The other day a friend was telling me that her boyfriend was on a mission trip abroad. She asked me, “Do you think he’ll be able to text me from there?” She asked me this over an instant messenger (Yahoo, I think, but I use Pidgin/GaIM to aggregate all my IM services) — I almost always communicate with this friend via email or instant message.

I told her I was unsure — she’d just have to wait and see. This got me to thinking about my relationships over the last five years and how much of those relationships was conducted “online” or via text message or even telephone, and not in person or through regular mail. I realized that LOTS of my “romantic communication” was conducted via new-fangled technological means. I’ve flirted on MySpace, wooed over instant messenger, and teased via text message. I’ve sent online greeting cards and written poetry on web-pages.

In the old days people courted in person. Your beau might show up at the house on a Sunday afternoon (because he worked the rest of the week) and sit with you and your family in your parlor or kitchen. If you were lucky, Ma and Pa might allow you some time alone with him. As the years moved on, young people went to movies and dances. I’m sure the telephone was a boon to lovestruck boys as they whispered fervently across the line to a swooning sweetie. I know I’ve spent hours on the phone with women and realized that we talked about absolutely nothing — and I can still smile about it.

There was a time, before instant messages and cell-phone texts, when people sent love letters and notes. Sometimes it took days or even weeks to receive a perfumed letter, all the while the sender wondering how it might be received. Now, we can know within minutes or even seconds how our flirtings or expressions of affection are received; we can adapt and respond just as quickly.

We’re probably much more cautious, in a way, these days. As a male, I know I constantly try to adapt to the mood of a woman, whether in person or online. Women are cagey creatures whose thoughts are veiled to men. Where once I might write a flowing missive pouring out adoration, I now write short quips, trying to gauge if she’s receptive to my advances. Were you to write me a passionate message, pouring your soul into an emotional email, who knows how long it would take me to click “Forward” and send it on to my buddies — especially if I weren’t receptive to your advances. (Know, ladies, that I would never do that, of course, but some would and have — I’ve gotten such forwards and so have you.)

I read a blog the other day of a guy living in Memphis who met a girl in January and was engaged at the end of April. That’s FAST to me. I know social mores and expectations have changed and there’s nothing wrong with that, but, reading in his blog how he texted and emailed and waited on the “beep-beep-beep” indicating a new message, I wonder how fast his courtship was accelerated due to technology. Would she be wearing a diamond engagement ring if he had plied his troth so quickly sixty years ago?

Have we lost something due to the immediacy of communication? I don’t know. I know that I¬†have¬†written long and passionate letters and actually mailed them and they’re almost always well-received. Has “courtship” been hastened through the use of instant messages and email? I don’t know, but I’ve certainly been turned down before I ever had the chance to open my mouth in person.