Knowing You, Knowing Me

by Tabitha Rasa

There's an ad on the radio for the past couple months or so wherein a mom character is sending her son an e-mail. She says, blah blah blah, "Here I am surfing the web on WebTV, I don't even have to have a computer. Oh and by the way, I visited your college on line, Johnny, and I found out you're not registered this semester, so we're cutting off your allowance." Well, I figure if somebody is surfing the web via TV because she's afraid to use a computer, then she's unlikely to start figuring out how to hack into the college system to see if her son is registered. But this is cold comfort when I think how smart my own Stanford-educated mom is and how short the time is likely to be until she can at least read my on-line columns. In fact, it's very likely she'll be reading this particular piece.

At my ripe old age of 34, the time of actually doing anything I didn't want my parents to know about is long past, though. I think looking over my shoulder is more habit than anything, just like when I see a cop I think for a fraction of second, 'I might get caught,' and then I think '...doing what?' Well, I've written on line about my relationship with my mother. Nothing unpleasant or bad, just stuff I have yet to talk about with her. If she reads that article, it may have the effect of cutting us to the chase.

Recently I read in The New Yorker a piece by some woman (who, at 27, had the nerve and absolute lack of perspective to complain, in the pages of the fucking New Yorker, that she wished she could get a break once in a while) about developing an on-line relationship and then meeting the person in person, face to face (or f2f as they used cutely to say on echo). I've done this and I found some of my own experience in her descriptions. I must say, I'm not sure I think the experience of developing an on-line relationship, meeting the person, falling for them or not, etc., is particularly writeworthy. I mean, so what? Surprise! It's better not to meet the person than to meet them, in almost every case. In fact, it's almost always better to keep the exchange short - a few back-and-forths - and then let it go. This I know from not having done so, of course.

I have also made valuable business contacts on line. This is less excruciating an experience than trying to conduct one's love life over the Net. Someday I may end up rich because of the freelance work I've done lately, which has been discussed and contracted and conducted almost entirely on line.

The on-line presence of my mother, the widely recognized sad, lonely, and pathetic nature of on-line love, and on-line trolling for freelance work are all new facets of life on the Internet, in the developed and evolving community (to use a heinously tired term) we have here. And yet I can hear readers saying, "Welcome to our world! Where have you been? This shit's been going on for years!" Well, I know; but although I have lots of email pals, some of which I've fallen for romantically, I've imagined myself to be a bit removed. This hasn't been reality, just denial. But it's allowed me not to think about people seeing more of me than I am really comfortable with. A month or so ago I was shocked that my email pal knew some fact about me, and he reminded me he'd read it in one of my Enterzone pieces. My response was, "I never think anybody's really reading those things." It's convenient for me to think so - then I never have to deal with the notion that I am really opening up.

I got an e-mail recently from someone who went to my college about ten years before me, not someone I knew. He'd seen my web address in my class's notes in the alumni weekly magazine, checked it out, and sent me an email. He was experimenting with minimizing any preconceived notions about his personality I might have, so he suggested we correspond without his giving me any biographical information about himself. To me, this idea was completely creepy and I told him so straightforwardly. After a few e-mails had gone back and forth and I still didn't even know his last name or anything other than that he went to Princeton, I dropped the conversational ball. He responded by anteing up some bio-data, including that he was married and wasn't hitting on me, and we resumed the correspondence. But then he wanted to hang out in person and I got antsy again. I like it on line, it's clean and quiet (all you hear is the taptaptap of little fingers on your grimy little keyboard) and cool and distant.

Meanwhile, in my spiritual/emotional/psychological development, the utility of this distance is almost tapped out for me (in other words, I'm bottoming out on isolating). I am finding that I need intimacy - the real kind, where you let people get to know you, where you aren't perfect and you smell bad sometimes and they occasionally fuck up. I'm not talking about sex here. Sure, I've always wanted a boyfriend, but this is a different kind of longing. I'm lonely, deeply and profoundly, spiritually, hungry for companionship. The healthy part of me has gradually begun to get annoyed with the sick part of me that only wants to have friends over the telephone and on line. (It actually feels like there are two distinct, competing components of my self.) I'm pleased to report that it looks like the healthy side is edging into the lead, as I take advice from healthy people and push myself to engage in activities that, left to my own lazy devices, I'd shun, like accepting invitations to go to movies, or hanging out with co-workers, or visiting friends out in Park Slope, or leaving my apartment once in a while.

Often when I am working on some healing process, I have relapses into old behavior, or I swing back and forth a few times between new and old, or even fall back into old patterns entirely for a while, then drag myself out of the mire again. In my effort to allow myself to experience intimacy, this tendency has been particularly acute and obvious. Recently I've made great strides in terms of cleaning up my karma with respect to my relationships with friends and family; so, not surprisingly, this weekend I spent most of the time alone.

I have one e-mail pal whom I like an awful lot, who lives in Washington, DC. He is someone I knew in college and hung out with a bit in the first couple of years after we graduated. We lost track of each other for about ten years. Then this past winter we started corresponding and picked up the pieces of our friendship, and I have been really enjoying getting to know him again. However, I've also asserted my desire to have more personal contact. Having had e-mail pals with whom contact was almost entirely on-line, I know how unsatisfying that eventually becomes. As a consequence, we've started talking a lot on the phone, a couple times a week. Who knows? Maybe this time next year I will be able to handle us hanging out in person. It's a scary, but happy thought.

Copyright © 1997
Forward to Popwerks Spooling Streamer
Back to Very Short Stories No. 12
Path of Least Resistance