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Monday, June 06, 2005

Silk Stalkings 1: Endless Love?

It may be merely a side effect of my early inexperience with women, or it may be, as some people have recently claimed, something about my personality, but I have accumulated four stalkers in the past few years. This post covers the first one...

She was my first real dating experience. Let's call her Maggie. She lived abroad, and we had a whirlwind summer teenage romance when I was fourteen. No sex, mind you.

I stayed with a student's family, a homestay. This girl was his cousin's best friend. She was a year older than I. She was the number four student in her all-girls school. She was studying both art and pre-medicine. She was the fifth and last girl in her family, whose father gave her a name that meant: [yet] another girl. Yes, the world can be unfair.

We met at his cousin's birthday party, an innocent affair with the two of us and at least ten women. Mind you, this was when dating in that country, especially between students of this age, was verboten. Military roamed the streets to supress rioters, and the general government situation was repressive. It was quite unusual for my homestay and I to show up at a girl's birthday party, but I was brought along for the novelty value.

And given that I was the shaggy haired, free spirited American boy, there for only the summer in an age of great uncertainty and unrest, I imagine the social risk seemed managable, and we dated in defiance of the local wags.

After a teary airport farewell, we exchanged daily letters. In the natural course of things, these letters gradually dwindled from daily to monthly, and then either she or I forgot a birthday or a holiday, and soon there was no more correspondence.

Meanwhile she had become a doctor of some reknown. I went on to do whatever it is that I do.

One day about two years ago I receive an email from my father, who says that he received a phone call from Maggie asking for my contact information. He gave it to her. And that's how it started: an innocent mistake.

Mind you, it's 20 years later when she calls me. I dislike the phone, so I direct her to email contact, and we correspond over the next few months. Maggie is married and has a ten-year old girl. She travels all over the world to present her research. Career wise, she is happy, and I am happy for her.

She requests a meeting in the US, and so I arrange lunch after a walk in Central Park. This was the second mistake.

At lunch she hands me a large hand-decorated box, about the size of a box for boots. In it, I kid you not, are a hundred letters, hand-drawn postcards, and handmade giftlets like bookmarks, pressed flowers, and other such things.

Along with that comes an eventually tearful confession: the home life is less than wonderful. Her in-laws live with her, and she hasn't had sex with her husband for years although she claims to love him and know that he loves her. She misses me.

Did I mention we hadn't met for twenty years?

Now this is what is called, "Too Much Information", on top of which I'd add, "A No-Win Situation."

I am sad. As a first love, I sympathize with her. I want to help her. But I don't want to feel sorry for her, and I don't want to have a relationship with her. So I give her a little verbal sympathy, for example telling her that I was certain her husband wasn't ignoring her because she was unattractive, and that her daughter sounded wonderful and a worthwhile cause for her family focus. I gave her a chaste kiss on the forehead when she leaves. It isn't until later that I realize that it is the first time I have ever kissed her.

But this fact isn't lost on Maggie. This is the third mistake. Perhaps a better thing would have been to be cold to her. That's what I would have told myself if I could go back in time.

A torrent of emails ensued. She wanted to meet me again, to rekindle something. After a few weeks of this, I told her no. I told her that I wasn't a fix for her family issues, that she should focus on them with the same intensity as work, and anyhow I wasn't interested personally. I believe that being brutally honest is the right approach. But it isn't enough. She is not convinced. She attempts to convince me that a short meeting would have no harm. She sends me gifts and letters, which, on the advice of a friend, I return unopened. The same friend advises me to stop returning emails, which I do.

She emails me copiously. She tries to pull emotional strings, she talks about suicide. At this point I break down and email her that she needs to seek professional help, and shortly afterwards put her on my block list.

She finds my work email, starts harassing my parents, and bugs my secretary to divulge my travel schedule so she can arrange to be there to meet me. At one point she sees my name on a conference schedule in Hong Kong and flies there to see me. But there is a freak event that diverts my plane and I never attend. I hear about it from the panel coordinator, who tells me that she was looking for me. He thought she was a particularly hyperactive press person...

At that time, it gave me the chills. My theory at this point is that I have done nothing wrong, although mistakes were made. As sympathetic (or pathetic) as her situation may be, I feel for her but cannot do anything about it.

So for the next two years, I merely am silent while she slowly gives up. Now I receive maybe one letter every three or four months. Recently she discovered that I moved to Asia not too far away from her. She has suggested meeting, but again, only episodically.

Dear reader, did I do something wrong? Was I too kind? Maggie is no psycho-stalker, but there is a sad psychology there, and I feel bad because I do pity her.


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