No matter which words you use, no matter how clear you believe your description is, there will always be someone, somewhere, who knows better, or who claims, by reading between the lines, to know your desires and dreams far better than you do. And there will always be those who believe that you don’t mean what you have written, that they are an exception, and that you will quickly come around to their way of thinking once you’ve been convinced of their perfection, their higher state of mind, their intellect or whatever it is that they believe makes them stand out from the crowd. I’m not sure whether this is egotistical thinking, or plain stupidity, but it tends to be men who fall into this category, and men who will try to convince everyone else – read women – that they are wrong, and only their way, the man’s way, is correct and worth following. Everyone else has made a mistake, has not managed to express themselves correctly, or has been talking in ciphers and some strange code which needs to be translated to show their true identity, their true feelings, their true desires. The idea that this other person is an individual, a person with their own experiences and interests, doesn’t come into the equation, since the world revolves around the one who is interpreting, the one who is telling you what you think and feel.

And the fact that they have to disguise themselves into the bargain, to hide reality from everyone else despite the fact that this reality will be obvious from the first moment of meeting, is merely sad. Sad and pathetic. Not, I must admit, that a difference of a few inches in height would bother everyone: I have no problem with someone being taller than I am, it all depends on the person rather than their appearance, and I can look up to someone physically just as easily as looking down on them. If it’s the right person, then fine. But if someone feels the need to lie about their height, or their weight, or the hair colour: why? They’re going to get caught out in the end, and all of their insecurities are going to be displayed for the world to see at the same time. Why not concentrate their efforts on showing that, despite physical appearances, they are a good match, a good partner, a suitable friend and confidant?

I find it amusing that many people will choose who to write to based entirely on appearance. Yes, a photograph raises the chance of people replying, but it is hardly the be-all and end-all of a person. It is only their physical appearance, and says nothing about their ability to write, their interests or their mental state. It also says nothing, unless someone has it tattooed across their forehead, about what they are seeking in life, or in a simple relationship. But it is the image that people look at first, which creates the first impression, which alters, it would seem, the wording of a description to that which the viewer, for some strange reason, wishes to see in relation to such a photograph. In other words, this is like a first impression, and the written side of things, the true description of need and desire, is irrelevant. I know for a fact, as a very present example, that if I were to advertise for someone to write to, and include a photograph of myself, I would receive next to no replies. I am not a good-looking person, my age is clear and so on. However, words alone, a description of what my interests are, what I have done in life, and what I seek would captivate one or two people, would entice a few to put pen to paper and take a chance.

And then we have this presumption, which you’ve clearly experienced with your small man, that anyone looking for a pen friend, anyone advertising for contacts to write to and create a written friendship with, must be as far down mentally and with respect to social achievements as is imaginable. Anyone who advertises, the thought seems to be, must be so desperate that they can find no other way to make friends. This is clearly someone who will take anything, and then allow themselves to be controlled as they have nothing else, and will never achieve anything on their own. A typical macho attitude, which I have seen so many times, belying the social capabilities and, often, intellectual faculties of the man involved who, in order to boost his own ego and cover up his own failings, seeks someone he can control and be the knight in shining armour for.

I must admit, had I been in your position, had I been lied to and had my perfectly valid requests ignored, I would never have put him off my saying that anything was my fault. I would have been quite open and honest about the whole thing, and told him he had let me down by not sending the photographs – which you don’t need to go to a store for since any smart phone these days takes photographs, and they can be printed out on any halfway decent printer – by lying about his height and, I presume, his appearance. I would have calmly and quietly laid in to him, then stood up and gone out. Of course, we are all different, and perhaps you didn’t want to hurt his feelings, or the moment wasn’t right, or this is simply something that you don’t do, all of which are fine. We all react in different ways. And I agree with your roommate: no reason for you to feel sorry for this man, not in any way, shape or form. He lied, he procrastinated, he let you down as much as himself, and should accept the blame for his missteps alone and like a man.

An amusingly sad story comes to mind from my military days, when I was asked if  could help a solider with his letter writing while we were on tour in Bosnia. He was one of those people who have a very good heart, but not the mental ability to express himself too well which, sad to say, comes up a great deal in the military and amongst many people who attend a certain form of schooling. In my day we were taught English and letter writing; today it seems that even English is a mere sideline rather than a main subject in schools. But he asked me to give him a little bit of advice: he had been in contact with a woman of his own age back in England, and merely needed a few ideas about what to write, how to write, and how not to appear either desperate or too forward. I suggested he go calmly and carefully, impress the young woman with his talents, since there was no chance of them meeting until the tour ended, and win her over with subtlety.

