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  • Genine Babakian

On Valentine's Day, Do Letters Mean More than Flowers?

After celebrating a milestone anniversary, a friend of mine recently confessed that it was her husband’s mastery of the semicolon that first set her heart aflutter.

Living in different cities in the early, pre-internet days of their courtship, Kyra and Sam communicated in writing. For those too young to remember, this involved pen, paper, and the postal service. Kyra, a reporter who devoured words, looked forward to writing her weekly letters. But she was less sure about her mathematically-minded boyfriend.

Yet Sam rose to the challenge, week after week, wooing her with his expressive vocabulary and crisp punctuation. But it was his use of the semicolon – peppered throughout his letters – that captured her heart. Like the punctuation mark, Sam was understated but necessary. Within a year they were married.

How remarkable, I told Kyra, that grammar kindled their romance. At the time I thought their path was far less traveled, until my friend Rachel told me about her online dating concerns. She was worried that without ink on paper – that most intimate form of communication – she would find it harder to weed out the non-starters. As it happens, the online dating world has its own roster of grammarians who summarily reject dates from prospects who don’t know their “there’s” from their “theirs.”

According to an article by Georgia Wells in the Wall Street Journal, “What’s Really Hot on Dating Sites?” proper grammar counts for many looking for love. “With crimes against grammar rising in the age of social media, some people are beginning to take action. The online dating world is a prime battleground,” Wells writes. (For those who don’t subscribe to the WSJ, you can read a free version of the article here.)

If Kyra and Sam had met today, perhaps their relationship would have taken a different turn. Now that we all communicate in real time – with an emphasis on immediacy, rather than accuracy – no one has time for a semicolon. Or punctuation, for that matter.

Would Sam have been able to win Kyra’s heart with a less subtle #luvu4ever?

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