It was three weeks until Christmas, and Nelson wanted to do something special for Inga. He had thought about giving her an English version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, her favorite book, but he sought to do something on a much grander scale. A trip to the U.S. would fit that bill nicely. But when? New Year’s Eve was Nelson’s favorite holiday, and while he knew it would be terribly expensive to fly someone from Russia to Minnesota during the holidays, he couldn’t think of a better time to meet his new love than the start of a new year. His palms and fingertips were sweaty with excitement as he wrote his message to her:
I don’t think I can wait until the summer to meet you. What if you came to the U.S. for New Year’s Eve? It’s my favorite time of the year, not to mention the most romantic. We could go to the Elk’s Lodge party — they always throw a good one — and watch the countdown. Just thinking about kissing you at midnight gets me agitated (in a good way). I know you probably don’t have much money, so I’d like to pay for it as my Christmas present to you. I do fairly well for myself, and since I live pretty cheaply it would be my pleasure to fly you here. You can stay at a hotel if that makes you more comfortable, of course. We can take it slow.
These past couple of months have meant the world to me. If I was speaking honestly, I think I’ve fallen a little bit in love with you. Just wanted you to know that before you made your decision. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Nelson breathed out in nervous relief as his email flew away to the other side of the earth. His message was sent on a Sunday night, and as was the norm, a week passed without response from Inga. And so, as the weekend approached, Nelson’s anticipation grew. Thanks to the time change, Nelson would often hear from Inga late on Friday nights, waiting until just before bed to check his email. At 9:52 pm, Nelson fired up the computer, waited patiently for his browser to come alive, and scrolled through the dozen or so new messages in his inbox. None were from Inga.
“Stupid. Stupid, Nelson,” he said to himself. He felt like an idiot- what kind of a man tells a girl he’s in love with her over email? “No wonder she hasn’t written back. I made an idiot of myself,” he thought. Nelson slowly calmed down with a few sips of Beam, and after a long, deep breath he surmised that she had possibly driven home to Saint Petersburg late after work and was too tired to write a lengthy message. He figured (and hoped) that she decided to get some sleep and get to it first thing in the morning. His last message was certainly one of importance, but maybe she felt it was TOO important to give a quick response to and was planning on a magnificent letter back to him the next day. Nelson comforted himself with that thought and fell asleep soundly.
The next morning was the same. Still no email from Inga. In fact, there were no emails from any prospective penpals at all. Even though Nelson had fallen in love and only had eyes for Inga, he still maintained his profiles on other Penpals-Direct sites around the world, although he never responded to any of them. Thinking and hoping that there may have been a technical difficulty somewhere along the way, Nelson wrote a note to firstname.lastname@example.org:
I haven’t received word from my penpals in a few days — just making sure everything’s a-okay over there. Thanks.
An immediate, automated response landed in his inbox:
Thank you for your inquiry. We will respond to your question in the order that it was received. Please allow 48–72 hours for a response. Thank you for using Penpals-Direct!
The Penpals-Direct Team
Disappointed but undeterred, Nelson comforted himself with the belief that there was a technological problem damming up the internet’s communication lines. There’s no way that Inga would fail to respond to any of his messages let alone this message.
Another week went by — another email to support and another “we’ll get back to you soon” response. By the time he got home from work on Friday evening, Nelson was in a state of stress he hadn’t felt before. Immediately after arriving home, Nelson broke his usual regimen and fired up the computer. He couldn’t wait until bedtime to see if Inga had responded — his stomach couldn’t take it. The computer cycled up, Nelson sat down, he pressed the “internet explorer” icon and…no internet connection at all. It was going to be a long weekend.