From Our Readers
August 14, 2013 6:00 am

Though seemingly harmless in theory and small in size, emoticons have caused me more anxiety than the first season of Homeland. I recently contemplated my contempt and have decided that my relationship with emoticons throughout the years has been very tumultuous indeed. This reminiscence has resulted in a full-on boycott of these aggravating yellow demons.

I first realized the consuming power of emoticons when I dated someone who was an extremely active member of the emoticonian community. Every text he’d send was likely to include some form of this digital expression, often consisting of line after line of the most passionate verse I’d ever encountered. I would cling to every laughing face, smile each time I received the one with the tongue hanging out, and knew I had played my cards just right whenever he’d send me the cool guy with the sunglasses. Even our fights were beautiful; seas of frowning bright bubbles that would eventually become oceans of make up hearts.

However, what so gracefully brought us together soon abruptly tore us apart. A turning point in our affiliation occurred when I went a bit crazy. You see, I became so dependent on these pictorial representations that if I ever received a message without one, I immediately fell into a state of utter paranoia. If he asked me to a movie without a smiley face punctuating the sentence, I would call him, demanding to know the name of his new lover. If he told me he really enjoyed our date last night but inserted no winking man, I would text something back like, “Screw you, go out with someone else next time then.”

Sure, he’d feign surprise then give me the ordinary excuses; tell me everything was “fine” and that he was “just tired” from his three-hour soccer practice and 22-mile run home. He’d promise it wouldn’t happen again; that he’d make the effort to be the emoticonial man he once was, and I would foolishly forgive him. My phone would once more become illuminated with flashing yellows and happy fellows, but never as complexly intertwined or as enthusiastically constructed as they had been. Still, I knew that one day he’d get tired or drink too much and I’d be left with just cold, dark, words.

I couldn’t sleep and began to alienate my friends, growing predictably hostile should one ever boast about the shower of emoticons she received from her boyfriend that morning. I’d seethe every time they’d show me an intricate emoticode, carefully crafted by their thoughtful beaus, the deciphering of which revealed lines rivalling Shakespeare or Yeats. Looking down at my own phone, populated with the same dull emoticons I had grown far too accustomed to, I realized I didn’t deserve this treatment. Was this really the life I wanted for myself? Did I want to sit at home awaiting the wide-faced grins that would never come and expecting to see the adorable faces with heart eyes that he would always be too busy to form? After a few days of intense reflection, I dumped him using what had evolved into the perfect embodiment of our time together; the only respectable means of termination. This was the text I sent him:

– I doubt you even know what this means anymore. Goodbye.

We did eventually have raunchy, break-up emoticon sex- which is disappointingly not as satisfying as it sounds and only served to solidify my decision.

Since then, things with my old yellow friends have been complicated. They are still shrouded in mystery (many of the new styles too “fresh” for people of my generation), and I often forget how quickly an innocent, well-intentioned text can evolve into a perverted sexual innuendo. Still, my struggles have helped me formulate a useful reference list of appropriate emoticon use, something I deem beneficial for emoticonians everywhere.

When to use Emoticons

1. Moments of extreme excitement when four or five exclamation marks won’t suffice.

In recent days, there’s only been one experience that met this criterion, and that was the day someone emailed me saying I had won the lotto when I hadn’t even bought a ticket. I gave them a happy emoticon and they gave me a sketchy template asking for my credit card details. I then gave them a sad emoticon and told them to f**k off.

2. Cases where you’re trying to be mean in a passive aggressive way but you know you’re on your period and are scared you might regret it later.

This is by far one of the best uses for these little puppies. If I’m sending a text that may come off as too harsh, adding an emoticon in there is like adding a little frosting of sugar to a freshly baked blueberry bitch cake. The receiver may not like what’s underneath, but the coating is oh so sweet and therefore they can’t fully hate you. If you regret it, you can always play it off with, “What are you talking about!? Do you really think I’m the type of person to send an emoticon without meaning it?” and then they’ll feel shallow for ever believing you could give something like that away so freely.

3. Situations when you feel obligated to be as enthusiastic as your overly-enthusiastic chat partner.

Let’s be honest: there are those among us who love the things, and could very well take offense should you not mirror their remarkable ardor. In this instance, the implementation of emoticons seems to be only polite. However, try to ensure it doesn’t escalate to sentences involving more than two emoticons-three at most. Any more than that and you’re in territory that can quite easily turn into something similar to my own stormy past. One minute there’s just a colon and a parentheses and the next you’re looking at a screen so dense with slashes and symbols that it’s impossible to revert.

*Though I do admit that emoticons add some spice to otherwise mundane messages, I implore you to apply them cautiously. You’ve heard first-hand how these apparently joyful representations of all our innermost feelings can lead to soul destruction. So though you may find that thumbs up symbol amusing or the little dancing lad cute, heed my warning and ask yourself: is that face, with eyes so perfectly round and black as night, and skin so jaundice yellow- is that face welcoming my happiness or is it taunting my emotions, slowly breaking my boundaries so it can lure me into a dark hole of danger and despair that will most likely end up with a broken relationship, an abhorrence to sunny primary colors, and a problem with technological communication that your psychiatrist laughs about with his friends behind your back?

Read more from Stephanie Fuller here.

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