BOB | Age: 35
Q How did you meet your Internet date?
A I met her when she responded to the ad that I placed on [email protected] She’s the only girl who responded to me. She responded to me because under the religion section in my profile I put something like “pagan Buddhist.” And she’s into sort of witchcraft…Wiccan. She wrote back to me and said, “Gee, you look really cool.”
Q Did she send you a photograph?
A Oh no, she did not send a photograph. And under the category where it says “body type” she put “normal.” The choices are normal, a little chubby, or gargantuan. She posted herself as normal.
Q How often did you exchange e-mails?
A Within a day or two we were writing daily. Until one time, I gave her my phone number and we started talking on the phone — you know, take it to the next step of intimacy.
Q How long did it take to get to the phone stage?
A Not long at all.
Q How long was your first phone conversation?
A At least an hour. We were both hungry, nippin’ at the cord line for a little love [laughs], squeeze some juice out of that sucker.
Q So it became more “real”?
A Yes, now she was a real person. [Laughs.] We called each other daily or every other day for a couple of weeks. Even when we went online, we would send each other instant messages. That felt kind of strange since she was only seven miles from my house. So I suggested that we meet.
Q How long did it take to go from meeting online to meeting in person?
A It was not long, maybe two weeks.
Q What was there about her that seemed different or special to the point of wanting to see her in person?
A [Laughs.] Well, first of all she was the only chick who answered my ad. [Much laughter.] And I remember I had been talking to another chick, whose picture I had seen online, and she was defiantly cute. She was a little younger, and this other chick was, like, “I’m a Gemini. I don’t think I get along with Scorpios,” yada yada. She seemed to be trying to talk her way out of it. But this other girl was just friendly, gregarious. She was just sharing herself a lot. And I think that’s what it was, a couple of lonely hearts.
Q Was her sharing about day-to-day life or a personal history lesson?
A A little of both. We were interested in similar things and we are both from the East Coast. You know, the “Oh, you like this or that, I do too” kind of thing — music mostly. We talked a lot along spiritual lines as well.
Q Was there a point where you could feel a yearning to see her IM [instant message] pop up when you went online?
A An instant boner? [Laughs.]
Q Something to that effect.
A Sure, it was nice.
Q Somehow she avoided the exchange of photos.
A She had no photo of me either; my ad had none.
Q So she was taking a big chance too.
A She was. But as it’s turned out, jumping ahead a bit, what we did actually have in common was our personalities, not really our looks. But I think it was the longing for a lover that got me interested in her personality.
Q What did you do for your first date?
A We went to see some music. We met at my place.
Q I am interested in how you felt right before she came.
A I was in a state of great expectation. But at the same time, I was slowly courting someone at school. So I was in a bit of a quandary about “Well, what if this girl who shows up from the love ad is really hot and we get hooked up; what am I going to do with this other woman?” So part of me was excited and hopeful, but there was also that fear, like, “Oh, if this works, then the other thing can’t happen”…so I was a little nervous before she came because I didn’t know what she looked like. And then she showed up at the front door. I felt a mixture of surprise, shock, and disappointment, ’cause she was pretty big, and I’m not. I’ve always kinda had, like, a personal ban on big chicks. I’ve never gone out with a big chick. So it hit that [makes noise like a buzzer] spot. I just stood there in a state of shock.
Q So how long did it take you to say a word?
A Not that long, and I was very kind with her. But I figured that she was picking up on my shock. But we hung out for a while and just talked, kinda like friends. We realized that we were just friends. I just hoped that she wasn’t going to ask for a kiss good night. [Laughs.]
Q So somehow between body language and vibe, you didn’t have to spell out the fact that this was not going to be a romantic thing.
