Let Elizabeth Barrett Browning count the ways, and Romeo prattle on comparing Juliet to a summer's day.
The modern mash note goes more like this:
"Ive luvD u B4 .. n now...I LY more."
Instead of arriving on perfume-scented paper, these dispatches glide along radio waves, bounce off a cell-phone tower, and arrive as text on a mobile phone in a language that might be called Phone-etics. "Text messaging has revolutionized relationships, definitely," said David Kang, 23, a research assistant and Center City resident.
He just bought unlimited text messaging because he often makes plans via text with friends or shoots his girlfriend a quick "I miss u" if he can't call.
The medium's popularity is growing quickly. About 12.5 billion text messages were sent in June 2006, up 72 percent from the previous year, according to an industry group, CTIA-The Wireless Association.
Mother's Day and New Year's Eve remain the most popular days for texting, according to Verizon Wireless, but Valentine's Day sets fingers tapping, too. Last Valentine's Day, Verizon Wireless logged 20 percent more text messages than any other day in February.
A 2007 Cingular Wireless survey found that 33 percent of 1,600 people surveyed say they communicate with their date or mate via text messaging, up 6 percentage points from last year.
Texting is growing so popular that more phone makers are adding keyboards to their phones, said Allan Keiter, chief executive officer of MyRatePlan.com, a Web site that helps consumers shop for phones and plans. Dating services such as Match.com have added mobile features such as searching through potential dates by phone.
Perhaps the biggest sign that texting reflects the Zeitgeist: Britney Spears allegedly texted husband Kevin Federline to ask for a divorce.
Dumping someone via text is about as classy as forgoing underwear at a social event (another infamous Spears stunt), but it does speak to one of texting's biggest draws. It involves no contact. Users worry less about what the other person might say or do. And small talk? None required.
"That's the beauty of text messaging. No one really takes offense. It's like an unwritten rule," said Andy Laign, 23, an insurance consultant who lives in the Graduate Hospital area.
If he doesn't want to get together with someone, he simply texts to say he's doing something else. If someone turns him down, he's not hurt.
But Christina Lee, a graduate of Temple Law School who works in New York, said texting could bewilder.
"People disagree as to whether texting is an upgrade or downgrade in contact," she said. "There have been times that I've received a text and I thought, 'Hmmm, he's on the go this afternoon, not near a computer, but he wanted to make some contact. That's nice.' "
But she has experienced just as many texts that arrive a few days after a date, when the man should have either called or dropped contact altogether.
Amber Berry, a friend of Kang's, said texting still induced tremors in some people. She and her boyfriend have dated long enough that texting is comfortable.
But friends in newer relationships often ask her for help in coming up with appropriate text messages.
"You want to say something that doesn't make you sound dorky but also makes it kind of enticing," Berry said. "It's really nerve-wracking."
People find different ways to flirt creatively. One woman, who asked not to be named, said she and her boyfriend used to relieve the tedium of studying by sending each other messages such as, "I can't wait to study you afterwards."
Laign sometimes sends along a picture of his Labradoodle, Marley, a Labrador-poodle mix named for singer Bob Marley, with a cute message.
"It's been effective," he said.
Many people use text messages as a less embarrassing way to ask someone for a late-night get-together, said Caroline Tiger, a Philadelphian and author of How to Behave: Dating and Sex: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged.
"If somebody's at a bar and it's getting to that time of night where it's looking like they don't have any prospects," Tiger explained, "they send out sort of an all-points bulletin on their cell phones."
One woman, who asked not to be named, said texting had led to at least one late-night liplock.
"It was the kind of thing where I don't think either of us was bold enough to make a booty call by an actual phone call," she said via e-mail, "but texting felt like, if the person responds, great . . . and if not, no big deal, I'm waaaasted."
Tiger urged texters to use the medium carefully. It's a good way to let someone know you're running late or that you miss them.
"It's like getting that little secret note from someone passed to you," she said. But someone who uses text messages as a primary communication mode worries her.
"Is it too hard for them to use the phone because they're married or dating someone else, or, I don't know, in prison?"
Kristina Grish, author of The Joy of Text: Mating, Dating, and Techno-Relating warns texters to match their online and offline personalities.
"It's very easy to get racy or sexy in text, even if you wouldn't be that way otherwise," she said. "I would almost treat the conversation as if you were looking this person in the eye."
She tells women to limit exclamation points to two.
More than that "makes you sound so unbelievably bubbly," she said. "It reads as if you're holding pom-poms in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other."
Avoid signing texts with X's and O's unless you know a person well. You may mean nothing by it. He may hear, "I love you," or think you're just an outrageous flirt.
Ditto for sign-offs such as "Luv ya!" Never use if the "L" word has not already surfaced.
And remember that anything sent electronically can be forwarded endlessly to other people.
Texters should respond within 24 hours or risk being interpreted as not interested or rude, Grish said.
Grish calls anyone who breaks up with someone via text "wimpy," but she did approve of it once: A woman found out her boyfriend of four years had another girlfriend for two of them. She sent the philanderer a text that said, "I know everything, [expletive]. Please do not contact me."
Drunken texting can be another danger zone.
"It's like drunk dialing," Laign said. "When you're drunk, you can be overly overt and then in the morning be like, 'Oh, boy, I wish I hadn't done that.' "