Tag Archives: email

Please step forward!

I continue to be baffled by the disconnect between many people’s online personas and their real life selves. Sometimes it feels like the internet opened Pandora’s Box and all this creepy, deranged sh*t started flying out. I saw a TV news teaser yesterday saying the Supreme Court had ruled on whether making a death threat via social media was prosecutable. “The answer may surprise you” said the announcer. I didn’t care enough about the answer to either hang around and learn it, or to Google it now. I guess if I ever get online death threats, I’ll be motivated to look into it. But yeesh, what is wrong with people?!?

You know, it was tricky enough trying to figure out who people were before. Now there’s this whole other layer, this whole other character sometimes, to be studied or understood. There was an old game show where 3 people (I think it was 3) pretended to be a particular individual and the contestant had to guess, based on asking questions, which one was the real person. At the end the host would say something like, “Would the real such-and-so please step forward!” That’s how the internet feels: Would the real person please step forward?

I know somebody, a grown person, who deliberately – in my estimation – makes a lot of trouble online. This person reported that on meeting them in real life, other people were pleasantly surprised, having previously thought the instigator was a “real asshole.” See, I think the “instigator” is pleased by having, or seeming to have, a dual persona. The “why” of it puzzles me yet. Do people – because I know this scenario isn’t an isolated or uncommon one – do this to keep others off-balance? To trot out their uglier, angrier selves online where there’s less risk? After all, when you do or say something in person, consequences, rebuttals and reprisals can be immediate. You’re exposed. Not nearly so online.

And – Is the internet an outlet for people who have trouble getting attention in real life? Who are pissed off and can force people online to pay attention to them? If only by being outrageous or controversial? To say what they otherwise daren’t?

So the question is: who’s the bonafide person? The one spouting off online, whether in emails or on social forums, or the one walking around in the real world? Should a person be measured by their propensity for online ugliness?

I’ve had people say things to me online who then tried to minimize or sidestep their comments when faced with me in real life. Who seemed to have a hard time looking me in the eye even, when questioned or challenged about what they said/wrote. I almost got the feeling I was breaking an unspoken contract: what happens online stays online. To this I say “Pah!” Where is that written? I never agreed to it.

Here’s the thing. Of their snotty, rude, or vicious things said online, somehow people think it doesn’t count. And you know what this totally reminds me of? What people say about being drunk. How they dismiss – or minimize – their words and actions while sh*t-faced. When confronted with what they said by the light of day, so to speak, they shirk and mitigate: “I didn’t mean any of that. I was drunk.” You, the one who witnessed or was on the receiving end of their drunken exploits and diatribes, aren’t supposed to count it. But I did. I do. And it’s the same here. What’s said online matters. It counts.

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Short Thought 110 (emails)

People can get very brave in emails, dangerously so. More than once, I’ve received an email and after reading it, remarked calmly, but with absolute conviction to the screen, “I don’t believe I’d have said that.”

I heard from a man I never expected to

A man who had mattered tremendously and who’d significantly influenced me, turned up via an out-of-the-blue email after 20 years of silence. I always thought I’d hear from him again, but after a year, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years rolled by, I no longer believed it. I was young when I’d known him and though our relationship ended in a convoluted way with no specific we-are-breaking-up-and-this-is-over discussion, I suppose I believed that what was between us was so important and strong (to me anyway), that we’d again have contact of some sort. A very wry part of my brain says, yes, well, we did! A somewhat breezy, short message 20 years later wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined…

The length of time wasn’t because I was so very hard to find, as I’d stayed in the same part of the country, whereas I knew he’d (courtesy of the internet eventually), moved around where his career took him. His career had been the most important thing to him during our relationship, and there was plenty of evidence that it had remained so. Lord, was he ever driven and he had the accolades to show for it. You might wonder why I didn’t go ahead and contact him since he was easy enough to find. Couple reasons. I had last contacted him after we’d each moved to new separate cities, mine nearby “our” old one, and his across the country. I wrote to him and he simply never answered. It was like he disappeared into a black hole. The relationship had problems, including not long before we parted a specific negative incident he caused and then wouldn’t discuss. He had talked loosely about me making the move with him but I had plans of my own and frankly, we just weren’t at that point where I’d move across the country to be with him. Would we have ever been? I don’t know but the signs weren’t exactly headed that way. Especially after he moved and I never heard another peep out of him. Not a call, not a postcard, not a carrier pigeon.

