Ed. note: After you read this (and comment!), be sure to check out the follow-up story here.
For a certain type of girl (yes, usually only girls, and yes, myself included), there is no offense more egregious than the careless misuse of the English language in text message or email form.
Writing “ur” instead of “You’re”?
Mixing up “their” and “they’re”?
Punctuating a joke with an overenthusiastic, all caps “LOL”?
Total dealbreakers/libido deflators/heart sinkers. We’re willing to overlook physical flaws and other quirks, but “Ur Cute ;-)”? Ew.
Maybe it’s because at some deep level, women imagine themselves with men who can movingly describe their relationship with page after page of florid writing. Maybe it’s because recognizing grammar mistakes makes us feel a little schoolmarm-y, which is hardly sexy. Whatever the reason, women on the internet (ahem — me!) have been vociferous about their disapproval of poor grammar and internet-speak within a romantic correspondance.
But (and here’s the real revelation for girls like me) is judging a guy on his written word a little…shallow? Perhaps just as shallow as judging him on what he looks like, or how much money he makes?
Language usage can tell us many things about a person: their education level, their literacy, and, in some broader sense, their values. What it can’t accurately convey is sense of humor, morality, or conviction. And yet because grammar is much easier to see in the early stages of dating, we cast swift and brutal judgements on emails and texts. Before we’ve had time to properly evaluate a person’s moral fiber, we let a mixed up “its” or “it’s” tip the balance. We let emoticons toll the death knell.
In dating, as in life, there are more important things besides the written word: easy for me to type, but admittedly hard for me to practice within my own personal life.
Because I value style and syntax, Strunk and White above all else, I automatically presume that any boyfriend should as well. But I also want other things in a mate: sense of humor, responsibility, a sense of adventure, and moreover: chemistry. (Is there anything more polar opposite to the regimented rules of grammar and language usage than that ineffable descriptor, “chemistry?”) An emoticon here and there shouldn’t supercede these other important qualities, but sometimes I accidentally let it.
That’s the thing about dealbreakers: it’s very en vogue to list them, but I wonder if sometimes they can be more of a hinderance to finding someone than a help. Sure, it’s important to have standards, and to know what you’re looking for. But in the scheme of things, when it comes to building a life with someone, does word usage really matter?
Of course, there are limits. I still maintain that in presenting yourself to the world (aka in a dating profile), the more formal (and mistake-free!) the better. But the next time a guy slips up while writing me a text or uses an embarrassing acronym, I’ll try not to let my heart sink. Because just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a story, or a date, by its grammar.