Why I owe some of my greatest friendships to email
Whenever I tell someone that I still email with my two best friends, they always give me a sort of half-smile, like, Wait, you mean it? In a world of texts, tweets, snaps and Facebook messages, email is now typically reserved for business correspondence, statements about our bank accounts, and emails about sales that do damage to those same bank accounts. But for me and my best friends, email is a place where we talk about the hard stuff — and it always has been.
I started emailing my best friends in elementary school. We sat in our sixth grade classroom passing notes before realizing we had more to say than what could fit on a shredded up piece of paper — legibly, anyway. We exchanged email addresses, the silly ones that became embarrassing as soon as we reached college and needed email accounts for more than just sending joke e-cards. Once we started writing each other, it never really stopped.
The messages were short at first. In neon colored, curly fonts, we talked about school, the latest drama, and what books we were reading. Before long, though, we were opening up about the realest parts of ourselves. Through email, we grieved over the loss of family members, we came to terms with our fears and anxieties, and we shared poems and stories.
The general nature of email — the fact that it takes up the whole screen, as opposed to ads and other distractions on Facebook, or the general distraction of being on your phone — made it a space for longform examinations of our lives. Via email, we cultivated our own vulnerability and dedicated ourselves to being a judgment-free zone for each other, no matter what the topic.
College was the first time our trio separated, with two heading north and one heading south. We worried, hesitantly, if our friendship would crack under the pressure of distance. It was too hard to find time to Skype; after all, we would all be making friends in new places. None of us wanted the other to miss out on new experiences in favor of clinging to the old. Texts went unreturned, and phone calls dropped thanks to bad service in ancient dorm rooms.
But email existed for us, and it didn’t require immediate response. Many new forms of communication feel more urgent; once the notification on your phone goes away, it slips your mind if you don’t have the time to answer immediately, but emails are still there when you log on again. It somehow felt easier, too, to get it all out on our laptops than on our phones. The silence of the communication made it safe for secrets to be shared in the presence of roommates. That was key, and of the utmost importance for us: all of our secrets existed in silence, and there didn’t have to be an immediate response. The sender didn’t have to worry about looks of shock, horror, or disgust, and the recipient of the message could take the time to compose themselves before responding. Email gave us space to digest what was sometimes truly horrible, or truly shocking, so we could respond in the way that would best fit the situation.
I came out to my best friends through email. I talked my best friends through their first sexual experiences. We talked about healthy relationships, and unhealthy ones, too. We admitted to the times we’d been cruel, or been hurt. We shared love, and warmth, and good vibes.
Email is our space to be confessional, and we’re so much stronger for it.