by Michael Webb
I just learned during an interview on “Fresh Air” that the the singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, wrote letters to his wife while they were courting. It's a dumb word, courting, but it's the best way to describe what it is-the courtship ritual of two people who will eventually become man and wife. It's not dating-dating is something casual, something when you feel the need to chase or be chased on a Saturday night when there's nothing good on.
I'm sure plenty of marriages have emerged from dating-certainly more, statistically, than from courting. But courting has rules to it, a formality and distance. It brings out a passion that you don't have if you can just call your beloved, or certainly not if you can email or IM or message them on Facebook. If you haven't seen them in three months, and you're not going to see them for months, there's a depth of need there that constant contact doesn't produce.
Listening to the Armstrong interview, it struck me that people of his age are probably close to the last people who did any serious amount of pen and paper communication with those whom they desired. (He is about 4 months younger than I am.) My wife and I also courted with pen and paper-9 months of letters and phone calls before we ever met in person. I had written to others-I had written letters to girls ever since I could finally write a decent sentence in high school, but my betrothed was the last.
For somewhat obvious reasons, my wife and I have always been fond of good pens and fine paper and blank books to fill with neuroses, thoughts, wishes, intentions and desires. But similar to the revolutions in electronic music and newspapers, the time advantages in communicating with someone electronically have become so enormous that we stopped using letters long ago.
Comic Greg Giraldo, in his act, laments the loss of fluency in modern times brought about by the ease of communication-comparing a modern soldier's email home to a florid letter by a Civil War private to the woman he adored back home. There is something to be said for that. If you're loving someone, and you can feel the miles that separate you from them with every pained breath, it creates a boiling anger-a need to get to them, to bring you together, that makes your life into a crusade. This passion used to produce 12 page letters written between classes, to be followed into her mailbox with another 8 the next day. Torrents of words, blizzards of them, descriptive and funny and lame and crazy and full of dreams and wishes and pornographic details, the weight of the envelope showing her the weight on your heart.
Emails just don't do that. Sorry.
Michael Webb believes in better living through biochemistry. His writing can be found at innocentsaccidentshints.
blogspot.com. He is proudest of the fact that he chaperoned a trip with 13 8th graders this week and managed not to lose any of them.