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What Dating Was Like Before Cell Phones: An Explainer

Allow an "old" guy (in his 30s) to detail the horrors.

Millions of people have bought the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and they probably can't imagine life without their new device, even though they've had it for less than a week. But imagine your life without any mobile devices. For older millennials, that's a world we remember...for younger millennials, it's a prehistoric nightmare scenario.

I'm not going to lie -- life before cellphones was pretty bad. Especially when it came to dating. I lived the early years of my romantic life smartphone-free (because they didn't exist yet) and it was awful for so many reasons...

Asking for numbers

Nobody goes around collecting digits nowadays. How old-fashioned! You've either met someone online and, thus, already have all their contact info, or you meet in person and then instantly follow them on Twitter or Instagram or whatever.

But, back before cellphones, if you ever wanted to see someone again, you actually had to get their number. Like, they'd write down 10 digits, assuming that either of you had a pen, and then you had to be damn sure you didn't lose that scrap of paper or cocktail napkin (because you couldn't just put their number in your phone -- you didn't have a phone). Your option of last resort was to open the phone book, which used to be a thing, and pray they were listed.

Asking someone out

Things got even worse when it was time to actually utilize that phone number a day or two later. You didn't own a cellphone, so you had to make your first call to the prospective love-of-your-life's landline. (You know, those things your grandma still uses?)

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This was almost certainly a line shared with (at best) some nosy roommates or (at worst) some super nosy parents and siblings. You never knew who was spying on your awkward, "Hey, remember me? Wanna' go out?" call. (Life was so boring back then, we were starved for entertainment.)

And you whippersnappers today will NEVER have to ask, "Hello, Mrs. Johnson, may I speak to Valerie?"

Calling at the exact right time

Of course, it was purely a matter of luck whether the person you were anxiously contacting was even at home. And not eating dinner. Or indisposed in the bathroom (because, unlike Facebook messages or Twitter DMs, you didn't answer a landline on the can).

Most times, you'd get the landline's answering machine -- which was like voicemail, but with cassette tapes, if you've ever heard of a cassette tape -- and be completely flummoxed as to what to do next. Like in this scene from the classic film "Swingers" (NSFW language):

Meeting up in person

Once you made that connection over the phone, it was time to actually set up a date. And, oh boy, did you have to fully set something up. None of these non-plan plans nowadays like, "How 'bout we go out in the Village someplace sometime Friday night? Text me then!"

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Before cellphones it had to be an exact location at an exact time. And if the other person was running late, you'd have to stay in that specific spot -- unsure of when (or if) they'd arrive -- possibly for hours. Because otherwise, how in the world were you going to find anybody once they were away from that one telephone wired into their kitchen wall?

Maintaining a relationship

It seems shocking in retrospect that we, as humans, could actually keep relationships going before cellphones. When you were apart and out of the house, you had no way to check in on each other. No way to know what was going on in your boyfriend's or girlfriend's life. No way to send "thinking of u" messages. Back then, you kind of just had to wonder and feel distant.

At least there were no emoji, so it wasn't all bad.