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Marriage by iChat

Got big plans for Valentine’s Day? I do. I’m hoping to get booped. Repeatedly, resplendently booped. By my husband, of course — I’m not a loose booper.

“Booping,” in our cheeky marital vernacular, means sending instant messages to one other via our computers. My spouse and I both work at home; in separate rooms, on opposite ends of our house, we cyberchat each other all day long, our Mac speakers pertly chirping with each incoming missive:

Boop! “Hi, babe.”

Boop! “Hi, back.”

Boop! “How’s work coming?”

Boop! “Slowly but slowly. U?”

Boop! “Ugh. Need. More. Coffee.”

The dialogue may seem dull and the practice pointless; if we hollered, we could hear each other, and if we opened our office doors and craned our necks, we could actually see each other. Like, in person.

But booping is actually better. It’s easy. It’s fun. And despite social scientists’ fears that quick-yak portals like iChat, Skype, and AIM spell certain doom for interpersonal relationships, booping can be deliciously — unexpectedly — intimate.

In a recent survey by Shape and Men’s Fitness magazines, the majority of male and female readers said that texting, emailing, and other forms of hi-tech chatting led them to have sex earlier in their relationships than they might have otherwise. Why? Through cyber-flirting, they felt connected.

I get that. Whereas old-skool couples whispered sweet nothings while brewing their morning coffee, shouted last-minute reminders while running out the door to work, and exchanged nugatory small talk while walking the dog after dinner, my booper and I fire off mutual mini emoticon-bedecked memos from the minute we reach our non-adjacent desks to the moment we clock out and call it a day.

It doesn’t take the place of holding hands, locking eyes, or doing vulgar things in the buff — but it’s a surprisingly satisfying next-best thing.

“It’s usually just exactly the right level of during-the-day connection,” explains my better half. “We don’t even need to do a big data dump when we reconnect at the end of each day, because we’ve been ‘near’ each other all along.”

We check in about stupid stuff: Boop! “Do U smell skunk?” Boop! “Nah, neighbors R lighting up again. U can’t hear the Pink Floyd?”

We make each other laugh: Boop! “FYI, I seriously cannot believe how ugly our dog is.”

Sometimes, when I’m spontaneously overwhelmed with gratitude, I say so: Boop! “I love our life.”

It’s also a handy tool for managing marital strife. I sometimes wait until we’re at our computers to bring up emotionally charged issues because it feels like a safer way to hash out frustrations. Those of us with hot tempers (okay, it’s me) benefit from having to type our responses — and read them before hitting “send” — rather than blurting them out shrew-style in person. And those of us prone to immaturity (yeah, me again) can stick out our tongues and growl and roll our eyes even while writing the appropriate, grown-up, fair thing.

I do abuse the boop, alerting my husband when there’s a spider on the wall that needs dispatching, or summoning him when I’m too scantily clad (i.e., busy surfing YouTube) to answer the door for the gas-meter guy.

Occasionally, I’ll type a rant that lights up his work screen with so many pink word balloons he can’t get a boop in edgewise, sending him striding, sighing, into my office, saying, “Should we do this in person?”

But he’s been known to exploit the system, too. Once, when he wasn’t responding to a pressing message, I walked over to his office and made a discovery that no spouse wants to make.

Yep. He was booping his boss.

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