This American Life: #571: The Heart Wants What It Wants
November 3, 2015 11:37 PM - Subscribe

When Jesse first started getting letters from Pamala, he couldn't believe his luck. He'd been waiting all his life to fall in love—and then he started getting these letters from the perfect woman. Vulnerable. In need of protection. Classic beauty. He was totally devoted. They corresponded for years. And when something happens that really should change how he feels about her— he just can't give it up.
posted by ellieBOA (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm conflicted about this episode, part one pinged my 'nice guy' radar, and although it was going to be one-sided with interviewing the guy about his surprise plans, I felt for the woman who could well have no interest in him and has felt she's signalled this in their friendship so far. Part two just felt exploitative, even with Shankar Vedantam who is great.
posted by ellieBOA at 2:19 AM on November 4, 2015

I found the most poignant part of the second story to be the friendship that developed between three of the men who wrote to the "angels"--it was so clear that one of the main functions of a female partner for guys like this is to provide a social outlet and I think most of these guys would have knowingly written to a male penpal, even if he wasn't pretending to be a woman. It's a shame that so many people are so lonely that they can fall for things like this.
posted by chaiminda at 4:08 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, there are a lot of scientific studies being done on the fact that men will ignore all subtle hints of not-being-interested. (And women have to be subtle about it in case the dude goes full blown psychotic at an actual no.) If you speak to him at all whatsoever and haven't spit in his face, he'll take it as "she loves me" and proceed full steam ahead.

I bet that guy had an unpleasant weekend. I wonder if they will report back about it in the next episode. Honestly, that woman would be doing the guy a favor in stopping her "friendship" with him entirely because this halfassed sorta-dating they're doing is leading him on.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:13 AM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

More on Col International here. In this article, the scam reads a lot more pernicious & predatory than how it was portrayed in the TAL story.
posted by mochapickle at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2015

It was smart to bookend the episode with a story from a woman on the other side of that trip to confront the person you love.

And oh man I loved the story about the protestor who had a crush on her arresting officer. "GUYS, FOR THE THIRD PHOTO THE ARRESTING OFFICER GETS IN THE PICTURE WITH YOU!!!" had me laughing harder than I had in a while.
posted by dry white toast at 3:08 PM on November 6, 2015

I think the thing about the penpal scam is it would've been pretty easy to have done the same thing on the up and up, like a phone sex hotline in letter form. People would still have showered him in enough money to let him have actual women write actual personalized letters. This guy was just a scumbag that couldn't help pushing it farther and stringing people along. I wasn't the least bit surprised when he pocketed all the donations for the injured "Angel".
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:22 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shankar Vedantam was awesome in this, and part of why I liked him is the weirdness of this story. I just binge-listened to Hidden Brain, which was very good, but totally tonally different from this story, and sadly missing that weirdness element. I do think Hidden Brain is good though!
posted by latkes at 1:35 PM on November 17, 2015

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