One Friday morning when I was in college, a certain nice young man asked me on a date for that evening. I agreed without hesitation. There was just one problem. Another not-as-nice young man had already asked me out—sort of. His exact words had been, “Maybe we’ll go out Friday night.” And I had agreed that, okay, maybe we would.
I realized I had a problem as soon as the second “okay” was out of my mouth. (In my defense, let me say I was young, not very bright, and not accustomed to being asked out by one man, let alone two.)
I stewed about my dilemma all morning and finally sought the advice of my roommate, the beautiful Melanie, who was accustomed to having more than one date on the same night. Her sage advice took the form of an insightful question: “Which one is cuter?”
They were both equal in that regard, but, as I said, one was nice and the other was not as nice. So I screwed up my courage and dialed Not-as-Nice’s number intending to cancel the date we may not have even had. No answer and no answering machine. Also no email, no Facebook and no Instagram. I was in college in the eighties; we were lucky to have telephones.
I tried several more times that day without success. That left me to call Nice and cancel. Wouldn’t you know it? He answered on the first ring.
I haven’t thought about that incident in years, but the memory came back to me like a bounced email when I overheard a young man at the grocery store canceling a date on his cell phone. I wanted to march over to him and tell him how easy he had it. I didn’t though because I didn’t want him to know I was listening in.
Today, anyone foolish enough to get themselves into a predicament like I did can communicate their message via voice mail, email, text, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or singing telegram.
There are drawbacks of course. For one thing, messaging someone on Instagram to tell them we’re breaking a date might be considered rude and would likely ensure that we never get another chance with them.
Besides that, there are so many places to check for messages these days that our recipient may not even see we’ve canceled until they stumble across our message while sitting patiently, staring at their smartphone waiting for us to arrive for our rendezvous.
Even then, it could be easy to miss, since so many messages from all sources are suspect. With the exception of singing telegrams, every single method of communication since the Pony Express has eventually been spammed, scammed or hacked, though I don’t think they used those terms back in Pony Express days.
And besides all that, the number of ways we have to communicate hasn’t improved the quality of communication one bit. If I’d had a smartphone and voice command back in college, I may have texted Not-as-Nice something like, “Wasn’t sure if we were getting together or not so I made other plans.” But it may have come out something like, “Washing sure gather tuna so I evade otter plans.” To which he may have replied articulately, “???” A singing telegram really may be our best bet.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)