‘I just want him and no one else’, were the painstaking words I wrote, age 19, experiencing my first instance of heartbreak.
The insomnia coloured my under eyes purple, my mood swings had me feared among family members and my head throbbed from crying.
I dramatically typed out my feelings for three pages, mourning my relationship with the man whose communication style was one daily three-word WhatsApp.
This essay of doom and gloom sounds like a standard teenage diary entry, but instead it was one of the many emails I had sent to my future self using an online service called FutureMe.
Developed back in 2002, the website allows users to send an email to a future date of your choosing: a time capsule of your innermost thoughts and feelings enclosed by internet code until that date arrives and it pings into your inbox.
I first used FutureMe 10 years after its launch, rather mundanely as a to do list before the days of the iPhone reminder.
In the years following that, I sent myself a further 10 emails varying in nature from a 59-word musing (‘I’m currently procrastinating from revising for my Henry VIII exam tomorrow’), to hugely emotive essays about my deepest thoughts.
When the email dropped into my inbox each time, I was often shocked to read my own words back — surprised to remember just how big a problem felt at the time of writing, or how troubled I’d felt about towards various crushes — men I couldn’t now pick out of a line up.
I am just one droplet in an ocean of users who have used the site to process difficult emotions, with the site itself saying: ‘You can use FutureMe to imagine your dreams. Or make a prediction about your life. You could even write a letter to your future self as a form of therapy!’
According to the site’s creator, Matt Sly, ‘When people write the letters initially, I don’t think they realise quite how emotional it may be when they get in the future, you really forget about it.’
He tells Metro.co.uk that he first had the idea for the forum 20 years ago in San Francisco while out for a jog. He had been thinking about a school assignment given to him around the age of 10 to write a letter to his older self.
It’s a task many of us were given as kids – but of course, we wouldn’t ever receive the letter. It would be lost to the recycling bin, or stored away in a homework folder, never to be seen again.
That’s when Matt had his brainwave. ‘I was a software developer, and just thought, “Oh yeah, I could probably make something that would do that automatically”.’
And so that’s exactly what he did.
Though most letters are anonymous, people regularly come forward and share their experiences with the FutureMe team. Matt says this has included marriage proposals: ‘People think, “I’m so into you right now that I’m confident that a year from now, I’ll want to ask you to marry me on this date.”’
The site has also documented tragic examples too. ‘A young man who was in the Peace Corps [a U.S. volunteer-led program providing international assistance in various capacities] wrote his parents a letter to the future,’ recalls Matt. ‘He then he died in an accident, and they got the letter months later, it was a very profound experience.
‘This is a pretty intense example, far beyond what I was expecting on a whim 20 years ago when we put this whole thing together.’
App designer Malcolm Ocean, 30, sent himself a letter via the site in 2014 when he was 22. At the time he was studying design engineering at university and was contemplating what to do after graduating.
In his message he wrote: ‘I don’t know where you are right now. I’m really hoping that you’re still working on Complice [an app that he has since successfully launched]. Or something awesomer… I’m thinking that the decisions I make right now have an impact on you. I’m imagining you, and you seem like a cool person whose life I’d really like to make better.’
The note concluded: ‘I hope that when you read this you feel satisfied with how well I was able to care for you. Actually no, I hope you feel delighted.’
On receiving the email one year later, Malcolm recalls, ‘I was delighted. I made a pretty cool year for myself – and receiving that message felt really good. I felt cared for.’
However, according to counsellor, Hilary Sims, while emailing yourself goals to be achieved could be a great way to help someone work towards a specific aim in theory, there are things to look out for when doing so.
‘It’s about making realistic goals,’ she explains. ‘We could all say, “oh, I’d like to be a footballer in the future,” but I can’t play football. So, that’s never going to happen, is it?
‘It also needs to be a little bit fluid,’ adds Hilary. ‘Our life can change, things can happen around us that mean we can’t do what we thought we can do.’
For Malcolm, setting these goals and manifesting them in this way, could only be considered a positive, as he says the message ‘inspires me to care for my future self in the way I would anyone else that I love.’
Fiona Aber first started using FutureMe in 2015. ‘I’d been doing video diaries since 2012, but these felt different, it was more about encouraging my future self, which was why I liked it,’ she remembers.
