Recently I began contacting people from my past, sending them e-mail greetings and bridging the extended gap to a more youthful time. The results were universally...
Recently I began contacting people from my past, sending them e-mail greetings and bridging the extended gap to a more youthful time.
The results were universally rewarding. I’ve written about a few of them in this column: The long-term friends who shared intellectual e-mails with each other, reflecting a 35-year friendship. An old concertgoing buddy who shared a penchant for pun-filled signatures. Several others were interesting, although not enough so for a column.
Today, almost a year into this little project, I’ve become reacquainted with a baker’s half-dozen of old pals, but haven’t managed to keep the correspondence going beyond a handful of messages that covered the peaks and valleys since our last meeting. After the “hello/how are you?/are you still married?” litany there was almost nothing to say.
The communication followed a predictable cycle. The introduction, and the surprise of hearing from a past pal. The eager, daily messages at first, relating recent history. Perhaps you plan to meet somewhere, or talk on the phone. Maybe one of you visits the other, during a trip back East. More than likely it tapers off after a few notes back and forth, when it becomes clear the relationship won’t sustain on this platform. Pretty soon you run out of topics, losing the will to write when the luster fades.
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There must be people who send a surprise e-mail and pick up where they started back in the past century. Some of them carry on intellectually fascinating electronic correspondences, and by now the high-school romances rekindled through e-mail have surely led to a few nuptials. But I haven’t been so lucky. My re-acquaintances have tapered off quickly, when one or the other of us sensed diminishing returns.
Good-sense etiquette states that correspondence should alternate; it is rude or unnecessary to write someone a note before they’ve answered the last one. But such rules are far from absolute. If you have something important to say or ask, you don’t keep score. These rules only matter if you don’t really care: “He didn’t answer my last note. So I’m off the hook.”
In fact, the end of correspondence has to do with everyone involved. Neither one of you cares enough to keep it going. Both shoulder the fault, and the responsibility. Usually, it harks back to the last lost contact. We didn’t care enough to sustain the relationship then, and nothing has changed. It’s the virtual equivalent of meeting on the street, trading pleasantries, exchanging contact information and walking away.
The difference is that e-mail requires that one person takes the icebreaking initiative, but the content is pretty much identical.
My results have been discouraging, but I am not entirely discouraged. It’s nice to be able to greet old pals without having to pencil them into your social calendar, or meet them in an unexpected situation. I will keep writing people as long as they pull my memory strings, and there is still some residual positive feeling.
Even if it doesn’t last very long, it’s always fun to connect the dots.