Several years ago when chat rooms were not as filled with kids, spammers, or pervs, a friend introduced me to AOL. (It has been years since I have used AOL so I have no idea what their chat rooms are like now.) While I owned a computer and used it in my office, I had never explored the internet. It was an amazing world that unfolded beneath my finger tips and on the monitor screen. I loved what a search engine could find as well as the ability to talk with people from all over the world without having to come up with the cash to travel all over the world.
One evening I met ‘Sam’ (name changed) in a chat room. We had some things in common, were about the same age, had a similar sense of humor, were both single, and he lived very close to an area that I wanted to move to. Over the course of a few months we formed a friendship that was both heart-warming and life altering for both of us.
He was just as fascinated with the internet as I was and we discussed the pros and cons of talking with someone online instead of in person. It was easier to say things to someone via writing than it was in person because you almost forgot that you were talking to someone and instead felt more like you were writing in a diary. You also had no idea who the other person really was and could only know them as well as they allowed themselves to be represented. They could be making everything up, but so could you. If you decided that someone was just too weird, all you had to do was block them and they couldn’t talk to you anymore. If they didn’t like you, they could do the same. All of those things made it easier to relax and fully be one’s self.
I don’t remember which of us started it, but eventually we came up with a game of sorts. We would come up with questions that we wanted to know about the other person, but when the question was sent, we had to have already included our own answer. The rules were: there was no subject that was off limits, you must be completely honest in your answer, the answer could be any length as long as there was no evading the actual issue, since the answers would often contain great amounts of vulnerability there was to be no teasing about sensitive subjects (these had to be noted by the author or else it was fair game – no mind reading was expected), and there was no sharing the answer with anyone else without permission. Because we both liked to push the edge a bit, we started off with things that were pretty easy but moved on to the kind of questions that leave some piece of you out in the open. Examples include: who is your favorite family member and why, if you could do anything that you wanted to do what would it be, what do you want people to remember about you long after you are dead, what are you most scared of, what makes you happiest, why did your last relationship fail and what part did you play in it, what experience have you had in your life that you believe shaped every experience after it, who hurt you the most, who loves you most, what is love, what is your favorite part of your job, and the list went on.
What surprised both of us most is that there were many times when we discovered just as much about ourself as we did the other person. We often told each other that we should save all of the letters and put them in a book one day because if we were growing that much from it, maybe other people would learn things too. I saved all of them, but they are on floppy discs. At some point when I still owned a computer that could read them I pulled them out to see if maybe they were goofy and had only seemed cool to us, but they were pretty amazing letters and I laughed and cried just as much as the first read through. It was the first time in my life that I realized that it was possible to love someone because they were an incredible person and that the love felt for them was in no way dependent upon the feeling being mutual. He later used almost those exact words.
Sam started dating someone about a year into our conversations and it worked out for them. She was a little confused about a relationship he had a with another girl online who he had never met in person but was very close to and she didn’t really care for our continued chatting. So over the course of another year or two, our conversations waned to few and far between. It wasn’t that we had been dating online, we had both been single so there was some flirtation that would happen prior to either of us being with someone, but mostly we were just very close. Later I met and married someone as well. Sam and I tried to go back to our letters, but even with both of us happily married, his wife wasn’t fond of the idea. So the relationship has faded away but the growth from it remains.
Although I asked a few people if they were interested in exploring the game since then, I’ve never met someone else willing to formally play the game in written format. The level of vulnerability is just too much for most people. My husband dislikes typing, but marriage has its own vulnerability and though it isn’t recorded in letters, he and I eventually covered most of the questions in conversation. But it is different to have someone who isn’t with you most of the day asking questions like that…questions that you can come back to when you aren’t in the middle of cooking dinner or folding laundry. It is also different to ask via letters because it makes it easier to give your answer and ask the question at the same time. I still miss the experience at times because so much growth came of it. My friend, Scott Sonnon, created something called ‘Softwork’ for martial artists which (as I understand it) allows one to experience an encounter without the heightened emotional state…things are slowed down and if it gets too scary everyone just backs off a bit. Though the term wasn’t familiar to me at the time, in some ways Sam and I did emotional Softwork with each other.
Regardless, the questions that Sam and I asked and answered did much to help create my comfortable soul and deserve some recognition. If any of you decide to play the game with someone, (be safe about it if you do!!!) I’d be curious to know how it works out.