One of the major disagreements I have with my mother (other than whether Jesus is the savior or if undercuts are ugly) is the necessity of cleaning the house before company comes over. In my mind, hiding away our snacks and books and whatever other evidence of our life is excessive. But to my mother, tidying up is a way to show respect to our guests.
I don’t invite many people into my space. When I do, I’m inviting you to see my secrets. I’m not going to pretend my room isn’t lived in — I’m going to give you the grand tour of just how lived in it is. You’re going to see my half-finished art projects and love poems, old bowls of Fruity Pebbles, my Jane Austen action figure and my chalkboard wall with the KOXY schedule scribbled out. You’re going to see pictures of my late grandparents, the copy of Kurt Cobain’s journal that I sleep with and the cocoon of pillows and mismatched blankets I sleep in. I’m going to be in my bed, not wearing pants, with sadboy king Alex G playing, sipping cider and daydreaming about kissing Vineyard Vines models. And if you’re in my room, it won’t surprise you. I don’t need to clean up, because I don’t need to fool you into thinking I’m someone other than who I am.
But it hit me the other day that when I’m flirtatiously texting, I act like my mom does before we have guests. Just as she puts too much time and effort into making the house clean, I try to make myself read as quippy, yet aloof. I clean up my texts before I hit “send.”
To preface: If you’re a good friend, a James Taylor “you’ve got a friend” friend, I will blow up your phone like you’re Domino’s on 4/20. You’ll get a “hiiiiiii,” a “miss you,” a “love meeeee” and a picture of my face. If the Green Bean is playing a good (or bad) song, if I just found pants at Goodwill, if a band we like is in town, I’ll text you without wondering how I sound, and I’ll text you until you text me back.
But if I think you’re cute, if we’re going to hang out soon, gosh help me if we’ve actually engaged in anything physical, I will struggle over every letter and every punctuation mark. I will think of 80 different ways to say hello that make me sound “unfazed.” I will tidy the whole house while trying to look like I didn’t think twice about it.
I didn’t just discover texting stress. Our whole generation overthinks texting. We want everyone to think we’re cool and funny and smart and not that interested in them, because caring isn’t cool and it’s messy. And we don’t want to put ourselves out there because “opening up” means welcoming the potential of getting hurt. This is not new. I’ve watched enough teen movies and hung around enough stupid boys to know that it’s scary to show someone that you like them.
If I send a vulnerable text, my feelings are permanently exposed. This exposure enables me for a harsher rejection than any in-person conversation would create. This person could just never respond. The youth call the not-texting-back phenomenon “ghosting.” I imagine real-life ghosting: Saying “Hey, I like you” to someone, to have them suddenly run away from you, wearing a white sheet with eye cut-outs. This image is much less nerve-racking than facing the unknowable, potential abyss of the unanswered text message.
When I text someone, I can’t see how they react; I can’t see if they’re looking at me the way I’m looking at them. I’ve let trying to gauge others’ interest in me while appearing “cool” take over my mind. I’ve spent way too long cleaning up the house, making myself look like I’m not actually a messy over-texter.
If things go well with someone I’m seeing or someone I want to see, they’re going to see my bedroom, my half-eaten bowls of children’s cereal and collections of Patti Smith books and they’re going to get my midday texts about how I want hot wings or how I just found out you can get ground bison at Vons or thought I saw Eric Andre at Walgreens. If they’re a good fit for me, they’re not going to care, they may even be into it. And if they think I’m annoying, they aren’t worth it in the first place.
I’m not going to keep cleaning the house for people who are sleeping over. If you’re spending the night, you’re getting your own bowl of Fruity Pebbles — and a text the next afternoon about Pablo Neruda and Nantucket Reds.
Griffin Wynne is a junior cognitive science and religious studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.