The last time I saw him was weird. I stopped by his apartment on my way to my new city, and he acted unusually cold and distant. A self-defense mechanism? Who knows. At the time, I was confused and hurt. He’d talked previously about having me visit him in his new far-off city over the holidays later that year. Now, there was no talk of when we’d see each other again. Maybe he was irritated I’d gone ahead with my plans or because I’d vetoed the idea of helping drive his u-haul across the country after which he’d put me on a flight home (which I did reject – and said – because I didn’t believe he’d look out for me, meaning my well-being, on the hundreds-of-miles road trip.) Then as now, it’s just a guessing game why he acted oddly that last time or why he dropped off the map after he moved.

So here it was all these years later, long after I’d given up any thought of hearing from him again. In his email, he writes something pithy about the roundabout way he found my email address, hopes the “years have been good” to me (oh yeah he does), and remarks that he is much the same, only “older, fatter and dumber.” That man may have been older and he may have been fatter (he’d been lean and compact when I knew him), but there was no way “dumb” would ever apply. He says his career has gone well. My take? It was the kind of “feeler” note/email a man sends when he wants to throw a hook out there to reconnect at some level but not risk too much in the doing. No mention whatsoever of the relationship we’d had or the unclear way it ended; no fond memory of me or regret, nothing revealing.

Now I’ve always been the kind of person who couldn’t resist responding to other people, who could be drawn in by a voice from the past, who’d want to push to get something more out of them, and in a case like this, to get a more genuine connection. And I had a pretty good sense that if I answered him, in any way, that would quite likely prompt more revelation from him. But. I was feeling differently now. Other than being unimpressed – after 20 years and a strange break-up – with the tone and content of the note, there was something else that gave me real pause. See, again thanks to the internet, I knew he’d had a child, one who was still fairly young (i.e., hard for his father to overlook). And yet, he says not one word about this. If only he had. That omission greatly troubled me. If you don’t want to say anything about other women, be they wives, girlfriends, or your child’s mother, I can understand that. But the child? No. He should have mentioned his child. Anything! “I have a kid,” would have done the trick.

I no longer needed anything from this man (apologies, well wishes, clooosure) and dramatic as it sounds, I thought: we can go to our graves without any more contact. I never felt anything so definite or final about anybody I’d been involved with before that point; the future had always seemed a broad, nebulous thing and I was open-minded. Here I turned a corner. I will never ever downplay what he meant to me or the ways he challenged and influenced me. I still think of things he said, times we had, and who I am as a consequence of having known this particular man. I don’t need the current him for that. I’ll keep tabs on him from time to time via the internet, but that’s enough.

An old boyfriend comes to call, er, I mean email

As often happens now that most of us live in or regularly visit Internet Land, a man from my past turned up online. Slight correction. He was a boy when I knew him before, literally. Teenage. Now he was married and living in another state. We caught up in emails, cleared up a few things from the dusty past. He had a relatively strong memory of me to offer, as well as regrets and apologies I never expected to hear but found gratifying.

He’d played a significant role in my teenage years and was able to fill in a few blanks in our narrative for me, things I hadn’t understood at the time. Also, a devastating event had occurred later in that general time frame that had nothing to do with our specific (long over) relationship, but which had haunted him since. I was not impacted the same way but had known about it, remembered, and could discuss it now. The interplay was cathartic on both sides. And honestly, because he’d turned into a skilled and witty writer – a talent there’d been no evidence of in our history, however brief – it was fun. About as close to time travel as I’ve found possible.

