Lately you can hardly go about your usual lobster and clams brunch without overhearing someone mention how “they used to pen such wonderful love letters in the Victorian era,” subtly reminding their listeners how they wrote a junior-year thesis on the 18th-century novel of manners. The implied sentiment is that today’s romantic correspondence pales in comparison, which is just untrue. These days, textual communication is more important to passionate relations than ever before.
It came to me as I casually scrolled through a .pdf of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style at the beach. I couldn’t help but wonder: What can this little book teach us about dating in 2015? And then it hit me: Today’s Tinderized, swiping-and-messaging-based mobile dating ecosystem encourages the use of clean, concise prose!
With a few key updates, therefore, 2015’s most eligible lovelorns have much to learn from a dead Princetonian and the author of Charlotte’s Web. Thankfully, for all parties involved, Elements was an OG listicle, which means its contents are perfectly tailored for aggregation into relatable relationship content:
1) Be bold!
It’s the Internet. Yes, you’re “putting yourself out there,” but in the most controlled, consequence-free environment cooked up by human beings to date. Feel like oversharing? Getting frisky? Treating strangers like they’re your therapist? Burn that bridge, girl!
2) Do not put a period at the end of the last word or sentence of a message, unless you wish to convey passive-aggression
This is one of those unspoken rules of the age—but we’re speaking it. As self-contained thought-condensates, the end of a message implies the period. Otherwise the message would continue. Addition of the period implies exasperation. Compare:
Hey, what’s good?
Hey, what’s good?
I just got a new haircut!
I just got a new haircut!
Or, in a full paragraph:
So, we were watching Mortdecai, and Feldman comes barging in with a burlap sack full of potatoes, and, he just dumps them all over the floor!!
Wow! What was he doing with a sack of potatoes? That Feldman.
Wow! What was he doing with a sack of potatoes?! That Feldman
Going out of your way to type out the final period gives your interlocutor the sense that you are seething with quiet rage. (If that’s the case, however, then fire away!)
3) Tildes are ~good~
Message-based apps restrict formatting choices to a bare minimum, eschewing bold and italics in favor of pure, unadorned, sans serif text. But sometimes you want to place emphasize a certain word or phrase—to draw attention to it, or perhaps cast ambiguity on it.
The tilde is perfect for adding a certain ~je ne sais quoi~ to that word or phrase you feel compelled to use but simultaneously disavow.
I’m thinking about grad school
I’m thinking about ~grad school~
I’m a freelance writer
I’m a ~freelance writer~
The first usage in either case whiffs of a certain sincerity toward poor life choices that one might otherwise want to conceal behind a layer of self-deprecation. That’s where the tilde comes in!
4) Make definite assertions!
i.e., “I am interested in long-term, meaningless relations,” or “I am not a grifter!”
If Strunk and White were alive today, they would probably, for sure, almost assuredly recommend the use of emojis in short-term hookup app messages. They are clear, bold, and efficient.
- “Old man/old woman” emoji
Letting a consenting partner know you’re an old soul will bolster your case for “online video streaming app and chill.”
- The “squirt” emoji
Few emojis pack in meaning as densely as the “squirt” emoji, though some may find it too direct.
- “Nails” emoji
Anything good is nails emoji.
- The “poop” emoji
This is a versatile emoji that you should start using more as of yesterday! If you feel you must rebuff the enthusiastic advances of some fellow on Grindr: poop emoji. If someone told a funny joke: poop emoji. You’ve overused the winky face? poop emoji. Do you plan to share this article on social media? poop emoji.
- “Girl with hand perpendicular to face” emoji
Good for accompanying that lewd photograph you just sent.
- “Student asleep on desk waking up” emoji
For when the dick pic isn’t half bad.
…And so on. You get the point! As a general rule, use emojis contantly.
In the complex world of Internet, sometimes there just isn’t the time to type out entire words. Abbreviations are your friend and to be encouraged, with certain caveats. For commonly used and important phrases such as “by the way,” “on my way,” or “to be honest,” btw, omw, and tbh are perfectly acceptable. Use common sense—tbqh, fwiw, aamof, afaik, and tinwop are not good abbreviations to use if you are trying to give the impression that you do not spend an unhealthy amount of time online.
If you aren’t going to take the time to type out “your” or “you’re,” at least abbreviate it as “yr” and not “ur,” which is too lexically adjacent to urea/urine/urethra, or the ancient Babylonian capital.
7) References to the Oxford comma
As useful as this grammatical device may be, expressions of enthusiasm for it appear too commonly on dating profiles. How and why that is would make for an amusing “oral-history” type post, but now is neither the time nor the place.
Avoid making this a part of your online romance persona, and those who do, at all costs. It’ll save you from dating or resembling boring people, meme-lovers and anal-retentive copy editors.
8) And don’t forget, actif ou passif, always use the active voice!~~~
All of which is to say that in this day and age, those looking for love—online—must navigate a treacherous sea of stylistic faux pas. And as with any set of writerly rules, these are yours to disregard as you see fit (though I maintain my strong prescriptive stance against references to grammar or commas of any sort). The essence of writing emerges at the margin of what words one chooses or does not, the rules one follows or flounces, or, in this case, the left swipes and the right ones.
If our prudish ancestors had enjoyed access to mobile communications, they would have skipped the long, monologic outpourings and kept it quick, as we do. They lived in a world where the only prospects were people they were first introduced to at age 11 in elaborate ballroom dance routines involving minimal touching and bashful eye contact. Years later—horny, pink, and flustered—they would channel their energy into overwrought missives they would soon regret and pace anxiously over, smacking their foreheads much the same way we do after sending an ill-considered email. (And a response could take months, or even years!)
So let’s not romanticize the past too much: Anyone, of any era, is glad just to know how many feet away the nearest warm, wanting body is.
Illustration by Max Fleishman