The Opposite Sex 

Caught in the 'net

Caught in the 'net

DANNY: Last week I got some hate mail. I hate hate mail. I don’t care how thick other people’s skin might be, it hurts my feelings. Ben says I take it too personally and shouldn’t expect everyone to like me, but this is coming from a man who enjoys being hated.

I had written an article and made a small mistake by dating something incorrectly. Nobody got killed, nobody’s mother was slapped. But some schmo sitting at home got all uppity about it, logged on to his computer, and blasted me in an e-mail for being inattentive to detail. Said schmo managed to misspell a few words in his four-sentence tirade, the most significant of them being his signature, which he spelled “anonymus.”

Would Mr. Anonymus Schmo have taken the time to seek me out by phone, or in person, to point out my mistake? And if so, would he have spewed forth his four impassioned sentences, turned on his heel, and walked away? No. But now we have e-mail—the least personal form of communication going, minus all those annoying little sideways smiley faces.

Don’t get me wrong. I love when that female computer voice tells me, “You’ve got mail!” It’s like getting a present you weren’t expecting. And e-mail does make it possible for me to maintain communication with friends from L.A. to Myrtle Beach to Amsterdam without shelling out a million clams a month to Ma Bell. And it allows my mother to feel better by sending me a million forwarded warnings about date-rape drugs and interstate carjackers.

But as much as I love the ’net, I hate people who hide behind it. For example, I have a friend—let’s call him “Eddie”—who fell in love online. Eddie met “Chris” in a Nashville gay chat room, and they immediately clicked. They spent hours writing back and forth, day and night. Eddie would leave movies before the ending just to go home and keep his e-mail date with Chris. The whole thing built to a crescendo on Eddie’s 30th birthday, when Chris agreed to meet him face to face. But the only thing Chris wound up revealing was that he was actually “Will,” Eddie’s ex-boyfriend, who had masterminded the whole scheme as a kind of revenge against his former lover.

Not a man who learns a lesson easily, Eddie turned around and sent me an e-mail a couple weeks ago that goes down as the meanest thing anyone’s ever written to me. Eddie’s intentions were pure, but his words were absolute poison. It’s something he would have never said to my face—not without tempering his battery acid with a little bit of sugar. That kind of communication is for cowards, for people like Anonymus Schmo.

Look, I’m not calling for the abolition of e-mail or anything like that. Clearly I use it, and it has made the way I do my job much quicker and easier. I go online every week to send my part of the column to Ben, thereby never having to see his smiling face. But people are now e-mailing each other from the next cubicle over, and the whole thing is getting ridiculous.

In the end, I guess the thing that really disturbs me is that now anyone can buy a computer, get online, create a screen name, and anonymously tell anyone to fuck off. True, people used to do these things by writing letters back in the days before e-mail. But the immed-iacy of the Internet means that people are that much more likely to fire off hotheaded messages without even taking the time to give their actions a second thought. So why don’t these people have the balls to say the same thing directly to someone’s face?

BEN: I love words. I love the way they look, the way they sound in your ears or in your head, and the way they feel when you use them intelligently. A well-crafted sentence can blow a person out of the water or seduce them to your way of thinking. What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do here week in and week out?

Many have argued that technological advancements make us lazy and are the death of communication. But now that I have Internet access, I read more articles and write more letters than I ever did before.

The fact is that people tend to rub me the wrong way, and I can take few of them in extended doses. I’m also not a big fan of confrontation. Contrary to Danny’s perception, I’m a fairly supersensitive person. True, I’m not always sensitive to other people, but I can be greatly affected and even downright flustered by what people say to me—so much so that my brain can become a jammed traffic lane where nothing gets through easily. When I can’t effectively and eloquently verbalize my particular emotions or opinions, I prefer to turn things over in my mind for a period of time. I’ll sit down at the computer, choose the perfect words, and execute them in a perfect rhythm in the perfect sentence. Maybe that’s why I didn’t become an electrician or a CPA.

Danny, on the other hand, whether she knows it or will admit it, enjoys high drama. She likes to scream at people when they piss her off, and she likes to get all touchy-feely when they please her. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; it just takes a 10-drink minimum to get me to those states of mind. Danny’s also the type you see driving around dangerously while taking on her cell phone. Her reactions are swift and instantaneous, and she must be in touch with you immediately to let you know what she feels. I like to bottle up my feelings and overanalyze something until I fire off an e-mail that cuts you off at the knees—something I have gleefully done to her many times.

And maybe that’s why Danny hates communicating through e-mail rather than face to face. She’d prefer to waylay you with her histrionics and mix that sugar with her battery acid. But I don’t want any unnecessary sugar, and if you have to tell me you hate me or love me with a computer blip across the Internet highway, that’ll be just fine with me. I’m far more comfortable and delighted by the idea that you sat down and thought about something, or me, long enough to put it in writing. And when we see each other, we’ll still know the truth even if we didn’t have to say it out loud.


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