February 7, 2003

ytd: 98.74

Cute_Robin23 wants to be penpals.

"Dear SecraTerri," she writes.

"I got your email from a friend and I'm contacting you because you might be interested in becoming my penpal.

If you are interested you can see my picture and have some details about me on www.whereprofessionalsmeet.com. Have a look there and write back if you like what you see. Maybe we could chat and see what happens down the road?

My username is Cute_Robin23.



I'm tempted. I really am. She sounds so darned cute and everything. I haven't gone to the whereprofessionalsmeet.com website to look at her picture -- I've been so swamped this week, I haven't had time to PEE on a semi-regular basis, let alone run around the Internet checking out potential new penpals --- but I imagine that she really is cute, in a bubbly, happy, scrinchy-nosed Meg Ryan sort of way. (Just to be clear, I'm talking about the post-"Innerspace/pre-"You've Got Mail" Meg Ryan, before she actually knew how cute she was ... before "cute" turned into forced and cloying, and you just wanted to reach over and pinch that adorably scrinchy nose of hers right off her goddamned face.)

Who the heck can't use a friend as cute as Meg Ryan?

Plus Cute_Robin23 is a "professional." Do you suppose that means she works in an office, too? If so, I'll bet we could have a lot of interesting discussions about professional admin stuff: impossible deadlines, crabby Testosterone Units, overflowing In Boxes, snooty Corporate Accounting Managers who speak to you very, very slooooooooooooooooooooowly on the phone, as though you're just the teensiest tiniest bit stoopid. I'll bet that Cute_Robin23 and I have a lot of professional experiences and concerns in common. We could swap business cards and ICQ numbers. I could share my secrets for indestructible pantyhose (wash them in Jell-O!) and for thwarting pesky salesmen (put them on hold ... and then accidentally leave for lunch!). I could offer to proofread her résumé. She could be my professional reference, should I ever grow tired of dirt reports and vandalism and decide that I actually need a professional reference again.

It would be fun AND it would be networking, at the same time!

The problem, of course, is that if I do write back to Cute_Robin23  --  if I take her up on her offer, and we begin corresponding, and we ultimately develop an online friendlationship  --  it won't last.

It never does.

Oh,  things would be great at first. At first, I would be dying to write to her every single day: long, thoughtful, detail-intensive "Morning-Coffee Letters," filled with funny anecdotes about my day, poignant episodes about long-distance motherhood, life lessons I've learned, odds and ends of interesting stuff I've found on the Internet. I would want to tell her everything: how I quit drinking four years ago, after half a lifetime spent pickling my kidneys in cheap chablis ... how I met my husband in an AOL chat room ... how I rode two thousand miles on my bike last year ... how "The Martian Hop" changed my life forever when I was ten years old. I would introduce her to all the major characters in my life. I would transcribe snippets of conversations for her, and let her read the Tot journals. I would decorate my e-mails with photos and cartoons and the occasional flowery electronic Hallmark on special occasions.

Every e-mail I sent to Cute_Robin23 would be a small masterpiece. (And if it wasn't a small masterpiece, then I would simply delete it and start all OVER again.)

To the outside observer it might seem like a lopsided correspondence,  with *me* doing the bulk of the corresponding and *she* providing little more than the occasional "Thank you" or "ROFLMAO" or "I'm not sure, but I think that maybe you misspelled 'exhilaration' again." But Cute_Robin23 and I would both be OK with the arrangement. In fact, we would probably be OK with the arrangement for a long time: weeks, months, maybe years.

Until all of a sudden we weren't so OK with the arrangement anymore.

The problems, once they began to creep into the friendlationship, would seem very minor at first. Broken links. Comic misfires. Obscure subrefs that even *I* don't get. ("Yes Virginia, there IS a Karl Studler, and he's holding a can opener with YOUR name on it.") I would start skipping a day, here and there: I might be sick, or overloaded at work, or experiencing a temporary hard drive meltdown. Or maybe I would simply feel like blowing off the computer, for one evening, and curling up with a junky pop culture magazine instead. She would forgive me, once I expained the situation ... especially once I turned the lapse into another amusing anecdote. I would attempt to make it up to her by writing three times as much (but half as well) for the next little while. Things would go more or less back to normal.

Until the next time.

But there would be other, more subtle complications. Depending on the circumstances of my life at any given moment, I would either have too much to write about ... or too little. Either way I would freeze up, the minute I sat down at the computer, and I would find it impossible to download the contents of my brain to my keyboard. Depending on the condition of the world at any given moment, I might find myself questioning the relevance of our correspondence in the first place.

Plus she would have begun to occasionally ask the squirmy questions:

  • Why do I always write about the BLUE bike all the time, but almost never write about the RED bike? Doesn't the red bike feel hurt by all the public attention I pay to the blue bike?

  • Why didn't I attend the annual *Where Professionals Meet* Networking Extravaganza and Public Pig Roast last month? Shouldn't I be doing everything I can to support the penpalling community?

  • Why am I writing about SHOES, forcryingoutloud? Don't I realize that the world is about to explode all around me?!?

I'm sure she would intend the questions innocently -- after all, this is a friendlationship, not a business partnership: it's not like I'm being paid to entertain her -- but it would start to rankle after awhile, anyway. How many times can I explain that although the blue bike adores the attention, the red bike has indicated that it would actually prefer I NOT write about it publicly ... or that I didn't become a pen pal in order to become part of a "community" ... or that I write about shoes -- and about bike rides, and about bad TV shows, and about all of the daily crappage that goes on at The Dirt Company -- because writing about the little things is how I make sense of a world that's exploding all around me? After a while, writing to her would become more work than pleasure, with me weighing every word for potential controversy or misinterpretation or lawsuit. The spontaneity of our correspondence would evaporate. The fun would be gone. The intervals between e-mails would become longer and longer, and the burden of guilt heavier and heavier. I would start looking for any reason to avoid her online ... and any excuse not to have to write to her.

Eventually I would just tell her I was moving to a mud hut in Fiji and be done with it.

No ... I don't want to put the two of us through that sort of emotional rollercoaster. It's best that I nip this one in the bud, right here and now, before either one of us has the chance to become emotionally invested in the friendlationship.

Regretfully, I delete Cute_Robin23 from the "To Be Answered" file.

Maybe someday I'll have time for pen pals again ... along with naps and coffeebreaks and four-day weekends and long, thoughtful, detail-intensive journal entries. But right now my lunch hour is over, and I need to get back to the front desk and finish those Fungal Spore Count reports.

In the meantime ... maybe I'd better not even open this e-mail from "Adorable_Steve47."

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