A Yeah, I didn’t say that, though I did feel that she was a bit disappointed at the end of the night. Not overly so. And you know, I kinda felt like she had deceived me, to be honest with you. It’s clearly delineated in the format of the online form what kind of body you have — normal, heavy, skinny — but they use this really creative language, like hearty, stocky, Rubenesque. So I kinda felt like I didn’t really owe her an explanation. But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings; I mean, what am I going to say, “I don’t kiss fat chicks”? I try not to be an asshole like that.
Q When was your next contact?
A I called her, out of politeness ’cause that’s what’s expected, so there wasn’t this sort of silent rejection. I called her and we talked, but by that point the IMs on aol started to become a disturbance. I was like, “Oh, God, here she is again.”
Q Did that fade away?
A Yeah, I gradually became disenthused with the whole [email protected] deal. And like I said, this relationship with this other woman continued to grow. And so the online girl, we went out a couple more times as friends and it was cool. We would hug good night and it was nice.
Q How long has it been since you’ve seen her?
A I haven’t seen her for a while. But we were goin’ out maybe once a month for a while. And we still talk on the phone. She tells me about her rendezvous, she’s slammin’ a few guys [laughs], so I get the latest update. So we’ve gone into friendship mode. And we talk about my romances with other people as well. And in a way, we’re kind of supportive of each other in our other romances. Go fuckin’ figure.
Q That’s nice.
A Yeah, can’t complain about having another friend.
Q Would you ever be involved in an online thing again? Or if you did, would you do it differently?
A You know, I’d have my picture on there and I’d pretty much request a picture. I mean, if the ad looked really superlative and it didn’t have a picture, I might try again, but I would know this time what to expect. Maybe I would ask a bit more about things like height/weight. She told me her height over the phone, but she didn’t tell me her weight. She was very selective in leaving out a few critical details.
Q Was that your last online experience?
A Yes, but I’ve kept my ad — just never erased it. I get a little note every once in a while from some chick or another. Usually I think they’re just scams to get you onto another site. And once you get there, it costs $2 per minute to leave a message for her, like in fuckin’ Oklahoma. I thought about tryin’ to nab these fuckers. But I’ve only got so much time and energy. So I just read them now. They are kind of amusing in a way. One said, “I’m a musician looking for a partner,” and another one said, “I work for an airline and I come into San Diego often looking for company,” real jerkoff material.
- Doug (dad)
- Age: 40-something
- Lydia (mom)
- Age: 40-something
- Amy (daughter)
- Age: 15
Q The last five years have been presenting us many alternate ways of meeting and relating. Distance no longer dictates who meets who.
A Exactly, 30 years ago when I met a girl it was one-on-one. We’d exchange addresses and then we wrote letters and maybe you’d get a picture. And if you ever saw her again, it was just luck. Whereas my daughter meets this guy on the Internet and he lives clear across the country. Actually, it’s a safety feature ’cause he’s not at her high school or in the neighborhood — he’s not even in our city. So he’s not over here knockin’ on the door and she’s not sneakin’ out to go see him.
So it’s cool for them to be able to communicate on the Internet, which has gone into phone calls now. But in the beginning, it was scary ’cause I had heard stories about perverts and people on the Internet that couldn’t be trusted. You know, all these different people, chat rooms, porno. So it was just kind of scary to me that she would meet somebody this way. I guess it was very innocent. They met in a fan-club-type situation with other people who liked this certain kind of comic book. So they would be chatting, and it was, like, “Wow, I really like the things you say.” And he says, “Would it be OK if I called you sometime?” And she says, “Yeah, I guess so.” Something like that, and the next thing you know, they’re phone calling. Then I find out the guy’s four years her senior, and that started freakin’ me out.
