July 14, 2007 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Besides being a secret gangster river-raft courier, what effects random hilarious, interesting, intimate (in a goetting-to-know-someone, not sexual way) e-mails and then dropping off the face of the earth... only to re-appear suddenly with ferver 1-2 months later?

So I have a friend (male), we'll call him JimBob. I'm female. We're both straight, but nothing has or can happen between us beyond friendship, nor has it every come up.

But JimBob is a good friend. We get along smashingly well and have some similar histories, life choices, interests and sense of humor that build our rapport. Yet he's an interesting person and things are always fresh.

I get an e-mail (or two, or three before I've had a chance to respond) that goes something like this:


How areya doing? ??? !!! ?!?! !!!!!!!!!! ??? . ??? . . ?? !!!! ? ! .

Ok, talk to you later.


Basically a whole lot of questions and sharing of what's been going on, funny stories, more questions.

Sometimes I'll get 2-3 of these in a 1-2 day time span from him.

So I'll respond, and we'll e-mail back and forth for 2-3 days. Then suddenly, he disappears. Leaves my questions hanging. No exciting, fun, friendly, hilarious e-mail from my friend.

5-8 weeks later, he drops in again and it repeats.

My question is this: What woud prompt someone to have such a fluctuating e-mail cycle? I know he's not married with kids, I do know JimBob in person, and know a great deal about what's generally going on in his life. There's no secret life I'm aware of (then I guess it wouldn't be a secret life anymore, but...)

Do any of you do this? Why? What motivates you get uppity and e-mail a friend that's pretty much full of OMGLOLZ but in a more grammatically correct way with more details, then fade away for a while?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Some people aren't serious about email. It may be the medium.
posted by cmiller at 12:08 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think this is something called the buffer effect. Basically you like somebody, then it gets annoying because, as you say, nothing can happen between you beyond friendship, so you drop the whole thing - your buffer is empty. Then after a while - 5-8 weeks - you forget about the bad bits, romaticize the good bits, your buffer fills up again and you get in touch. And in doing so you're reminded of why you dropped it in the first place - the general futility of your endeavours.
Were we as intelligent as we like to consider ourselves to be, we wouldn't do this, but alas we're not. Repetative, cyclical behaviour is pretty natural, despite it being thoroughly disappointing.
posted by forallmankind at 12:08 PM on July 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Alcohol or bi-polar disorder will do this. A person with a busy work life will do this. A person who doesn't have a lot going on may wait a while until they have fun stories.
Maybe jimbob just doesn't feel like writing everyday.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:11 PM on July 14, 2007

he/she is dating around. Or he/she is a secret agent on assignment in Bucharest.
posted by santojulieta at 12:11 PM on July 14, 2007

Maybe he's in the military and periodically gets assigned to exotic places with minimal communications (Wake Island, for example) for 6 weeks at a stretch.

OTOH, maybe you should ask him! Next time he recontacts you after 5-8 weeks reply something to the effect of "Hey! Where the heck have you been? =)"
posted by ilsa at 12:13 PM on July 14, 2007

He could be busy, a flake, or some other innocuous kind of person. I have friends who I go through periods of time not talking (or email) so much, and then pick up where we left off. In fact, it's a bit of an annoyance when people think that there has to be some kind of structure to friendship and who take it personally when things don't satisfy that structure, possibly correlating the frequency of conversation to some perceived value of the friendship.
posted by rhizome at 12:19 PM on July 14, 2007

I've done this. I get really excited about reconnecting with someone only to get busy or, at least, busy enough to not be able to work my schedule around them. It's a thrill to reconnect with someone and I wouldn't take it personally that he drops off the face of the planet. I'm sure he loves the chit-chat, but other things may come up and keep him from having the leisure to say "Hi" everyday.

I usually augment my longer e-mails with little Facebook Hi's. In lieu of that, silence is really the only other option.

On the other hand, if this is a romantic engagement it's because he gets lonely in between relationships. I definitley feel a little slimy sometimes, but when I was single I'd revive all kind of dead relationships just to feel wanted.
posted by GilloD at 1:08 PM on July 14, 2007

Yeah, I have a lot of these. People are flakey, or they just want to 'check in' to keep you in their lives and let you know they care, without letting things get too intense especially if there's no chance of a romantic relationship. I wouldn't get offended about it, but maybe don't take the correspondence too seriously or let yourself get too attached.
posted by np312 at 1:29 PM on July 14, 2007

I do this sometimes, and I'm not bipolar or especially busy. I guess being flaky is the best explanation, even if it doesn't seem like a very satisfying one. In my case it's compounded by my relatively low social needs.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:34 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

"How areya doing? ??? !!! ?!?! !!!!!!!!!! ??? . ??? . . ?? !!!! ? ! . Ok, talk to you later."

Judging from the example text, is it possible he's only writing you when he's drunk or otherwise under the influence, then doesn't get back to writing you until the next time he's been doing this thing?

You seem articulate, and he does not. Perhaps his inability to keep up with the conversation leads him to lose interest in the correspondence? I know a few people who write like this, and they're just not the sort of people who get into long back-and-forth email discussions.
posted by majick at 1:47 PM on July 14, 2007

Yep, I do this sometimes, as do a lot of people I know. It's just a thing. We should indeed be more thoughtful about such things, but as long as nobody is writing to me, "hey, where the hell did you go?" then there's no negative feedback to make me change anything. ;)
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:47 PM on July 14, 2007

One other possibility is that, for JimBob, writing is fun, but writing back doesn't come as naturally. I can see evidence of this habit in my own inbox. When I first write my (hopefully) witty paragraphs about amusing adventures, it's fun. They don't take hours of crafting; the words just flow. But now that my friends have written back with comments and their own clever tales, writing back seems like hard work. Their stories entertained me, but I don't necessarily have anything to "say" to them, apart from "Wow, huh, that's something, eh?" Yet it seems rude to skip over their stories without comment and continue on with what is easy for me to write about.

