The humiliation of Bryan Winter

He wrote the archetypically arrogant male brushoff e-mail, setting off a firestorm of urban myth and electronic revenge.

Published May 11, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

One muggy Washington weekend night, two overworked young
professionals hit the dance clubs, among throngs of like-minded revelers.
meet, they dance, they exchange e-mail addresses. Monday morning she sends
him a typical "let's get to know each other" e-mail. Carefully crafted to
sound aloof yet encouraging, it starts with a friendly opening, coy and
slightly flirty second paragraph, and then likely closes with mention of a
busy schedule, an allusion to importance in the workplace. Instead of a chipper and equally
flirty reply, he gets frank and tells her:

I am at a stage in my life where I'm looking seriously and
systematically for
someone I can share my life with. You seem like a nice person, and I don't
mean this as badly as it might sound, but I don't have time for twenty
questions by e-mail. I met five girls Saturday night, have already booked a
first coffee with three of them, and meet more every time I go dancing ... and I go dancing at least three times a week. I immediately rule out women who put up too many barriers. I don't do this because I think there's anything wrong with them, nor do I do it because I'm arrogant. I do this
simply to economize on time.

I know that dating in this city is difficult and scary for women. But keep
in mind it's that way for the guys, too. Most of all, remember that you're competing with thousands of other women who don't insist that the man do all
of the work of establishing a connection. And they live closer.

Now, maybe you'll find someone who's so taken by a single dance with you that he's willing to negotiate by e-mail for a chance to trek to your suburban hideout to plead his case. But you might not. And if such a person does exist, and you do happen to cross paths with him -- what do you imagine a guy that desperate would have to offer?

-- Bryan Winter

The nerve! She decides to teach ol' Bryan Winter a lesson. So she cuts and
copies the text of his e-mail and sends it to a handful of friends with a tag line:

"In the hopes that this e-mail might get back to him after being seen by countless thousands of young women along the way ... please send this on to a friend!"

She tells her friends. And they tell more friends. And so on, and so on ...

The woman who went looking for love and found a jerk got her electronic
revenge and then some. Within a few days, an estimated 10,000 people -- based on an algorithm of the 50 responses I received to my informal e-mail survey -- read Bryan Winter's arrogant reply. The e-mail has surfaced on desktops across the globe. It has zipped up and down the East Coast, zigzagged all over California, Ohio, Michigan and Alabama, and even made the transatlantic crossing to Paris.

Many recipients took the liberty of adding a few comments of their own before
forwarding to an average of eight more people.
"He's sick." "What a loser!" "Mr. Wonderful." "This guy should be shot."
The subject line changed but his text -- so far as I have been able to determine -- remained faithfully unaltered.

The case of Bryan Winter seems to have struck a sensitive spot. Thousands of people who have never met this guy (or the woman to whom his e-mail was addressed) jumped at the chance to inflict judgment and more humiliation on a
perfect stranger by forwarding his personal correspondence. All of this with
minimal prompting and on behalf of someone they've never met. His three
insolent paragraphs have created an international e-mail uproar.

What a perfect artifact of male arrogance! Perhaps women have finally had enough of the "I'm doing you a favor by letting you get to know me" mentality rampant among today's datables. With his condescending tone and his immediate assumption of his own desirability, Bryan Winter represents the archetypical pompous male. His emotionally detached methodology for finding a mate robotically and systematically rules out anyone who does not fit his arbitrary criteria. And his forthrightness is just plain impolite.

Yet, perhaps ubiquitous electronic communication will usher in a new
romantic justice system, where such personal acts of insensitivity are
tried on a larger stage. After all, we live in a society where reputation means
more and more. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"
is not just a nicety mom constantly repeated, it's a maxim that can make
or break a burgeoning career. With increasing frequency, who you know is more important that what you know. Could such an e-mail really damage Bryan
Winter's career and love life?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Round 2 of the Bryan Winter Saga gets even uglier. Several people get the
bright idea of running Washington-area identity checks, so Bryan Winter's home
address and phone number are circulated as widely as his original e-mail. The
phone number for Bryan Winter in D.C. is mysteriously "no longer in service."
But the search for Bryan Winter's e-mail address continues. Suddenly every
Bryan Winter in the country is suspect. Bryan Winter, Internet manager at
Malcolm Marketing Communications in Madison, Wis., issues this plea via e-mail:

My name, unfortunately, is Bryan Winter. I have gotten these e-mails for
days now -- and they are really getting annoying. I don't know who this joker
is/was, but it is not me. So please take me off of your lists ... I'm asking
that you please forward this e-mail with the same vigor you posted the initial one.

Judging from the forwarded e-mail addresses, the Bryan Winter message has made its way among a disproportionately high level of lawyers, communication industry professionals and Washington government workers. It is interesting to see that among upper echelons of the white-collar hierarchy, no one sought to verify the source. The context and content of Bryan Winter's e-mail were taken at face value. How do we know that Bryan Winter wasn't responding to an equally arrogant retort? Aren't we making a judgment before we've heard the whole story? He is cybercrucified with frightening zeal before he gets a chance to explain himself.

If, that is, Bryan Winter really exists. He may be as real as the Kentucky
Fried Rat or the Bubble Yum spider eggs. Wait a second, Bryan Winter,
wasn't he the one who got his kidney abducted after a stripper slipped him a
mickey at a bachelor party? All the world loves a good urban myth, the more
believable the better. This text of the e-mail is subtle enough to be
believable and agitating enough to incite reactions ranging from amusement to
outrage. In short, it's perfect material for a carefully crafted hoax.

If he is indeed real, Bryan Winter was naive to assume that e-mail is
a private exchange. It is doubtful that he would have sent the same message
had he known everybody and her uncle was going to read it. Clearly it
doesn't matter if Bryan Winter exists or not. What is shockingly obvious
is an end-user susceptibility to information from unverified sources. Not
to mention the agitation from men and women alike toward unjustifiable arrogance.

What remains to be seen is how successful the revenge will be in the long run.
Will Bryan Winter's reputation suffer or be enhanced in by the cyberpublicity he is unwittingly receiving? In a society where a man commonly
known to have a re-attached penis goes on to become a porn star, convicted
prostitutes launch lingerie lines and presidential fellatio gets you a book
deal and two hours with Barbara Walters, this scandal could be a blessing in disguise for Bryan Winter. The added publicity to his forthright spousal quest might be just what this guy needs. His rationale, tone and methodology didn't appeal to this particular woman, but who is to say that his perfect love match won't read his words and recognize in them the man of her dreams. Spamming is certainly a lot more efficient than going dancing three times a week, Winter's preferred method of date trolling. It's easier on the wallet, too, and you don't come home at 3 in the morning smelling like smoke.

Let them scoff all they want, Bryan Winter. Suddenly women across the nation know who you are, and some of them even have your home address. Now that you've got their attention, all this publicity might be the most efficient road to true love. And we all know how much you love efficiency, Bryan

By Gentry Lane

Gentry Lane is an American writer living in Paris.

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