I’ve had kind of a resentment about this guy. She’s only 15 and he’s 20. Since then, I’ve talked to him and seen pictures of him over the Internet, which helps. He’s an artist type like my daughter, so they have art in common as well. Anyway, the comic-book-club thing was just a springboard to a natural meeting of two fans with like interests as well. Who knows what will happen in the future, or if they’ll ever even meet. If she met him in person, she’s afraid that then when he had to go home she’d be heartsick — when he had to go back to Florida. He’s actually even been helpful at times. Like, my daughter’s grades started to lag. He’s an ally ’cause we can talk to him and he encourages her to get it together as well. We talk to him a lot. My wife talks to him, and his mother as well. We’ve seen pictures of all of them, as well as photos of his childhood. It’s been going on over a year, and we know a lot about this guy: the church he attends, people he goes to see, his grandmother, the kind of work he does, things he does. [Laughs.] He’s still 20, but he’s kind of an immature 20.
Q Did he lead a sheltered life?
A Yes, he’s an only child, very sheltered. He’s got money too, so he can afford to make these long-distance phone calls. There for a while my daughter was kind of sneakin’ around making phone calls. Then all of a sudden she was calling five or six times a day. Pretty soon the phone bill came in and it was, like, 250 bucks. So I said, “Look, to pay this off you gotta work.” So she’s been doing errands and chores around the house. We’ve got a schedule and what we pay for each chore, and she pays us back. And now she’s also learned to hold back from making those calls. She doesn’t seem to need to call him six times a day anymore [laughs]. They can wait until the evening call. Right now she’s on restriction. He used to call her in the morning before she went to school and as soon as she got home and in the evening. Then they would talk for an hour before she goes to bed. So she’s in her room for an hour with the door closed, and that used to freak me out, thinking that there was some weird sort of sex thing going on or something, but there’s not. I’ve picked up the phone many times to check. And I’ve walked in on her and flipped the light on. It was rude, I know, but I’m a father and I’m just wanting to see what’s going on. I want to make sure this guy isn’t a pervert or something. And he seems not to be. So it’s been kind of a positive thing. Right now she’s on restriction from the day phone calls ’cause her grades started lagging again. So we can use him as leverage almost [laughs] to help her stay focused.
Q So what started out feeling like “Internet rape,” as you called it before we started, turned out to be a good thing.
A Yeah, I felt like my daughter was going to learn too much too soon from an older guy. I know when I was in high school I dated the sophomores. I always went for the younger women, and this is no different. But he doesn’t seem to be motivated that way. Their values together when they talk are amazing. I mean, the things they talk about, like, “Oh, I’m saving myself for when I get married,” and I hear that from both of them. And things like “I don’t want to have children — well, maybe later.”
Q How long did it take for you to find out that this was going on?
A I would have to say a month or so, until I started reading some of the e-mails. I wondered, “Who’s this guy?”
Q Do you share the e-mail account?
A We have separate mailboxes, but at the time we shared. So I was in there one day looking at stuff and I just happened to start reading some of his e-mails. I saw some amorous-type stuff: “I like you as a girlfriend possibly” — and I’m thinking, what’s up with this? and I was really kind of freaked out about it. Myself, I don’t carry on chats with anybody, I e-mail people and they e-mail me back if they get around to it.
Q What was your first reaction when you found out that this was going on?
A Fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of, What are we going to do? How do we protect her? How do I get more information? How do I stop her? [Laughs.] Those were my early feelings.
Q Did you feel that it was being hidden from you, or was it more due to the nature of the technology, because there was no phone ringing to alert you?
A Well, they were IM’ing a lot, just popping in and out all the time. That was the part I didn’t like and not hearing a voice. Not being able to feel a personality or feel any kind of intuition. All I had to go by was words on the screen.
Q Did you have any friends who had similar experiences, or was this your first exposure to this kind of thing?
A Nope, this was our first brush with this sort of thing. We’ve only had our computer three years [laughs].
Q It’s a whole new kettle of fish. For instance, when you finally meet someone after months of e-mails and phone calls, what date is it? It is hard to call it a first date after all of that quasi intimacy. So do you run up to each other and do the tongue dance? Or do you start over in person? It is just too soon to have etiquette for this sort of thing yet. Maybe in 20 years [laughs].
