To make something unpalatable to a sixth grader, assign it as homework.
My teacher didn’t quite realize this and decided to match all of her students with pen pals from far far away… but not far enough away to make the exercise interesting. This was back before email had caught on, so we were using good old fashioned pen and paper. And the first letter or two counted towards our grade.
To make matters worse, we wrote the initial letter before knowing who we were being matched with. So, technically, we weren’t even writing to anyone. That’s always a good start.
And then someone finally did the pairing. I don’t know what logic they used but I ended up with a basketball player. That’s all I remember about her because she sent pictures of herself in uniform. (This was with her first letter.) Brilliant idea. I had a baseball card collection a long time back but I was no athlete and no fan of watching sports. And, generally speaking, I probably would have never chosen to befriend this girl. She just wasn’t my type.
I don’t remember whether my teacher required us to write a second letter. However, I do remember that I never wrote again after the requirement ended. My teacher’s attempt to inspire regular writing might have worked better if someone in charge had known how to match pen pals effectively.
It would never have occurred to me that the person on the other side was expecting another reply. I don’t know what she and her classmates were told about this whole pen pal thing, but hopefully our level of excitement hadn’t been misrepresented. In any case, she eventually sent me a “why haven’t you written?” letter. I don’t remember any details but I didn’t respond. No one ever asked me if I wanted a pen pal and, since I was twelve and only understood the exercise as a homework assignment, I couldn’t understand why someone would be so into interacting sporadically with someone they had never met, have nothing in common with, and likely would never meet.
And then I received another letter from her in 11th or 12th grade. With another picture, again in basketball uniform and with enormous hair. If she was insinuating “look at this hot woman you missed out on,” I didn’t catch it. Perhaps it’s because she still wasn’t my type.
And then she finished high school and became a porn star.
Just kidding. I never heard from or about her again and I can’t say I’m disappointed. It probably helps that I don’t have a personal Facebook account. And I would love to leave you with a warm and fuzzy moral to this story but I don’t feel like it today. So here’s what I’ve got:
Once upon a time, you could ignore “friends” you had never met and get away with it without encountering much creepiness. Those were the good old days.