When a Brush With Death Makes You More Outgoing

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A previous reader in the online dating thread follows up:

I am the “25-year-old dude who loathes online dating.” The reader’s response to my email is interesting. I rather enjoyed it (especially the Tevye reference!) and it made me have to really think about my position.

I want to emphasize that I was not “effortlessly social” prior to my month-long stay in the hospital. In fact, I was very much an introvert. It took a long glance over the precipice of my existence to come to the conclusion that I applied too much pressure to my social interactions. I would sweat over dates; I would stutter and fidget. I was a wreck when it came to interacting with women or even male acquaintances.

After a brush with death, I realized that not only had I secluded myself, but I had gone about interacting with others the wrong way: I would put enormous amounts of pressure on myself to impress or to avoid embarrassment. I decided then, as I limped around the hospital with a tube 12 centimeters into my chest and emptying my inner fluids into a box that I held like a purse, that I wanted to meet people.

I know this sounds unbelievably simple; it is! But although meeting people was really difficult for me to do, I decided that it was not as hard as what I had just gone through. My experience grounded me, and it bestowed clarity. My original post implored others to not be shy, to not apply so much pressure, because life is short. I’m really concerned that the more reliant on technology we are, the less human we become—especially when it comes to meeting other humans!

I do not partake in online dating because I enjoy the moment I meet someone and we reveal ourselves to one another (with conversation, of course). I can gauge how friendly, how kind, how outgoing one is speaking to them for the first time in person, as opposed to online messages that are not limited by time constraints and facial gestures. Some like to skip that part: whatever, that’s fine. With this method, I have made many guy friends as well, usually guys who frequent the bar I go to. They introduce me to their friends, and before I know it, I have made five new acquaintances.

Or, as a dating approach, you could send a letter to the 500-year-old oak tree featured in the above film:

In June 1891, a young couple married under an oak tree in Germany’s Dodauer Forest. The newlyweds and the tree shared an undeniably romantic bond; during their courtship, they exchanged secret letters by dropping them into a knothole on the tree's trunk. Their story spread by word of mouth, and within decades, others began sending letters too. In 1927, Germany assigned the tree its own postal code. The legend of the “Bridegroom's Oak” was born.

Filmmaker Claudia Bracholdt’s utterly charming documentary considers the role of Bridegroom's Oak as both fairy tale and matchmaker. She interviews Karl Heinz Martens, a retired postal worker who delivered mail to the tree for more than 20 years. (“Usually, you have five to six letters a day,” he says. “But when the media reported on it, you easily had 40 to 50.”) He even has a love story of his own: he met his wife after she wrote him a letter—mailed to the Oak, of course—and he replied. They’ve been married ever since.