A Exactly, once it moved from the computer to the phone — and I had said, “You don’t give out your phone number, do you?” [Laughs loudly.] She always grabbed the phone anyway. But there was suddenly an urgency to it. It was a warning that something was going on and we didn’t know what it was. So we had to start talking about it. We got him on the phone to find out what this person was like. And that was a year and four months ago. We debated about whether to cut it off ’cause of all the horror stories you hear about this kind of thing. I mean, how do we even know he lives in Florida? And was he even the age he claimed — he could be any age. Eventually I go to talk to his mother, which made me feel so much better.
Q How did she feel about it?
A She was wary of him having a long-distance relationship. For all she knew, my daughter could be a dangerous person too. [Laughs.]
Q Did she know what was going on from the git-go?
A I don’t know exactly when they found out. Amy can talk to several people at a time online. She’s got her buddy list and all. One time we were watching and all of a sudden somebody popped up on the screen and started saying strange things and freaked Doug out. Amy just got rid of him with a “buzz off, buster.” That gave us an element of more fear, like, “What is she into here?” “What kind of land is this?” Knowing her, I didn’t think she was interested in that kind of weird stuff. But still, it seemed like there was an open door there where people could come in and be lewd and vulgar if they wanted to. But she said, “No, I can block that.” She knows how to do that.
Q How did you meet this gentleman and what is his name?
A His name’s Tim and I met him on a forum. I asked a question and he’s the one who gave me the answer. So I asked him if he wanted to be e-pals, and he didn’t know what that was. Basically just e-mailing back and forth.
Q And what forum was this?
A Sonic the Hedgehog comics.
Q So there’s a Sonic the Hedgehog underground.
A Yes, there’s the cartoons and video games, animation, all that stuff.
Q How long did it take for the first little glimmer of girlfriend/boyfriend stuff to come up?
A Two or three months.
Q How did it happen?
A It’s just like we’re talking about stuff…and after a while I just kinda said, “Well, I guess I like you ’cause you’re, like, really nice and all that, and I don’t know, I don’t want to trust you or anything like that, you know — I like you,” and we agreed. At that point we started using the instant messages instead of doing e-mail, and we, like, talked about other stuff besides just comics — like our lives, our age, and what we do during the day. So we got a lot closer that way.
Q So you didn’t know his age until you started the instant messages?
A Well, I knew his age, but I mean, like, we talked about things that related to being our ages.
Q At what point did you start to “miss” him, for instance, say he didn’t e-mail you in time or you didn’t hear from him for four hours or a day…and you’re thinking, “Oh, he doesn’t like me anymore”?
A I never really had that kind of reaction, but I did miss him and I still miss him because I haven’t seen him yet. And that started four months after I met him, probably. I did get worried a lot ’cause he lives in a hurricane area and there’s like a big one that was coming, so it freaked me out. I couldn’t get ahold of him because his computer was down, and that was scary. He worries about our earthquakes and I tell him it’s no big deal, and he tries to tell me that about hurricanes, but I don’t understand and he doesn’t understand.
Q When did you first start talking about being in love?
A Probably December, ’cause we met in August — about five months after we met.
Q Having a boyfriend that lives several thousand miles away has its own set of problems. For instance, do you worry about him having other girlfriends?
A He’s always, like, afraid of people, he’s afraid of girls, and he said the only way we could have met is on the Internet because he’s afraid of people — well, girls — he’s not afraid of guys.
Q How does he feel about you dating other guys?
A It has not come up. I’m not interested in other people except as friends. All my friends are guys except, like, five or six girls.
Q Has he been jealous of any of your guy friends?
A Yes, but I tell him just to chill out though, like, “You’re not here, you can’t do anything about it. I’m just going to live my life, you can’t control me.”
Q Could you tell me a little bit about him? What do you like about him…his personality?
A Yeah, he’s really sweet. He’s artistic like me. Just the way he is, he’s so wonderful. I don’t know what it is about him. It’s, like, embarrassing to talk about.
