postcard3.jpgIn 1980 – fifth grade – Eric H. passed me a note in class that said, “Will you go with me?” Under the question, he had drawn two boxes. Next to the top box was the word, “Yes.” Next to the bottom box was the word, “No.” Under that were instructions, “Check One”. He had written this with pencil on paper.

I marked the box next to the word, “Yes,” and folded the page four times along the creases Eric had set in place. Then just as soon as Mrs. Green turned towards the chalk board, I passed the small rectangle to Sheryl, who passed it to Maria, who passed it to John who passed it back to Eric—all behind Mrs. Green’s back. Once he unfolded the page and saw my mark in the Yes-Box, we were Going Steady. And Going Steady meant he would not call me “Buttface” during recess and I would not throw my clogs at him. And we might, on some special occasion, possibly hold hands. It also meant that when it came time to call it off, he wouldn’t pass me another note, nor would he call me on the telephone, he would tell me in person. Because even in fifth grade, we knew that some things had to be done face to face.

Those were the options in 1980. Paper, telephone, or face to face.

20 years after sweet Eric’s goodbye kiss on the cheek, when a less mature boyfriend used e-mail to initiate our break up, I was appalled. Crows feet do not make a man. I used up a third of my next therapy session trying to look on the bright side of being dumped via written electronic transmission. When I imagine that some unrequited lovers today are likely being rejected on YouTube video diaries, I’m just glad I don’t have to grow up all over again.

On the other hand, there’s a part of me that wants to do a search for “breaking up” on YouTube just to see what that looks like. What phrases would bring up such a thing? “Dear John . . ,” “Get out of my life,” “It’s over”? Sure, the findings would be depressing but before I got too low, I could do a quick search for “Puppies” and the world would be set right again.

It’s those one minute clips of puppies in random locations around the globe that remind me – my computer is my dearest, dearest possession. And as a communication tool, it has become as natural to me as waving hello.

I spent my 20s internet-dating. There’s a dusty zip disc somewhere filled with essays I wrote about those 43 blind dates. Not the best years of my life. The upside: I met a couple pretty good friends that way.

Having a more long-term effect than those e-dates, it was the ever so convenient Amazon gift finds that endeared me to my far away niece & nephew when they were little. Now that they’re old enough to type, we use instant messaging and myspace to stay in touch. My niece and I actually shop on-line together. The 2500 miles between us are inconsequential when we can drag and drop jpgs of Urban Outfitter handbags into our chat windows. I can be Hip Aunt without ever stepping off the plane into their 95 percent humidity-ridden suburbia.

Five years ago, when I spotted Mr. Right at a wedding in Washington D.C., it was only through our e-mail courtship that we realized it really had been love at first sight. Being on-line sustained us through two and half years of living a continent’s width apart, and when he was ready to book a moving service to relocate to Los Angeles, we did that on-line, too.

The list is as vast as the web itself:

Meetup dot com connected me to experienced activists in my neighborhood who taught me how to stand in front of The Home Depot with a clipboard registering voters. It was excruciating, but felt important somehow.

Evite offers a preview of who plans to be at next weekend’s barbeque—if not fully accurate—at least it shows those folks who, like me, are uncool enough to keep their RSVP up-to-date. I bet even you cool people peek at the guest lists.

Office e-mail allows us to sit anywhere with a wireless connection quietly typing and somehow, as if by ESP, we’re all caught up with what we need to know to do business together.

All of these experiences stem from our hands on a keyboard and our eyes on a screen. But the touch extends so much further than the keys, and what we’re seeing goes far deeper than an LCD flat panel. The ramifications are undeniable. And yet, in spite of that, or perhaps because of that, there are times when we need to talk to each other in person. Face to face.

When I think about it, the only reason I log in in the first place is because eventually it will lead me to a spot at the table, a seat in the theater, or a hug in the airport. We reach towards each other each time we put our mark in a box on a piece of paper, seal an envelope, dial the phone, press send, but ultimately, all of these actions bring us into the same room where our hands and eyes meet each other.

Ruth, 37, Los Angeles, USA