So he wrote to her, and she wrote back, and they agreed to meet sometime when he got back, drink tea together and see whether the funk they had achieved with the written word jumped over into real life too. And, of course, she would want to be able to recognise him at the café where they’d arranged to meet – none of the old British meeting under the clock on Waterloo station, or wearing a red carnation in the lapel – so he should send her a photograph. Which he did, feeling that there was no problem, and she was going to get to see him in a few months anyway, since their written friendship was advancing by leaps and bounds. And she wrote back to him saying that, because of his appearance, the nearest he was going to get to drinking a cup of tea with her was if they put the kettle on at the same time, and she sent him a teabag.

Admittedly, he was – and probably is – not the most handsome of people, but that shouldn’t necessarily make any difference. He was honest, and their written relationship was blooming. If someone is so concerned about appearance, and I am not including height here so long as it is not about a foot or two, then they should leave the finding of friends and lovers through letter writing to other people, and concentrate on bars and clubs where they can, depending on the lighting, see what they’re getting themselves into.

From a personal point of view, I would never enter into a physical romantic relationship without having met and talked to a person in real life several times over quite a long period. That is, if this relationship was designed, or desired, to last. If it is clear that there is only one interest involved – bedroom gymnastics – then that is another matter as the chemistry is completely different, but longer term requires far more, demands more from two people, and it is often the case that what we write, the first impressions we give, conceal a great deal of our true personality. You can only really get to know someone when you spend time with them, and when that time takes several different environments into consideration, several situations, both good and bad.

I sometimes wonder why we try to make ourselves out to be something we are not, as if we are actors on the great stage of life and everything we do must be perfect, we will be judged accordingly. Of course we are going to be judged, but also found out and exhibited for what we truly are if we do not follow the social norms, if we do not present ourselves as we truly are. What is the point of building up a relationship, if we are then going to be blown out of the water when the truth is revealed? In theory this is a question you could ask every single politician the world over, regardless of their shown views or claimed stance. There is not a single one of them, that I can think of at least, who doesn’t put a false picture of themselves out when they’re campaigning, and then revert to nature once they’ve been elected. In any social group we’re going to be very close to several people, especially those we are enamoured of, and reveal our true selves anyway, so why bother creating a facade? Why take the time and trouble to appear as someone you are not? Is this a need we have, to make ourselves look better, when we know we’re going to get caught out one day anyway and the whole house of cards is going to fall down about our ears?

To deflect the bent of popular rumour, Alcibiades cut off the ears and tail of his handsome dog and drove him out into the public square, so that the people, given this subject to babble about, might leave his other actions in peace.

So wrote Michel de Montaigne, as if he were talking about people today who, determined to divert attention from their true selves, cut off their own noses to spite their faces, and pretend to be someone they are not. And then, when we get caught out in our pretences or, just as bad, when we fear we are about to be caught in a lie:

Thus the laments in fiction trouble our souls.

Far better, I believe, to be honest and truthful about yourself when attempting to enter a friendship, than risk loss of the best friend you could ever have had through an ill-considered and easily revealed untruth.

I am happy to say I do not have such problems, most of the time. It is easy enough to see through someone when they first write to me – although I take all as they present themselves, and let them play their own game as they see fit – and then decide in which direction a relationship, a friendship, any form of connection should proceed. I am used to receiving applications from men who wish to join my fraternity who, unsure of what the whole thing means, but having read rumours and followed conspiratorial theories, concoct a wild tale about themselves, about their abilities, about the fact that they have been ‘enlightened’ and, therefore, are ideal for a place amongst us. What we seek are men who are honest and true, upstanding and charitable, and not people who feel that membership with us will bring them a wealth of material benefits – the lost riches of freemasonry or the knights of Jerusalem – or the secrets to eternal life. The same with letter writing: it doesn’t take too long before the truth comes out, when someone has created an identity for themselves which doesn’t represent their true selves; eventually they will make a mistake because stories, lies, are hard to keep up over a long period of time. Who can remember what they wrote a year ago? But the person receiving the letter, they remember.

I suppose it is a sad indictment of society that we, as individuals, feel the need to meet certain standards, and by this I do not mean the customary ones of courtesy and honesty, but those of appearance and personality. Fashion trends are one thing, but trying to keep up with every small change as if you had the same amount of loose change as Paris Hilton is foolish and destined to crash and burn. Why not just be yourself and let society, trends and fads, follow you for a change? After all, someone has to be the instigator.