It's not deliberate, but what ends up happening is that enough time has to pass until the urge to be in touch wins out over the drudgery of coming up with responses, and that is usually a month or two.
posted by xo at 2:12 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could ask JimBob directly?
posted by fieldtrip at 2:34 PM on July 14, 2007

He's enjoying being found "random, hilarious, interesting" on his own terms when he needs a little female attention?
posted by availablelight at 2:42 PM on July 14, 2007

Anxiety does this to me. I like the thrill of reconnecting, but when it comes to actually keeping up, making plans, I get avoidant. Then the feeling passes and I connect again... lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:07 PM on July 14, 2007

Some options:

1) He's kind of a flake.
2) He gets busy.
3) He likes talking to you because you pay semi-sexual attention to him, and then he has enough of it and drops out for a while. When he needs more flirtatious attention, he emails you again.

A combination of the three seems likely to me.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:40 PM on July 14, 2007

I can't sustain a "small-talk" conversation in email. I have to be really talking to a person to converse.

At any one time I have probably 60% of my friends 3+ timezones away, so I need to stay in contact with them. But it's usually in the "How are you? Oh that's cool." email or two every month.

Email to me is the opposite of sharing an experience with a person. I put a fair amouunt of effort into it, but what it comes down to is that until I'm going to see them in person again I really am only interested in the highlights of their lives. Tell me about your new job, but I don't care about when you are an oatmeal raisin cookie because you thought it was chocolate chip. So I wait 4-6 weeks for exciting events to build up, we share them and then repeat.
posted by Ookseer at 5:57 PM on July 14, 2007

um, you run out of things to talk about after a couple days? that's why my friends and i drop out for weeks at a time.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:00 PM on July 14, 2007

I often have this kind of correspondence cycle (hopefully that doesn't mean I'm a flake) with both my male and female friends. I kind of think of a chunk of e-mails as a conversations spread out over a few days, with the same purpose as a phone call. I do not call most people everyday, but I do call to reconnect and chat with friends every couple of weeks/months. Similarly, I e-mail most of my friends every so often, we exchange a volley of e-mail, then it fades out eventually. Very few friends are e-mail-every-day-each-day-forever friends, just as very few friends are phone-call-every-day-each-day-forever-friends.

Plus, when I had an office job, I did a lot e-mailing at work (opps...) so my e-mail cycle was correlated to my workload and/or ability to resist procrastination.

I don't usually send more than one before the other person has had a chance to respond, though. And I try not too leave questions unanswered to such a degress. So maybe something else is going on here.
posted by lalalana at 6:37 AM on July 15, 2007

i do this all the time. if i don't respond within a day or two i generally forget about responding for a month or two. most of my friends are hundreds or thousands of miles away and have been forever. i'm not overly concerned with the day to day aspects of those i care about. it's not that i don't care, i do care a great deal about the people i let into my life. it's just that the general aspects of life are about as interesting as someone telling me about a dream they had. if something important is going on, then i'll increase my level of attention accordingly. otherwise i expect things are good and i'll check in when they cross my mind. i think of it as people have only so much love/attention to spread around. if i kept up a weekly correspondence with everyone i've ever had the level of rapport you speak of, it would be a full time job and that's not counting family. generally i'll write a few emails every couple of weeks, catching up with a few friends. if i write more then three or so, it turns into a form letter and i hate that.

essentially it's like a pyramid, the really invested and old friendships on the top get the most attention. the rest have different grades of importance, not conciously. he probably does care a great deal, checks in and you're doin' fine, he feels good to know your aces, so he goes about his life for a bit. until that day rolls around where you cross his mind and he needs to check in to know you're ok. for me at least it's not flakiness, my friendships are such that they don't need constant nurturing, they're solid and we pick up when we pick up. no harm, no foul. we care about each other and that's all we need to know, when shit goes down we're there. but i just don't give a shit about the inanities that occur to all of us daily, it's exhausting. oh, i also take care of people professionally, so that may be part of it to.

yikes, this is long. but have you considered that your looking for more and just haven't faced that? i get the impression you may be pining a bit, why else would it matter that much and would you even notice this from someone else?
posted by andywolf at 3:31 PM on July 15, 2007

Social Anxiety: Sometimes my nostalgia or loneliness buffers need to fill up to the point where they are stronger than my fear of wasting someone's time.

Likewise, in marketing and non-profit development they have the concept of a tickler list. Basically, if there are people that you want to keep in touch with, you set an interval on your calendar to remind you to send out a hello. Someone who values the importance of all their relationships, weak and strong, might formally or informally have a tickler list of their own.
posted by Skwirl at 11:04 PM on July 15, 2007

After daily circumstance delay a timely reply, guilt prevents a reply. It can build up over time. I have a new friend with whom I am in this state currently. Life got uncharacteristically busy, and time passed. And there are times when Metafilter seems far more interesting than writing someone an email.
posted by Goofyy at 3:44 AM on July 16, 2007

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