Dear Family Whisperer: Why Doesn't This Millennial Want to Stay In Touch?

Dear Family Whisperer,
When I was a freshman in high school in 1964, I met a young man who became a life long friend until his death in 2002. We were very close (never intimate — although for nearly 40 years he was always trying) and remained friends through many good and bad times. He joined the army after high school and on my 19th birthday sent me a loving letter about his personal poems of life in California and his current love (who became his 1st wife shortly after that). When he couldn’t have a birthday dinner with me because he was stationed overseas, he had his mom send me a box of mac and cheese. Many years after leaving the army, when he married for the 3rd time, I attended the wedding and. then, visiting again a year later when his daughter was born, I was fortunate enough to see him before cancer took him (the following year). I kept in touch with the family after his death. His widow remarried a few years later and our correspondence died out.
        Last year, when cleaning out old boxes, I found the original envelope with those poems he sent me when I was 19. I was able to locate his daughter through an Internet search and reached out and asked if she’d like those poems, and she sent a nice reply that she would. I mailed (via certified receipt) them to her (including the original envelope that had a 12-cent stamp). I included a letter stating I’d like to keep in touch in the future — just at the Christmas holidays. After 5 days, knowing the package had arrived, I sent an email just to verify. Her only response was “Yep – got it.”
          I haven’t contacted her after that curt reply but it bothers me that she was so abrupt. Is this a trait of the Millennials now or was I being selfish to want to keep in contact with the daughter of my dear friend?

I rarely reprint such long letters but I thought the details of this one say a lot about relationships, friendship, marriage, divorce, children, and the times we live in. The short answer is: You are not being selfish, but neither is the daughter’s curt reply necessarily typical of the Millennial generation.

Your disappointment and hurt — because that’s what it sounds like — is understandable. You miss a dear friend of 38 years who once had a crush on you. Especially as we get older, long-term, even casual, relationships become more important. These are people who know us “when.” As an old college roommate of mine once said to me, “I can never be your consequential stranger, Melinda. I knew your parents!”

That you could even track down your friend’s daughter is, of course, thanks to the march of technology. It also speak volumes about how important this guy was to you. You kept in touch all those years through letters, which require much more time, effort, and forethought than dashing off an email.

But every relationship — no matter how brief or how it begins and unfolds — is the product of two people. Consider your request from the daughter’s perspective. Out of the blue, she receives an email from a complete stranger offering love letters written by her father about his first wife. Who knows what she’s heard from him or her mother or grandmother about that marriage or the one that followed?

That she sent a “nice reply” tells us that she is courteous and at least minimally curious. But beyond that, you don’t have a clue about her relationship with her father or what she’s been through in her own life.

Also, not everyone likes to “keep in touch,” even though it’s certainly easier now. Search the internet for “holiday letters” and you’ll find plenty of people who dislike them. This young lady simply might not want to pursue an ongoing relationship with some lady who knew her father in high school

Human brains are shaped by the technologies we use, as well as by whatever else is happening at that historical moment.  Baby Boomers (of which, based on the dates you provide, you are one) are different from Millennials and have different ideas about relationships, marriage, gender, and countless other social constructs and mores.  But every generational cohort is comprised of unique individuals. You don’t know this girl at all. It’s not fair to jump to conclusions based on her birth year. She has her own personality, history, and social convoy – relationships she’s picked up throughout her life.

I’d suggest you craft one (possibly final) email to give yourself closure, perhaps telling her how good it made you feel to find her and to pass on her father’s writing. But let go of your expectations.

You might be surprised — she might answer. Or not. And then, as much as it pains you, it’s time to close the book on this particular chapter of your life.

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