Q So there are some things that are so special about him that it’s worth investing all this energy in him even though he’s on the other side of the country?
Q At the peak of your phone calling, how many hours did you spend talking?
A The longest we ever talked was seven hours, that was one call…actually it was probably more than seven hours, ’cause after I was supposed to hang up I called him back. So basically we talked from 8:00 p.m. till 2:00; that was kind of weird ’cause I was half asleep.
Q What kind of stuff, in general, do you talk about for an hour every day?
A Usually we talk about, like, stuff that’s going on, current events, how I’m doing in school. There’s always an interest that comes up that we haven’t talked about yet. Like, I got a new comic yesterday, and we talked about that for 45 minutes ’cause it’s this really weird comic, really funny, so I was telling him about that. After a while he’s, like, “Can’t we talk about something else?” ’Cause he’d kinda fallen asleep. Like when he starts talking about his swords and art I start nodding off [laughs].
A Yeah, like metal swords — the real stuff.
Q Does he do fencing?
A I’m the one who does fencing. Just, like, freestyle.
Q So you have more than comic books in common.
A Yes, we both fence, we both do art, and we’re both kind of lazy [laughs]. He’s organized, I’m not — that’s one thing we don’t have in common. I like school more than he did; he was, like, really against it. I like it, but I don’t really like work.
Q Have you guys discussed getting together in person?
A Yeah, he wants to set up some art studios out here. Actually he has two set up out there, and he’s going to set one up in North Carolina. He wanted to do that first, then do some stuff on eBay and all those other places where you sell art, ’cause he sells prints of his art.
Q Does he run the galleries, or is his art just in galleries?
A He just puts it in.
Q Have you guys talked about your future?
A A little, yeah, just like him coming out here and what he’s going to do after that. He’ll probably just move out here to paint and hopefully get another job. I told him he has to get another job. He can’t just live off his paintings. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten.
Q How do his parents feel about him leaving Florida?
A His mom hates it. She always yells at him every time he talks about it. His dad is just kind of oblivious to it. And his grandma is extremely oblivious to it because she has no idea that I exist yet.
Q So you are 15 now and he’s 19. Have you talked about college and different things that would impact your relationship like that?
A Well, we want to live in the same city, and I want to stay here ’cause I like it here. He likes the idea of coming out here. He doesn’t want to go to college, but I want to go.
Q Do you have any words of advice for anyone who is thinking of getting involved in something like this?
A I say, probably just make sure that the person is not, like, some kind of weirdo and if you can just stay in touch. And if it doesn’t work out, continue to be friends. It’s the same, sort of. And don’t listen to what other people have to say, don’t give up, they’re all full of it.
Q Like, when they say it can’t be real, it’s just words on a page?
A Exactly. [Laughs.]
Q Okay, Sam. How did you find this person that you had your Internet relationship with?
A I haven’t found romance yet, but I’ve made a lot of friends, good friends. I’ve dated them, but if you’re looking for romance, you need to not look on the Internet.
Q But you tried.
A Actually, it started as kind of a joke. A friend of mine and I were talking about the guys on the Internet, you know, people romancing, falling in love, getting married. I thought, people don’t present who they really are, so let’s try presenting exactly who I am, not who I’d like to be or think I am. I told her, “I’ll feed you the ideas, and you tell me if that’s the kind of person I really am.” We dug up this great picture of the family, cropped it, and used it for the ad.
I should also mention that for the first three weeks we ran the ad with no picture. I got very few responses, next to none. And the ones that did respond, the first thing they wanted was a picture. And when I told them I don’t have one, I never heard from them again. Then we added that picture and I probably got 300 hits the first week. And this was with me being honest about my age, my likes, dislikes, weight [laughs]. I didn’t lie about one thing, nothing. So I started replying. Of course, you have to weed through the responses. But if it were me responding, I would appreciate a reply even if it was just a short “Thank you, but…” So everybody got a short note — seriously, every single one. I don’t ignore anybody, unless it’s gross. And there are a lot of people that come on really strong. I think the lead-in to the ad, which is “Seeking an open spirit,” gets misunderstood.
