Fact Check

Bryan Winter Letter

Is a woman getting her own back on the fellow who sent her a brush-off e-mail by circulating it far and wide?

Published Jul 8, 1999


Claim:   A woman gets her own back on the fellow who sent her a brush-off e-mail by circulating his note far and wide.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1999]

This is an email that a wonderful friend of mine received the other day from a guy she knows nothing at all about.

She met him while out dancing and gave him her email address. When he emailed her, she emailed him back with a few get-to-know-you questions . . . like "what's your last name?" This is how he responded:

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 baldly as it might sound, but I don't have time for twenty questions by email. 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 women who don't insist that 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 email 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

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

Origins:   The infamous Bryan Winter e-mail came to life on the Internet in May 1999. Wherever it went it seemed to strike a chord with those who received it. Angry comments were routinely appended to the basic text, with notes like "He's sick," "Mr. Wonderful," "This guy should be shot," and "What a loser!" popping up on it as it went from forward to forward. Clearly, many were angered by this man's cavalier treatment of the unnamed woman and were happy to participate in his comeuppance by way of forwarding his personal correspondance to an even wider audience.

E-mail is a faceless medium, and sometimes its being so brings out the worst in people. Brian's arrogance and forthrightness would be terribly out of place in a face-to-face environment, but it is becoming more the norm in online society. Probably since the day the first e-mail was sent (which, I'm told, was a "Make Spiky Club Fast" ponzi scheme), people have been forgetting those they correspond with have real feelings. Because the

communication takes place through a computer and thus there's no face to see a reaction register on, it becomes easy to become more persona than person. Which, it appears, was Bryan's crime. So lost in himself and all his dating possibilities, he forgot to be polite.

The fact of a faceless medium encourages the desire to gain revenge in a way that real-life contacts do not. If Bryan Winter is objectionable for being a cad, then the woman who sent his e-mail far and wide is just as blameworthy. Wrongs will be done to all of us in this life, but the more adult of us know to move on without first attempting to even the score. Instead of thanking her lucky stars she'd quickly found out who the real Bryan Winter was and thus avoided what would likely have been greater hurt and disappointment down the road, the anonymous woman of this tale chooses to do her best to make this man's dating life unliveable. Though we might not think much of Bryan Winter upon reading his words, it's impossible to think much more of the woman who is now trying to get back at him.

But the culpability doesn't end there. The faceless medium of e-mail encourages all who receive copies of the Bryan Winter letter to participate in an anonymous woman's revenge scheme by forwarding it to an ever widening circle. We'll never know if those were really Bryan Winter's words or what she might have written to bring them on. Only half of the story is being told, yet sides are being chosen and judgments passed. In real life, would we be so quick to participate in the skewering of someone we don't know on the say-so of someone else we don't know?

Which brings us to the next point: Who is Bryan Winter?

There certainly is a Brian Winter in Madison, Wisconsin, but he's adamant he didn't write this letter. We should believe him too because the scoundrel in question is said to inhabit the Washington DC club scene. Madison is more than a casual two-step from that town. Moreover, the Wisconsin Brian has a wife and child.

The fellow in question is not Brian Winter, the soon-to-graduate Georgetown medical student even though he fits the suspect profile as a single 27-year-old living in the right area.

"It's a good thing I have a girlfriend, otherwise I'd be persona non grata around this town," he said. "Everyone hears the name and says, 'Are you the guy?'"

He's definitely not Bryan Winter, the 40-year-old stylist at Georgetown's Ipsa for Hair. As the only same-spelling Bryan Winter in the District phone book, he has already received numerous ("hundreds," he says) harassing phone calls at his home. "It's gone from funny," says this Bryan Winter, "to pretty scary."

After a few days of harassment, he started screening his phone calls and put a new message on his answering machine:

"This is Bryan Winter," it begins. "I buy my coffee at Safeway, I only dance in my kitchen, and I don't even have an e-mail address.

"But if you would still like to leave a message for me — or my wife, Deborah — please do so after the tone."

Gossip is bad enough when it slaps the face of the person it was intended for. In this case, however, it doesn't even have that to excuse it.

As Amy Argetsinger of The Washington Post says:

Bryan Winter's name was sullied not through mass media but through a characteristically small-town strain of old-fashioned gossip, of the kind that once could shame someone into exile from the community.

Yes, but which community; Washington, or all of the Internet? Maybe shaming was a somewhat good idea when towns were small and everyone knew everybody else's business and thus had some idea of who deserved a kick in the pants. But what about now, when an Internet slap-down of one guy ends up throwing mud upon three innocent men who by coincidence have the same name? Each of these fellows already has had to deal with harrassment — e-mail, phone calls, even letters delivered to their doors. And that's not right. Though the desire to see justice done is great, it should be outweighed by the desire to see it done to the right person. Or is the need to satisfy a sense of outrage so great that it matters not if the right person is harmed . . . or even if there is a right person?

Is there a Bryan Winter? If he exists, The Washington Post couldn't find him. An army of amateur cybersleuths have also failed to turn him up. As for the anonymous woman whose revenge the online community is being asked to participate in, no one knows who she is either.

Could the whole thing be a hoax, a little test of us all to see what we will and will not forward? If so, we failed. Badly.

As Lane Gentry of Salon said:

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.

Perhaps this letter is naught but an outlet for the frustration felt by a number of women in the adrift in the dating world. Bryan Winter is the archetypical pompous male, utterly convinced he's God's gift to womankind. His arrogance and emotional detachment are perhaps too perfect to be believed, making him more likely the fictional embodiment of those angers than a real person; more bogeyman than man, so to speak.

Is it difficult to meet Mr. Right? Some say yes; some say no. Those who say no don't give the Bryan Winters of this world a second thought. If there are such people out there, they don't populate their lives with them, and that's that. Those who say yes, however, need a Bryan Winter to point to as an example of what's wrong with their world. It's far more comforting to believe the dating pool has gone to hell in a handbasket than it is to face the possibility that one might be doing something amiss or perhaps not be as scintillating in reality as in imagination. Better to label the grapes as sour than to admit they're out of reach.

The forwarding of the Bryan Winter e-mail raises a further question — just how private is private e-mail? Does one have a reasonable expectation of privacy, or should everything be penned with an eye to someday seeing it flashed back to you by a million strangers?

As Linda Tripp showed us, we live in an era when even those considered close friends tape record intimate conversations. Setting aside the rose-colored glasses of what should be right and wrong, we should keep in mind that e-mail to someone we barely know is likely best penned with posterity in mind.

Barbara "for yore eyes only" Mikkelson

Last updated:   3 July 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Argetsinger, Amy.   "E-Male: Bryan Winter May Never Find a Date Again."

    The Washington Post.   29 May 1999   (p. C1).

    Gray, Tyler.   "Can't Beep Me Love? Ah, Techno-Romance."

    The Orlando Sentinel.   29 June 1999.

    Lane, Gentry.   "The Humiliation of Bryan Winter."

    Salon.   11 May 1999.

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