Obviously, e-mail is depersonalizing to people and relationships. We hit a few keys, send an e-mail and feel our work is done. Also, were interacting with a computer screen when, ideally, we should be interacting with the people themselves. At the same time, many long-distance relationships thrive on e-mail, and I understand entirely.
In contrast to its depersonalization, e-mail is also inherently confessional. Its seemingly instant; we write what we want, press send and our work is done. In this sense, it CAN be very personal. E-mail is appealing because its non-confrontational; people write and reveal things in e-mails they would NEVER say over the phone, let alone in person. Remember that e-mail is not entirely immediate in that it can take days or weeks for your e-mailee to read and respond.
The confessional nature of e-mail is both good and bad: its good in that people can say what they need to when they need to. Its also bad in that people can say what they need to, and sometimes not under the best circumstances.
Take, for example, the phenomenon of the late-night e-mail, occasionally, though not exclusively, under the influence of alcohol. Some have said that alcohol brings the truth out of people. The same could be said of e-mail. With its immediacy, why NOT send a late-night confession? I like that I know what time of day someone writes me an e-mail. The difference between 4:10 p.m. and 4:10 a.m. is distinct.
E-mail gives us room to screw up but also gives us room to clear things up. Not all late-night e-mails are for purposes of confession, but for clarification. Lets just make sure were on the same page after our discussion earlier tonight. Electronic means of communication will never replace conversation, but they can be a helpful aid to conversation.
Sadly, e-mail is inherently contrived. Its an illusion of casualty. Calling someone you like is a big deal, but sending them an e-mail? No problem. What could be lost? She doesnt e-mail you back, and you quietly assume that she didnt really like you in the first place, without ever having to see or hear the rejection from her. Also, e-mails allow us to edit or rework seemingly casual letters. When receiving an e-mail, most people dont think about how much time could have gone into its composition. Why? Because its a casual e-mail! Young lovers: do not be fooled.
Then there is the tricky notion of e-mail courting and flirtation. Both parties write charming messages throughout the day, checking e-mail between classes, after lunch, before dinner, after working out, before bedtime, and in the morning. Its a little jolt of excitement every time they open the inbox. Taken to a severe degree, this type of e-mail correspondence borders on eerily conversational, which means its time to get a cup of coffee and actually look at one another.
Perhaps a sentimental point, but I miss snail mail. While Ive definitely read some love e-mails, they hardly compare to love letters. Whats more exciting: a typed message in your inbox, or a hand-written note in your P.O. box?
Finally, there is the ridiculous compulsion to save and scrutinize every e-mail someone sends you. If you are prone to sending late-nighters, you might consider sending a copy to yourself first to read over; people have been known to use e-mails against each other. For example, Youre telling me that you dont think were getting along very well, but on Oct. 10 at 1:23 a.m. you sent me this contradictory e-mail reading we are perfect together. What gives?!
Essential rule: keep it real, even in the electronic world. Be truthful and things will eventually work out. Just remember: e-mails are never replacements for face-to-face interaction.
To send our sex columnist a late-nighter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. She is available for questions and comments on all subjects sexual.