A single email sent again and again and again…

Recently I entered a “Modern Love” essay contest for the New York Times.  I didn’t get picked but I thought I would still share this with you all.

FWD: Pass this on!

Three letters, capitalized and followed by a colon popped up in emails throughout middle school beginning a craze in the early millennium. FWD.  Forward.   Inboxes were overthrown by these forwarded emails and each had one promised result: love. 

They began with a numbered list of questions: What is your favorite color? Name of your crush? Name of your neighbor’s pet? Then you scrolled. Oh, did you scroll.  Scrolling and scrolling past pages of arrows descending and ascending, up and down, as you nearly broke your mouse trying to get to the end.  But, wait! What was that? Text! Jinkies! You’ve made it to the promise land; you’ve made it to the end of the scrolling.  Eyes flick over real, meaningful symbols and then hearts drop: “Make a wish! Keep scrolling!”  And you do what it says because it has to be worth all the hassle in the end.  

The crazy patterns cease and you’ve reached the bottom of the email.  The holy grail.  Answers from questions you forgot you were even asked are connected with hidden secrets about yourself.  What is your favorite color? Green? Then you probably like the color of grass.  Amazing! How did they know? But that was just a warm up question, now the email is going to delve deeper into your soul.

You fancy a boy named Max? You will date him, marry him in approximately 3 years and have a baby named after your neighbor’s pet, Fluffly.  This was more than any twelve year old could handle. From that point on,  I was sucked in.  I knew that my crush would be out there waiting for me.  I knew that we would fall madly in love.  I knew that we would name our children after obscure pets.  

Everything seemed possible, until the last line hit:

Send this email to 25 people, it would say, in the next 39 seconds and then everything described will happen.  If you don’t then you will die … alone.  

I didn’t have 25 people to email.  I had five friends in my contacts list – six if you counted my dad and I was 12 which meant I didn’t count him.  I was going to die alone. I was going to die alone.  I panicked then.  I flashed forward to the next 40 seconds, my loveless body lying limp on the floor, my mother standing over me screaming, “Why? Why couldn’t she have more friends in her contact list? Why?”  
But I was determined.  I wanted to go through every random email that had been sent to me and extract those senders’ addresses.  And, trust me, that’s exactly what I did.  It took me more than 39 seconds, more like three hours, but I knew that if I just forwarded this message then the Email Gods would grant me all the happiness promised due to my unwavering faith.  

I sent the email.  I waited in anticipation and, in a few hours, forwarded another email just in case the first one didn’t go through.  But an unrealistic idea of how love worked was already placed in my palpable pre-teen mind. Love had been put into time limits and based upon the number of people in your address book with the first few forwarded messages sent.  It was made into a magical entity that simply happened after scrolling down half a page, making a wish, and scrolling down another half page.   A few clicks, a few obscure questions answered and you were five minutes away from true love.  These messages made love seem as simple as heating up a frozen burrito in the microwave at Cumberland Farms.  

The weirdest thing about all this is when my crush didn’t give me the time of day I became certain that I had done something wrong and simply forwarded more messages.  I never stopped believing after this point that love could be anything less than easy.  I sent more emails than directed hoping to please those pesky Email Gods who were obviously toying with my emotions.  It never occurred to me that it might help my cause if I actually spoke to the boy.  

And I wasn’t alone.  I received the same emails from my friends who were also desperately searching for love.  It was an incestuous little email group that created a continuous loop of pitifulness.  We became obsessed with the notion of love: renting every chick-flick we could get our hands on and polluting our minds with the idea that fate would be the only factor; magically, love would find us and then would fight for us.  We wouldn’t have to worry about anything at all because there was some sort of higher power that wanted us to be happy.  If only we had invested our allowances on renting the classic films.  Any classic romance movie involved a struggle to obtain love.  Sure, they were glamorous and portrayed a romanticized world but there was always a fight to the final scene where all the triumph of the two lead characters was summed up with a single, show-stopping kiss.

It’s been a little under a decade since the last time I forwarded a message but like any addiction the effects still linger; hovering over all of this generation.  Somewhere inside we still hope that if we just press a button, download a Facebook App, or simply put a picture up on a dating site we will know who loves us and who doesn’t; all within a relatively reasonable amount of time.  And, like each new generation of phone out there, we want love to be faster and sleeker than earlier models.  Love at first sight? Ha, not fast enough; not simple enough. Convenience is key for the majority: we hook up, text, and jump from one person to the next. We are an impatient group, Generation X. If we still had to wait for web pages to actually load I don’t know what we would do.  There are applications for phones that just require a few fields to be filled out and instantly we see LoverBoy924 is .06 miles away also looking for love.

Using online dating sites can work but only if the right kind of site is used. The site should make us work to find the person we’re meant to be with not provide instant answers to the love question. It should take time and effort to dredge through profiles in order to find someone compatible but there are few who are actually willing to work for that kind of success. It took my friend a long time to actually find a boy she wanted to date on a dating site.  She may have seemed over critical at times but, in the end, she found exactly who she was looking for and is filled with real love as a result. But she’s an exception.  She wanted to work for love.  She did work for love. How many people can actually say that they put effort behind finding a relationship and keeping it strong?  Not many.   I wouldn’t be shocked if only a small percentage of this generation actually found real love.  This generation has become satisfied with the physical and that’s the easy part.  They have chosen to ignore the feelings and complications that feelings bring to the coupling because it’s merely an inconvenience.  There is hardly any effort made.  It needs to be real and in person, full of actual conversations; compromises.  There needs to be depth. No more forwarded messages; No more quick fixes. It is a process that involves more than scrolling down a page, more than fitting into a time frame, more than just pushing that send button.  

I couldn’t think of any clever photos to put up alongside this blog but I’ll give you a treat for getting through this monster of a blog post: