Now what? - Lauren Booth asks to be romantically texted

Whatever happened to that joyous anthem "Things Can Only Get Better"?, asks Lauren Booth

Imagine meeting someone you really like. You go through all the rigmarole of shyly giving out your mobile number, saying: "It's hardly ever on, but you might just catch me, you never know . . ." And what happens? Do you get to hear the suave voice you've been fantasising about for days, breathing: "You know, I found myself missing you so much I've booked a table at your favourite restaurant for every night next week. I'll be there, waiting, on whatever night you're free." No chance. Like Beth, in her thirties, pretty, educated, yet unfulfilled, you get a text saying: "Hi, how ya doin?"

Now I'm a text novice, but this cool aloofness pisses me off. I have certain "friends" who insist they cannot spare a single moment for a conversation and have reverted instead to texting lame jokes as a way of avoiding direct contact and (God forbid) a once-a-month, grown-up heart-to-heart.

I got this one last week: "Oh my God, ageing, overweight, blonde raver found dead in the Thames last night - just checking you're OK." Oh, how my sides nearly split in two when I got that. I called and exchanged real words with a mutual friend about the message - and guess what? She'd got the same text. We were just part of this woman's round robin of virtual friends. Names in her mobile world that she thinks can be tricked into making her feel popular by filling her inbox with outraged or jokey replies.

Shakespeare fumed, moaned and raged that words were a barrier to communication. I can't help wondering whether young Juliet might have lived to a ripe old age if Romeo's romantic gambit had started with: "Hi, how ya doin?"

Back to my friend Beth: she sat in the kitchen, miserably chewing her nails. "I mean, what the fuck is that?" she asked. "I mean, does he want a date, a shag, a mate, nothing . . . what, what, what?"

After an hour-long strategy talk, we came up with three possible replies.

The first was honest with just the hint of an invitation: "I don't like text friendships, why not call me instead?" This was dismissed as being man-speak for: "Get over here now, I'm up for it!" The second was razor sharp and answered his question, giving nothing back: "Fine. You?" This was erased as having all the warmth and charm of Joan Rivers. Beth finally settled for the pointless: "I'm OK. Where RU?" She was thrilled to discover a bonus, too; the message used exactly the same number of letters as his original text. I can see it now: as we prepare for a war with Iraq that could escalate into what religious doom-mongers love to call "the end of time", adults in the west will face Armageddon by movingly texting their loved ones: "CU later."

Suddenly, the Prime Minister's horrifying epistle to his apostles on New Year's Day sounds like poetry from heaven. Never mind that the bad times ahead are mostly due to the heavy-handed meddling by him and his cowboy pal. At least this adult male had the nerve to tell the world just how pessimistic he's feeling, in words of up to two syllables.

I was feeling a bit low the other morning, after reading the latest nonsense about Israel stopping Palestinian leaders attending an international conference. Then a song came on the radio. It's one I used to know by heart in the Nineties, an anthem to hope in the bleakest of days. A pounding beat, topped by an easy-to-yell chorus, it goes: "Things can only get betterrrr, they can only get betterrr . . ." My daughter and I yelled "yeah, yeah, yeah" and clapped our hands in the traffic around Finsbury Park and the winter sun broke through the clouds and bathed us in sweet, sharp light.

Perhaps I should send a copy to No 10. The international policy wonks clearly need cheering up, and they've obviously never heard it.

This article first appeared in the 13 January 2003 issue of the New Statesman, Gambling with our future