I needed to know for my sake, who this person was now. A single, real-time conversation would do it, so at my suggestion, a phone call – a lively, funny one it turned out – followed. This guy was a stranger in so many ways and yet I picked up on traits that must have been the same ones that appealed to me in the teenage boy. Smart, a shrewd wise-ass with a big personality. In fact he was the one who made this comment: https://writerinsoul.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/somebody-will-cry/. There were signs of other attributes I did not relate to so well that I don’t need to elaborate for the purpose of my story. But there’s a bigger point. As I alluded via the need for apologies, he hadn’t been the nicest guy when I’d known him years ago. He’d left ill will in his wake. I held judgment in reserve but couldn’t escape that million dollar question: Do people really change? How young is your essential personality really set?

I’ve read what academics have to say, I’ve talked this question over with friends, and still, I wonder. Strokes, Alzheimer’s, or other big life-altering events and conditions can alter someone’s basic personality. But I’m talking about shy of that. If you believe you’ve got someone’s number at age 15 or 18 or 20, can you safely assume you’ve still got it at 30, 50, 70, always? Despite any claims or assertions to the contrary?

It turned out he was going to be passing through my area. Now, don’t be sitting there thinking, “Oh SURE, he just HAPPENED to be passing through your area! I’ll bet. Did he just HAPPEN to book a quiet dinner for two at a nearby hotel too?” Give me some credit. His mother still lived in my state and I wasn’t the only person from his past he wanted to see. His wife knew he planned to meet a few people. I got the idea it might have even been a sort of Making Amends Tour. And if I’m wrong about that, it was definitely to catch up with more than just me.

When we met, the only thing that seemed familiar from the past was his voice. Not surprisingly, the ease of the emails and the phone call were not immediately at hand (I’ve been down this particular road before). But we managed. He seemed tired, and maybe uncertain about me. I sensed he wasn’t saying something, or was waiting perhaps for a sign from me, although quite what, I couldn’t say with certainty (and I’m fairly good at this if I do say so). As he had in emails, he said he’d like to stay friends but had no real answer when I asked exactly how that might work. (If I may, I will offer that wives as a rule don’t line up suggesting I befriend their husbands.) Please forgive the cliche but I was not at a place in my life where I was in the mood for nonsense or anyone trifling with my feelings. I didn’t want to be the Secret Internet Friend, to provide entertainment or counsel or titillation – if it came to that – on the side. I’ve learned a thing or two or eight and was only interested in entertaining a scenario on the up-and-up, if at all.

He’d made arrangements to catch up with another guy from the old days that evening, someone I’d known but not well. He wanted me to join him. There was going to be a band and a bar on the itinerary. Our time together, and the point of it so far as I intended, was over. I gave an unequivocal no. I didn’t hedge or coyly try to get him to talk me into it. I didn’t say this to him – although I had brought up something related in email – but I knew the moment I got in his car a line would be crossed. “Date” was the word in my mind. Get in that car and I’m on a date. I don’t drink but could foresee the role alcohol might well play in the remainder of the day as he and the other old friend kicked back a couple brewskies and caught up. There I’d be.

We parted without fuss. There was no follow-up. Months later I emailed, with the express caveat it was a one-time thing, to share with him news of another guy we’d both known well and had wondered about when we reconnected. The story I told was way too good not to share, particularly given that back in the day we both had been on the receiving end of sh*t from this other person and it was a bit of a bonding point.

He loved the story, chimed up again that he still thought the two of us should be friends (I’ll resist putting that last word in italics or quotes even if I thought it came across a bit breezy) and that he was in a time crunch, but would write more later. He didn’t. You’re not surprised are you? Neither was I, even if I allow it didn’t make me feel all that great. I kind of saw that he’d already told me all I needed to know. For my purposes here and now. And I was glad we’d reconnected, truly. The bigger questions I’ll keep thinking about.