I fell in love for the first time in 1993. I was a junior in high school, and Dan was a senior. The night before he left for college in September, we danced in the street outside my home, as a boom box, which rested on the hood of his Toyota Camry, played our song, "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel. A few months later, he would break up with me -- the six-hour drive between us too much to overcome in a pre-Internet world. We couldn't Skype. We couldn't text. We couldn't even -mail (he may have had an email address that year, but I wouldn't have one until I went to college in the fall of 1994). So we wrote long love letters back and forth while he was away at school.
Looking back now, the entire scenario seems incredibly romantic. Was it him? Was it us? Was it the moment in our lives? Young love? Or was it the time period, the 1990s?
Just imagine -- or just remember -- a world without cell phones, laptops, social media and smartphones. Life was less complicated, therefore, so was love. I'm not saying there wasn't drama -- because there was. It's just that the drama wasn't broadcast for everyone to see. The drama wasn't publicly judged by a "like button." When Dan broke up with me, I didn't have to worry about un-friending him and I didn't feel the urge to stalk his Snapchat to see what he was doing without me.
I miss this absence of technology, especially when it comes to romance. Here are seven things I miss about love in the '90s:
1. It was easier to let the universe take over.
The world worked differently then -- how people met, how we kept in touch. Numbers on scraps of paper were easy to lose, but somehow, we still found each other. After I graduated college in 1998, I moved to Los Angeles. Once I was settled there, I decided to call a guy that I had met at bar in Milwaukee on New Year's Eve the year before. His name was Brent and he lived in San Diego and he told me he'd take me surfing if I ever moved out west. Brent wrote his number on the inside of a matchbook and I tucked it away for a year, just in case. I called him and we played phone tag for a few weeks and then I lost his number. I had to wait a few weeks until the phone bill arrived to look it up. After a month of missing each other, I drove Interstate 5 to see him. He taught me how to surf in the Pacific Ocean, the sun setting behind our heads. It was the last time I saw Brent -- he's someone I had a connection with, but whom got lost along the way. I don't even remember his last name to look him up on Facebook. He's just a memory, and somehow today in the world of Match.com dates and Tinder swipes, this seems lovely, to let the universe decide if someone would move beyond a moment and become something more.
2. Love letters.
In the early '90s, there were only two ways to communicate with a long-distance lover: by snail mail or by landline (and phone calls were expensive). Email didn't take off until the mid-'90s, when college campuses began assigning them. So if someone wanted to reach you, he or she needed to pick up a pen or a phone. As I mentioned, my high school sweetheart went to college a year before me. He sent me long love letters on loose leaf paper. They took about a week to get to me, but when one arrived in my mailbox, it was like Christmas morning each time, his slanted penmanship all I needed. I would run up to my room and read his words secretly, away from my sister and mother. He wrote things like "I miss a walk on the lakefront, I miss the moon, the stars, I miss your eyes, I miss you." One time, he wrote, "P.S. I love you" 18 times. We might be able to communicate faster and easier and more often, but what's lost today? If you Snapchat someone a picture, it disappears. If you text someone, you usually delete it -- or at best, save it until you get a new phone in two years. We might be able to Skype, but are we writing something that still sits in a shoebox labeled "save"?
3. The only story about last night was the one you told.
If you wanted to tell your friends what happened last night, you did. If you wanted to keep it a secret, you did. There was no digital footprint to contradict the story you wanted to tell. If you wanted to hyperbolize, you could. We were all storytellers telling our love stories the way we wanted them to be heard, not recording 10-second videos to post to our Snapchats.
4. Privacy and Mystery.
Everyone was in your business, but no one was. Sure, there was still gossip, especially if you were in high school in the '90s. But that circle of talk was small. You didn't have 1,300 "friends" who saw your relationship status and clicked a "like" button to show that they cared. And when we left the house, we left all means of reaching someone. We were unreachable, out there living our lives, being mysterious -- and, I'll argue, this rendered us more desirable, because we couldn't possibly know what was happening in each other's lives if we weren't together.
5. It took effort to find someone.
If you wanted to track someone down (an ex-lover, perhaps), it took work -- phone calls and real research. You couldn't type his or her name into Google or search for him or her on Facebook. I once had a guy track me down by finding the town where I was in an atlas and calling information until he found the hotel where I was staying. Now that's love.
6. Mix tapes, answering machines and landlines.
These '90s treasures speak for themselves. But I will say that I miss picking up a landline tethered to the wall and wrapping a 20-foot cord around my body like a blanket or stretching the cord to reach the closet so my mom couldn't hear me. I miss coming home to the beep of an answering machine and hearing his voice, the voice I had been dreaming about all day, hoping he'd call. There was no way to stalk him (no Twitter feeds to troll, no Instagram photos to be hurt by). There were only the thoughts in my head that carried me through my day, the mixtape he made me on replay in my Sony Walkman.
7. Airport goodbyes.
Before September 11, someone could walk you right up to your gate, right up to the door before the jet bridge. Someone could also be waiting for you, the first face you saw as you disembarked the plane. In 1999, I began a relationship with a man who lived in New York while I was in Iowa City, Iowa, attending graduate school. I flew from Cedar Rapids to O'Hare to LaGuardia once a month to visit him. After our weekends together, he would walk me -- through security -- to my gate, where we would kiss goodbye, long passionate kisses like the kind you might see in an '80s romantic comedy. Of course, New York was different then, as the world was, as we all were.
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