Friday, November 10, 2006

Ego boost, out of the blue

About a week ago, a guy I knew in high school e-mailed me on one of those websites that help people get in touch with former schoolmates -- let's call it Nostalgia.com. He was someone I'd had a tiny crush on, who had not been very nice to me -- along with most of the rest of my high school classmates.

I was intrigued. I actually paid $15 for a three-month membership so I could read his email:

Hey Ayelet, it's Matthew Stein. I just thought of you from the day we ran into one another at [the university we both, coincidentally, attended]. I hope your life is going well. If you get this, and want to, drop me an email at [e-mail address]. I live in [semi-large city not far from NYC]. Warm Regards, Matt

This was interesting. Why would Matt want to talk to me? He never gave me the time of day in high school unless it was to snipe at me for my liberal opinions (he's a dyed-in-the-wool Republican). We did end up attending the same university, but with more than 10,000 students, I only saw him once during my entire four years there -- and that was a good 10 years ago.

Hi Matt -- curiosity killed the cat, so I actually joined Nostalgia.com to see what you wrote me. It's great to hear from you. I'm in my first year of a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I've lived in NYC since college and I really love it here, although right now I don't have much time to take advantage of its cultural richness. What brought you to [semi-large city]? What's going on with your life?

Well Hello Ayelet,

I'm pleasantly surprised to hear back from you. I honestly can't say what exactly made you pop into my head but it's nice to know you're doing well. I wish you the very best in your graduate studies. I've though about going back to school many times over the years, but never found the motivation. Actually, after studying evolution and anthropology as an undergrad, I seriously considered an advanced degree in cognitive science or psychology. Maybe it's not too late!

After graduation I've been working mostly in the software biz (some Internet stuff around the turn of the century/millennium.) I moved to [semi-large city] about two years ago to be near my then-ailing (now dead) Grandma, and my Mom. (My whole family is originally from [state his city is in].) Dad has long since retired to the golf-course in Florida.

In truth, I've been a bit of a screw-up for most of my adult life, as a result of being generally lazy and irresponsible, and of having a bit too much to drink a bit too often. Right: being a drunk. I'm single, never married, no kids, studio apartment... C'est la vie.

Thanks for the note, and please keep in touch if you feel like it and you have the time. All The Best, Matt

Interesting. The psychologist in me thought he was probably depressed: depressed people have difficulty with motivation, which is often misunderstood as laziness, and depressed men are much more likely to drink than go to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

The curious girl in me had to know why he was contacting me after all these years.

It's never too late to go back to school. I didn't figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up until I was almost 30. Although it's hard to be in school with kids so much younger than I am. They can't believe I don't have a Facebook profile... it's a world of cultural differences.

At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, have you been screened for depression? Your "laziness," alcohol abuse, and dissatisfaction with the stage of life you're in (I too live in a studio apartment with no spouse or offspring) all sound like symptoms of depression to me. It's a treatable illness, and treating it might help you make progress in the areas of your life that you're unhappy with.

If you'd like to talk on the phone, I'd be happy to discuss this with you further.

He didn't respond for a while, and I figured I'd scared him off with the pop psychologizing, but then he wrote back and sent me a link to his website. I thought it would have some text that would illuminate his character, but it was just a picture of him holding some guns. (Looking back, that should have terrified me, but it turns out he's just a gun enthusiast who target-shoots for fun.) I sent him my phone number, and he called.

You know how people always say that the guys who like you in elementary or high school are mean to you because they don't know how to deal with their feelings? I always thought that was a load of crap -- if people like you, they're nice to you. Turns out I was wrong. Matt thought I was pretty, and smart, but he didn't want to like me; my liberal politics offended his conservative sensibilities, and he was also envious of my intelligence. He wanted to be the smartest guy in the room, but the smartest guy in the room was a cute chick. So he wasn't so nice to me -- and he was calling to apologize.

We had a great conversation. It was the first time I had thought fondly about high school in... well, almost ever. He said he was intimidated by me, but thought I was so cute, and just didn't know how to handle it because he was immature. He asked me to forgive him, again and again. And of course I did, because it's been so long that how could I still be angry about what he did? It wasn't nearly as bad as what some of my other tormentors dreamed up.

Also, he confessed why he'd thought about me suddenly: He had a dream about me!

Not a sexy dream (I was a little disappointed) but a dream that made him wake up and think, Whatever happened to Ayelet? So he looked me up on Nostalgia.com and wrote me.

It was amazing talking to someone from my past who had such wonderful things to say about me. I was not popular in high school; it was great to hear that he thought I was special and wonderful back then -- although he allowed that I sound much more laid-back now than I did then. I told him I'm much more comfortable with myself now, and happier, so I don't sound as stressed out and nervous. He was so sweet, and in so much pain. He's unhappy with his life, he definitely has a drinking problem, and he needs a nonjudgmental friend.

It felt good to be able to give something to somebody. I often feel like I'm such a needy person and I don't get what I want; the only way to distract from that, I think, is to focus more on the selfish joy of giving. That's why I go to the park with Ruchama and her kids, so she can supervise the older ones on their bicycles and I can push Tikva on the swings or watch her slide down the slide 500 times. That's why I talk to my niece every night about her problems with her school friends. That's why I go out of my way for my classmates.

So we're tentatively making plans for Matt to visit me soon -- I can't believe a Jewish guy from the U.S. has never seen NYC. I can't wait to see him -- and to see if he still thinks I'm pretty.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad that Matt got in touch with you; it sounds like it's turned out to be a nice experience for you. I wasn't exactly popular in high school myself, so I know it would surely make me happy if someone from high school got in touch with me and said such nice things. :)

    I know what you mean by the selfish pleasure of giving; I feel the same way. I hate always being on the receiving end, so I'll often go out of my way to find ways to give to others.

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