Back in 1985, before dating hotlines and the myriad of dating sites we have today, there was a penpal service that put lonely men in touch with attractive women who would exchange letters with them weekly. All the women asked for in return was a little money for the costs of typewriter ribbons, envelopes, stamps, photos etc. Tens of thousands of men paid $10 dollars a week to feel special — about $22 dollars today.
The service focused on men who were looking for love, not just sex. The founder thought this could be good for business and better for his customers as well.
“A guy’s wife died, he was living alone and he didn’t have any friends. You know, that kind of thing,” founder Don Lowery told a reporter years later. “He needed this. He didn’t have anyone else in his life to cheer him up. So we did.”
The operative word in that quote, is “we,” because Don’s love letter service became so popular that soon he had a team of writers working for him, with millions of lonely hearts to write to, and was making millions of dollars. As you might guess, the people writing the letters did not always match up to the photos the men received, but the women themselves were real and known to Don.
When I first heard about this story I assumed the men must have been very naive to believe these women cared for them and them alone. Who else would buy such absurd fantasies? When I read some of the letters, the content was just mundane enough to sound convincing. But, the letters also sounded really vague. They never spoke of a man’s personal life or referenced anything the men wrote in their own letters. One reporter noted that the you could even tell that they were form letters, with the man’s name inserted in various places.
But, to the men paying for these letters, the relationships they had with the women were real. Even when Don Lowery’s penpal service was taken to court and accused of being a scam, men from all over the country gravitated to the courthouse to protect one of the women implicated with Don, named Pamela. Even after meeting each other and learning that they had all been receiving the same letters from Pamela, many of the men still felt like they were the real person Pamela “loved.”
Some might say Don Lowery was an excellent manipulator. He certainly was excellent at understanding and making use of emotional value. By reading the letters these men sent, he could see the same stories repeated over and over. Lowery played into the personal stories these men had, and the men allowed themselves to be played.
These men saw themselves as unlovable, unsuccessful, less intelligent, doomed to loneliness, etc. The letters played into their feelings of inadequacy. They wanted to believe that a beautiful woman could love them and care for them, despite the shortcomings they saw in themselves, and the assumption that they were undeserving of such love. They wanted to believe it so much they were willing to overlook all of the signs that the service was a scam.
Sometimes the stories we have about ourselves, or the outside world, are so deeply ingrained that no matter of logic, facts, or outward influence can dissuade us. It actually takes looking objectively at ourselves to untangle the web of beliefs we’ve been blinded to.
I have often said that the mind cannot divorce itself from itself, to see itself. However, this may not be completely true. Instead, a series of questions can help dislodge perspectives and clear stories and beliefs that do not serve our personal advancement. One set of questions that I have found particularly useful in this regard was developed by teacher and speaker Byron Katie.
Think a moment about a part of your life the just feels completely true, even though you wish it wasn’t. Now, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
3. How do you react (what happens) when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
5. How can you turn this around and see this situation another way?
6. How is that turnaround also true in the rest of your life?
We don’t know something is true unless we investigate it. And, if something is found to be true, we can always change it! This is because truth on many levels is nothing more than a prospective. You have it in you to create yourself and your world in the way you want. All it takes is a little self-examination, the understanding that things can be they way you actually want them, and the willingness to see things differently.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not fact. Everything we see is perspective, not truth.” — Marcus Aurelius