I think a lot of us can see ourselves in this week's essay - that is, the version that spends three grand to travel across the world to see a man we've never met.
Kim Gamble is set up with a journalist working in China after a colleague in Beijing suggests they might hit it off. Their email correspondence begins along proscribed lines: "In my experience, ambivalence is the best way to pique a man’s curiosity, so I made the apologetic e-mail message I sent him accordingly nonchalant: 'Sorry my co-worker is being so presumptuous. Just ignore her attempt at match-making.' I went on to make a joke about blind dates being a standard parting gift for guests."
Things take off; the two begin writing regularly. Although Gamble strives for breeziness - "the written equivalent of spending $500 at the beauty counter to look as though I’d only put on lip gloss" - she becomes increasingly wrapped up in the semi-relationship, still unromantic but slightly flirtatious, in a way that feels nauseatingly, achingly familiar to almost anyone who's ever had an email account, been single, dated, or been lonely.
In the months that followed, I became more preoccupied with China than was otherwise explainable, developing a sudden passion for the Olympics and conducting graduate-student-worthy research on the Gang of Four. I started getting out of bed at midnight to check my e-mail, estimating, with the time difference, when he most likely would have had a moment to write...I was finally moved to action, pathetically, by the arrival of an Asian-themed issue of Condé Nast Traveler. I logged on to Expedia, entered my credit card number and booked a flight out of J.F.K. for Beijing...In preparing for the trip I didn’t bother to look up the translation for words like 'desperate' or 'crazy.'
She fabricates a pretext and writes her pen-pal a causal note explaining she's in town on business."It seemed important both to internalize and project that I wasn’t actually a woman who would spend $3,000 to travel halfway around the world to have a gin and tonic with a stranger." They have dinner and kind of hit it off. In the days that follow, although they don't so much as kiss and she has to pretend she's doing work all the time instead of sightseeing, she grows to really like him. And, then, on her last night, the blow: "He told me he had been seeing someone, a woman he met a month before and with whom he felt potential."
What is so heartbreaking about this story is not that it's He's Just Not That Into You-pathetic; it isn't. The author seems basically self-aware, and is definitely competent and successful. As for the love interest, he's not exactly a cad; just conflict-averse like most men.(I do think her equivocating between their two "lies" is a bit of a self-justification, but the dame has her pride.) The scale is bigger, the costs higher, but I think a lot of us can identify with some of the author's blindness and desire for connection. When you find it, after all, it's hard to let that go - especially when it feels reciprocal. Reading it, I felt my heart sinking and actually whispering, "don't do it!" under my breath. In fact, in my opinion, this encapsulates the pain of unrequited loneliness in the modern world far better than any crappy ensemble rom-com can; save yourself the $10 (give or take) and remember that there's nothing cute about loneliness.
My Mr. Right, in the Land of Make-Believe [New York Times]