She has used the service to reminisce over good times, but also finds value in documenting the bad times. ‘It’s so easy to just let certain moments happen and not take the moment to reflect them,’ says Fiona, 28.
On receiving the first email in 2016, she describes it as an emotional experience, ‘I was talking about various decisions. Such as, “You’re in a job that you don’t like anymore in a city that you love that has nothing else to offer you”.’
For her, Fiona finds a benefit in writing out these difficult situations, as rereading them back is a reminder that, ‘it’s been crap before and we’ve worked it out’.
According to Hilary, writing down negative experiences is a great way to help deal with them. ‘When things are going through your head, you can’t make any sense of them,’ she explains. ‘When you actually see it on a piece of paper, often it’s not as bad as you think.’
‘Reading it back is also a good thing. When you’re in that emotional state and you can’t see a way out of it, you’ve got some experience to pull on from before. You can read back the letter and go, “Yeah, I’ve been here before, and it did get okay”.’
Fiona also uses the premium version of the service where you can send emails to other peoples’ futures.
‘If I’ve had a conversation with a friend, they’ve come to me for advice, I like to send encouraging letters to be like, “whatever it is, you’ll work it out”.’
She also uses this part of the service to document momentous times in important relationships, ‘My friend had a birthday a little while ago and I had sent her one the year before that she received on her 30th. It was pictures of us together and talked about our relationship over the years.
‘I always do it to try and spark a moment of joy or inspiration,’ Christopher, 54, tells Metro.co.uk. He first started using FutureMe in the early days of the service, back in 2008, and has sent at least 15 emails to the future since.
‘The biggest surprise I got was the first email I received in 2009 on my birthday,’ he recalls. ‘In that one I was talking about my weight, my two cats, and my now ex-girlfriend. The cats are still alive now, but that girlfriend has been gone since 2018.’
‘The girlfriend is still alive too,’ he adds with a smile, ‘she just moved to another state…
‘I had completely forgotten creating the first one so receiving it the next year was a big surprise. I felt motivated to make my life better.’
Christopher says that when he looked back at the letter, he knew he was in a far better place when it arrived. ‘I was about 50 pounds lighter than when I wrote it,’ he explains. ‘I was about a week or two from getting laser eye surgery as well. It was a good surprise and my life was on track.’
He says that, ‘weight is a struggle still,’ with an email from 2020 telling him: ‘you went off the rails this year and you gained a lot of weight… Hopefully this email finds you under 200 pounds.’
But is using scheduled emails as a source of accountability truly healthy? Hilary explains that while it might help some people, it’s important not to end up using it as a tool to beat yourself up with if you don’t achieve your goals, ‘because that is very common’.
She adds that setting aims ‘should be seen as a positive’, and if they are being set in a negative headspace, it might be a case of looking inward at what is causing that negativity, and not setting something that might make this worse.
Site creator Matt says that he also uses the service to email himself, anywhere from five to 10 times a year. ‘Often when I’m in a moment of a decision, or a big life choice,’ he explains.
‘The first profound experience I got was sometime around 2007, five years after we started it. It was very trivial. It read: “Kicking [FutureMe] off seems like fun, I wonder if it’s still going”.’
Matt admits that when the email pinged through five years after clicking send, he couldn’t help but laugh out loud. ‘When I wrote it, I half expected that I would never get the email back because I would have got bored and stopped running the service,’ he muses.
However, with the site racking up millions of letters each year from senders across the globe – almost 5 million during 2021 – it shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
For me, at the time of writing this, I have just sent off a FutureMe email to be received on my 27th birthday later this year, 10 years after writing my first.
I reflect, reading back through my collection of my past online letters spanning across a decade. It serves like a photo album of memories that portray a truthful account of my life. The intense emotions of a teenager; uncertainties as a young graduate, and a fair share of heartbreak.
This compilation shows that life changes so quickly, and is a constant reminder of where I have come from. ‘DAMN everything will have changed by the time you get this’, as I said in a 2014 email.
Flicking through provides a calming realisation that none of the problems I was once so worried about still face me now.
And that’s not to say I am completely carefree, but it’s a comfort to know that if I can make it out the other side of every heartbreak or difficulty over the past 10 years, I can survive it for the next 10 too.
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