What if you get a message on Facebook from someone you knew many years ago — someone you haven't had any contact with in all that time? And what if you have no desire to connect with that person? What do you do?
Those questions came up for me in the last few days. But I wasn't the person who received the Facebook message. I was the one who sent it.
The man from my past I tried to connect with has a common name, but I had no doubt that I was sending the message to the right person. Here's what I sent:
"Did you live in Istanbul in 1969? I was there at the time and would periodically show up at your apartment. Strike a bell?"
Within minutes, I received the following reply: "Yes." Nothing else. No info about himself, no friendly chit-chat, no questions about me. Nothing else. Just the one word: "Yes."
I immediately sent a follow-up note: "I recall one time buying artichokes with long stems and leaving them outside your door, since you weren't home. When I came back, hours later, you and your wife had already figured out who had left the artichokes and were already preparing them for dinner."
But then: nothing. No acknowledgment, no response. So the sum total of what he sent me was the one-word initial answer to my having asked him if he remembered me.
In 1969 in Turkey, this man and his wife were both finishing a stint in the Peace Corps. He was a budding journalist in his mid-20s. I was about the same age, a drifter and merchant seaman. He wrote a story about me for a local English-language publication, a romanticized portrait of the person I was back then: someone who had dropped out of "normal" society in order to work as a deck-hand, travel the world and seek adventure.
We spent perhaps a dozen evenings together, this couple and I, chatting into the night. I enjoyed their company, and I believe that they enjoyed mine; otherwise, he wouldn't have written a gracious article about me and the life I lived.
But if so, then after not having had any contact for more than 40 years, why had the man responded only with the single word: "Yes"? Clearly, he remembered me, but he didn't go beyond that stark, definitive word.
Of course, I was disappointed by the curt reply. But beyond that, I realized how useful his response was. Nowadays, it's not unusual to receive messages from people we knew way back when. But what if the outreach is unwanted? Sure, you could ignore it, pretend you never got it. But then you leave the other person uncertain about having found you. So they go on trying, perhaps again and again. So that option's out.
And if you say you have no recollection of the person who sent you the note, it would be a lie. Do you really want to lie in this situation? That doesn't seem right either.
If you say that you do remember the person and then write more, showing interest, then it opens the door to full-blown catch-up, which you certainly don't want.
So, given the alternative scenarios, a "yes," with no follow-up or elaboration, seems perfect, as if saying, "You found me. I'm the one you're looking for. But I have no interest in learning what you've done these last 40 years, no interest in sharing with you the ins and outs of my life-path. We had some good moments decades ago, let's leave it at that."
A good lesson to learn. If you hear from someone you don't want to reconnect with, that's the perfect way to handle it. You acknowledge that the other person has indeed found you, but you answer in a way that makes follow-up impossible.
So, to all of you with whom I don't feel like reconnecting after all these years: You want to know if I remember you? My total and entire answer is:
Roberto Loiederman grew up in Baltimore and is co-author of "The Eagle Mutiny," a nonfiction account of the only armed shipboard mutiny on a U.S. vessel in modern times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.