Blast from the Past
If you ask me, this happens all to infrequently in my world: I got an email today from a long-lost friend. It was pretty weird, loaded as it was with disclaimers in case she'd gotten in touch with the wrong person--it's pretty unlikely as I don't think my full name is all that common, but I guess you never know.
I can really identify with her trepidation--I've communicated with long-losts by email a few times, having stumbled across their name somewhere online, or at an alumni website, that sort of thing. Pretty much without exception, I've gotten a reception that I'd most associate with following them around the mall while wearing nothing but shoes, socks and an overcoat. Well, that's a little strong, but it's very weird all the same. I send them an email asking, is this you? They usually reply pretty tersely along the lines of, "yes, and I remember who you are." Sounds good, if tepid, so far doesn't it?
When I then reply with a quick general sketch of how I turned out since they last saw me and a polite inquiry as to their well-being, I'm almost universally given no reply whatsoever. I think one person may have replied with another single, vaguely alarmed-sounding sentence, and one replied that she didn't want to be friends and I shouldn't write anymore.* Across the board, bad reactions**.
*This was an ex-longtime girlfriend who cheated on me a lot (sucker that I am, I didn't cop on to that until some time after we broke up), but who is now married to some dope she knew in high school. I think she didn't want the whole cheating thing hanging over her, though I never brought it up, especially in a possibly-public email account. Whatever--I wasn't mad anymore about the cheating, I was just trying to be nice and ask how she was. At least she had the courtesy to fill me in on her current life situation, out of respect for the nearly four years we dated or something. She turned out to be a clinical psychologist, if that gives you any idea how messed up in the head she must be.
I'm not sure what makes people behave like that. It's not as if I'm suggesting we rekindle an old flame--in fact I never even had any kind of old flame with any of them except one, and there's no way
I'd step back into that beartrap.
I have all sorts of theories about it, though. One is that people just don't know what to say, especially after a long separation. I don't have any trouble with it, but I've been led to understand that I'm in the minority in figuring that until we've proven otherwise, we can still be friends, no matter how long we've been separated. At least in one instance, my espousing this idea what panned as "childishly deluded." I don't need to get into how fucked up that
attitude is, but let's assume that more people share it than share mine. Sure, long-delayed meetings in person could be difficult, especially if long, awkward silences aren't your bag, but email seems to me a great way to handle these things. You can take as long as you want composing your responses, you can edit, you can provide visual aids (a link to a photo page or blog), etc. It's not a conversation--no uncomfortable pauses. What could be easier?
Are people uncomfortable expressing themselves in writing these days? From the proliferation of blogs, even truly terrible ones, you'd have to think not, but I guess people that write more than a line or two in emails are still in the minority. As you can guess from this blog, that's not a problem for me, and I can't believe that would be enough to make someone who already knew me think I had turned into a freak.
I have also theorized that people think only desperate, depressed or friendless people (or deranged would-be stalkers) would try to get in touch with someone from their distant past. I suppose that could be true, but it's not the case for me. I certainly don't think I come off that way in the emails. Enthusiastic maybe, but I never, ever suggest I'll be watching, erm, uh, seeing them around, or anything creepy like that. I'm not trying to get in touch with people I had some kind of weird conflict or issue with either (except for that one ex-girlfriend thing), though the temptation to hand out pieces of my mind has been strong in my darker moments. I have nevertheless refrained from contacting those folks at all.
My latest theory is that I just plain freak these people out because I remember when we knew each other. I guess I have an unusually good memory or something, and I further guess it weirds somebody out when I mention that I remember them playing guitar for our fifth-grade class or some such thing. To me, it's just my last clear memory of the person--why not recount it? To them, perhaps, it's evidence that I've spent all my days since then mooning over them or obsessing over their childhood hobbies. I can't really make that connection, but I guess it must happen.
Maybe it's just another sign of the death of civility in this country (and possibly the world). People just don't trust each other anymore, mostly because they're surrounded by countless examples of how only suckers do that. People are dicks because they think everyone else is a dick, creating this self-perpetuating cycle of dicketry. Maybe it's gotten so bad that people are conditioned to believe that every interaction they don't initiate themselves is some kind of come-on or leading up to some kind of hustle or other. I sure hope that's not the problem (though it's pretty like-sounding)--if it is, then we're in worse shape than I thought.
I dunno. It's just depressing, is all. And that's why I've made a point of responding enthusiastically to everyone who's contacted me with a "blast from the past." I really am excited to hear from them, even if it's some dude I hardly knew in junior high school writing me with advice about a line of work I'm no longer in. I may not have much to say, but I can at least say it in a friendly fashion, and I don't think that's too much to ask of people. Mostly, I don't want to discourage them--if they're the sort of person who sends messages like that, I imagine they've gotten a lot of cold shoulders already, if my experience is any kind of guide.
So anyway, my old pal Jen and I had a nice email conversation over the course of the morning, and I'm feeling really good about it. We didn't try to make up for 13 years of lost time, but we hit the high points. I don't imagine we'll be sending too many more emails back and forth in the coming months, but it's nice to think that if I ran into her on the street sometime we wouldn't have some weird email blowoff thing hanging over us. I look forward to that meeting, since I can ask her how her house is doing since the big Christmas fire. I should be so lucky as to have a conversation opener like that with people I see all the time, even.
**And don't get me started on a related topic of asking women out. OK, do, but I'll only do it as a sort of quiz. What would you think if you asked someone out, and she said, "That would be fun, but I'm busy that day, maybe another time?" You might suspect she was OK with you asking her out some other time, mightn't you? What would you think if on two other occasions, you receive a similar demurrer on asking this person out--always with the qualification that another time would be great? You might think that the timing is just very bad, and perhaps try again later. What would you think if one of her friends runs into you somewhere and accuses you of stalking her, or otherwise intimidating her with your obviously unwelcome advances (all three of them)? You might think that she's a fucking psychopath who's so full of herself that she thinks you'd be destroyed by her just saying "no" when you asked her out the first time, and who's too stupid to understand that saying, "maybe some other time," is not well known "code" for, "fuck off, creepo." And you'd be right, and I'll tell you this for nothing, there are a lot of people like that out there. I'm only gonna say this once, people--if you don't want to go out with someone, just tell them so. Chances are they'll be so relieved to be finally hearing the truth from a person of the opposite sex they'll walk away right then and never bother you again. Really. Lying is ruder than just about anything else you could do to them. Tell the fucking truth.