Postmodern Love, by Erin Somers

The writer Erin Somers sits down to write a “Modern Love” column1. The subject is the truncated, never-realized dalliance between herself and D.2 The convention of masking identities in essayistic, first person writing with a single initial serves the dual purposes of protecting the privacy of the party under discussion and lending an illusion of truth to the narrative. Behold: a story so painful, so juicy, so heartrendingly true that the author feels uneasy disclosing real names. That the author feels driven by basic human decency to shield the individual (whom she has rendered in maybe not-so-flattering prose, but for whom she still maintains lingering affection) from potential violence on the part of her readership who may get mad, who may—who knows?—show up at the residence of the individual in question with battering rams, truncheons, pole axes, and so on, demanding comeuppance.

The writer Erin Somers begins:

And lo! They met online. Erin Somers created a profile and was instantly matched with the aforementioned D, who fulfilled nine out of ten criteria as outlined by the site’s “Enchantment Rubric.” Quotation marks are employed here to signify 1) That the enclosed phrase is poached directly from the website’s copy and 2) That the author is aware that the enclosed phrase is more than a little silly, thus aligning herself with the reader, who is no doubt absorbing this with a highly developed sense of irony.

So D had a job, Erin Somers was excited to learn. D had a number of other attractive qualities including, but not limited to: a penchant for travel, an appetite for “spicy-but-not-too-spicy” foods, an attractive enough face. Erin Somers and D exchanged email addresses. They began to Gchat.

“Sup lady,” D was known open with, “How u been?” Erin Somers might counter, “Hi there! Status quo.”

The amount of moderately snappy to very snappy Internet banter in which Erin Somers and D engaged increased rapidly over a period of weeks [fig. 1].

Erin Somers so enjoyed these talks that she began to eagerly watch the “buddy list” graphic in the lower left-hand quadrant of her perpetually open email interface for the small green dot, indicating D was online, at the expense of everyday tasks (e.g. refilling ice cube trays, staying up-to-date on the latest duck call-based reality shows, attending tri-quarterly “gals nights” with beloved college friends, etc.).

Erin Somers was aware that they were talking too much, that things were becoming too intense for two people who had never met in person. Erin Somers and Internet love interest D lived in the same city, and Erin Somers pictured meeting soon. Erin Somers hungered for typical paradigms of youngish bourgeois life in America: mid-morning strolls through a flea market, hand-in-hand; shared popcorn at inscrutable foreign movies downtown; the Sunday crossword, passed back and forth to each other over eggs Benedict.

(The writer Erin Somers now decides to really go for it, “Modern Love”-wise, and introduce pathos.3 )

It got so that Erin Somers was thinking about D all the time. It got so that, when D signed online, Erin Somers began to recognize certain “this is the one” symptoms as outlined by American pop culture film and television narratives (e.g. flushed cheeks, sweetly painful clenching in the chest). Erin Somers tried a few times to arrange a meeting and received wishy-washy answers or artful avoidance tactics. Still, they talked. Until one night Erin Somers, who had drunk a glass of wine or two while they chatted about regionally popular sports teams and which Muppet each of them would be, got over-personal. Erin Somers, made emotional by the wine, driven to a sense of faux-intimacy by constant hours-long flirtatious conversation for weeks and months now, suggested once again that they meet in person because her every waking moment was characterized by crushing loneliness, and she did not know for how much longer she could take it.

At this point D concluded the conversation by saying, “Gotta run.” Erin Somers was startled by D’s abrupt exit, and by the fact that he did not sign online the next day, indeed that he never signed on again, nor did he respond to her emails, which began as droll but grew evermore beseeching in tone.

The writer Erin Somers will now cool it with the verbosity and bring it around to a point. Though, if the reader holds any expectation that this is going to end up somewhere gratifying, the author would like to extinguish that notion, as it’s not her aim to sate the reader with some overearnest, Owen Meany-ish4 ending where everything ties together and all the gears turn in tandem, producing an eventual pleasant ringing sensation in the reader’s cerebral cortex. Erin Somers learned from the aforementioned incident (i.e. disclosure of her crushing loneliness to D) that it’s less personally risky to concoct an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors sort of deal than to cop to any deeply felt human emotions.

Further, Erin Somers would like to direct the reader’s attention to non-satiety as an important theme here. Is this not the tragedy of our time? That things are never fully realized? That romantic entanglements are free of the Bronte-ish theatrics of the 1800s? That our lives are defined by a certain not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper quality that occurs, for instance, when your love interest stops texting you, or—O quiet agony! O barely felt despair!—blocks you on Gchat?

1. “Modern Love” is a weekly column in the Style section of The New York Times, an American newspaper founded in 1851. “Modern Love” is distinguished by its emphasis on love in contemporary society (e.g., how technology such as superslim mobile devices, GPS navigation, and sleek email interfaces affect our interpersonal relationships and/or ability to find fulfilling “love matches” in an increasingly alienating world. See “Modern Love” column, “Yes, I Reconciled With My Estranged Uncle Via YouTube” [October 2010]. See also: “Words With Friends With Benefits” [January 2013].

2. The full name of the writer’s ex-love interest is Dagwood Fleischman. If/when this piece is published, the writer will have no small amount of explaining to do re: revealing her ex-love interest’s identity in a piece written for public consumption, which, come to think of it, would provide fodder for a subsequent Modern Love piece, perhaps titled “The Follies of Exposing Your Ex-Love Interest’s Real Name In An Essayistic Narrative and Why It’s Arguably Worth It.”

3. The New York Times’ recurring column “Modern Love” is known for its liberal, bordering-on unintentionally-comic doses of pathos. See also: “My Sperm Donor Has No Legs” [April 2007]. See also: “Several of My Dentists Died in Unrelated Freak Accidents” [June 2011]. See also: “I’m About to Blow Your Mind with Heretofore Unimagined Forms of Child Abuse” [February 2012].

4. Slightly pejorative reference to A Prayer for Owen Meany, the seventh published novel by American writer John Irving, which is novelistically cyclical and sentimental in the extreme. The writer’s aim with this reference is to highlight the foolishness of the “satisfying ending” as a convention of “realistic” fiction, which, as anyone with a brain can observe, is just as false, constructed, and dishonest as the most fantastical narrative, is in fact more dishonest, for its insistence on masquerading as a mirror of real life rather than what it is—pure fabrication, fashioned one letter at a time in Microsoft Word, or some outlying word processing program, by someone sitting in a chair.

Erin Somers’ writing has been publishing by The Hairpin, The Rumpus, The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere.

The Humor Section features a piece of original humor writing each week. To submit, send an email to Brian Boone.

Postmodern Love, by Erin Somers