A few months ago—in a rush of feelings fed by drinks, exhaustion, and a good party—I sent my best friend a text. Well, several texts. Each one flowed together to form an emotional outpouring that was at once totally genuine and completely terrifying. At around 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning, somewhere between the smoke machine and the bar, I sent an emotional nude.
In 2019, the art of sending traditional nudes is quantifiable, understood, and when done well, celebrated. As long as it’s solicited or consented to, sending someone a picture of your unclothed body is a breezy celebration of horniness.
Emotional nudes are trickier. They are the truly exposing mode of 21st century communication that takes the form of rambling texts or DMs to friends. They can cover a lot of ground: atoning for a long-forgotten sin, revealing your deepest fears, sharing a self-realization that couldn’t wait for therapy, or just telling someone how much you love them. How you’d die without them. How their existence makes the world feel meaningful and pure and maybe God doesn’t exist but, like, friendship is the real religion, you know?
These are not things you’d typically say in person, in the harsh and sober light of day. Because that would involve actually making eye contact with the person, hearing your own dumb voice, watching their face move from bemused to uncomfortable to… actually, I’m not sure. Who gets that far in person? In person you start saying something meaningful, get awkward, and backtrack to, “Anyway, this is nice.”
An emotional nude bypasses all those social roadblocks. In a message, buffered from embarrassment and composed alone in the chasm of your own brain, there is nothing to stop you from sharing every acute, half-baked thought you’ve ever had. You’re free to keep typing until your hand cramps, you pass out, or someone calls your mum to see if you’re okay.
In that moment of indulgence, emotional nudes feel deeply gratifying. They’re the digital equivalent of pouring your heart out to someone over one-too-many cheap glasses of prosecco. Except the other person isn’t there with you, going drink-for-drink, whim-for-whim, declaration-for-declaration. In fact, they’re probably at home, doing something distinctly unemotional, like laundry or unclogging their shower drain. Which is to say: The follow-up emotion to sending emotional nudes is sheepishness.
They’re rarely reciprocated in the way you want. When you send a soliloquy via text, you’ve worked yourself into a state that the recipient can’t possibly predict nor match. It can feel lonely and a little terrifying when your emotions begin to cool—when it’s just you and the comparatively brisk reply that came an agonizing 20 to 90 minutes later (or far worse, the next day). But this is an occupational hazard of vulnerability in general. One, I think, worth embracing. Because even if they feel a little one-sided, I’d argue they can fortify and nourish relationships. They not only invite a unique level of honesty, they confirm, through the means of an increasingly impersonal form of technology, that our loved ones are on our minds. And doesn’t everyone gently hope that others think about them when they’re not around? That a friend, in the height of a breakthrough, might turn to them first?
In that way, an emotional nude, sent and received, can be a powerful gift. A digital talisman for the messiness of human emotion. Proof we can’t be captured in ones and zeros. Some things are worth the hangover.
Graphic by Madeline Montoya.