantly writing on Facebook. She likes getting brief, flirtatious messages from guys she likes, but rarely does she want more. 

“A letter from guy would be soft,” she says. “You don’t want that much of an effort because it’s like, why are you trying so hard?” Khan says if a guy were to spend too much writing her, she’d wonder if he had a life. 

She cringes at the thought of receiving a romantic poem.  “If a guy did that, that’s the number one turn off. I’ve never met a girl who wants that.” 

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Okay, so I’m clearly a dusty remnant of the twentieth century. 

I learn that if a girl and a guy really dig each other, they go onto their Facebook sites and write on each other’s “walls”, or “poke” each other electronically. I don’t know. It seems that we’re going right back to the playground where all these romantic feelings first began to bloom.

Alas, perhaps love’s language is not all lost.

The way we use written language is changing, but body language is as important as ever. Love letters and poems convey a certain amount of intimacy, but intimacy also lies in the glance, the slight brushing of the arm, or stroking of hair—beyond what words could ever express.

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