One of the first people I met was a fellow from the Midwest. We talked online quite a bit, and we had a lot of the same interests. He was one of the first ones that I thought, “Gee, you know, there might be something to this.” You know, “This guy is really, really nice.” We got to the point where he wanted to know if he could call, and I said that was great.
Q How long did it take from the time that you had your first contact to when he wanted to phone?
A Probably three weeks. I was real nervous to begin with. And you have to understand, it was a goof, so I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to carry this thing. He called me every day, every single morning at 5:30 in the morning. He sent me some pictures of his place. He did a lot of spontaneous traveling, things like that. Finally, after about a month and a half, he said, “Let’s meet somewhere.” And I said, “That’s kind of crazy. I’m in California.” And he said, “No. We’ll meet somewhere on mutual ground.” And I thought, “Well, you know, this is okay. I can deal with this, as long as everybody knows where I am.”
So we made plans to meet. The day before, he calls and says he was called away on business. And I’m going to tell you that this went on for some time. I still get Internet messages from this guy. I know his first name. I have no idea what his last name is. So, you know, there are some really peculiar people out there, and there are some big storytellers out there, big storytellers. So people say they find romance on the Internet, I guess it depends on what they consider romance. I’ve met some wonderful people, and 75 percent of them I still maintain some sort of contact with, even after a face-to-face meeting where there was no chemistry, usually on my part.
Q So other than this one gentleman, was there anyone else who you corresponded with similarly and had phone calls and —
A Yeah. When I moved down here, there were a couple of people. There was a fellow in Rancho Santa Fe. Had a great time with him. He was wonderful. He was fun to be with. But he was looking for a transient, when-it-was-convenient-type relationship. I met a wonderful older man that I just thought the world of. We exchanged e-mails for a month and a half. Finally we met for coffee at Starbucks — really great. We had a lot of stuff in common: He was ex-Navy, and I’m an ex-Navy wife. And we just got along really well. He had a set of twins, I have a set of grandsons that are twins. And then he said that he was going to Tahiti for Christmas with the kids and his wife. And I said, “Excuse me, wife?” He said, “Oh, yeah, I’m married, but we’ve divided our house so that we have separate entrances.” And I said, “Oh?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “And where do I fit into this picture?” He said, “Well, I would want to travel with you and take you places and do things with you, things that my wife has always refused to do and never enjoyed.” I said, “Why are you still married if you have absolutely nothing in common with this woman except children, and these children are now ages 30 and 36?” He said, “Oh, we stayed together for the kids. They would be shattered.” I said, “Your middle-aged kids would be shattered if you got divorced?” [Laughs.] Nice man, but values just totally out there. Nine times out of ten, the contacts I’ve had turned out to have some really skewed values.
I dated a guy for about four months from Solana Beach. A really, really nice guy, but as far as romance? He’s really not up for it. He’s more needy, and that’s what I find puts me off, the neediness. And I think the problem that I have with Internet romance is that I’m not needy, and I think you have to be needy. You have to see something missing in your life to fall in love with an absolute, total stranger.
There’s a need there, and you’re each feeding off the other’s needs. And I’ve heard some horror stories. I heard from a girl the other night that a guy from the Internet stalked her. And I said, “Well, thank God I’ve never had that problem.” I did have one guy track me down. He just showed up at my front door one day. Of course, I didn’t know him from Adam. I said, “Excuse me. Can I help you?” And he said, “I’m looking for so-and-so.” I said, “Well, that’s me, but who are you?” Then he gave me his screen name, and I said, “Well, what are you doing here and how did you find me?” Well, he was an ex-sheriff. So I told him, “Well, you know, I think you’d better get in your car and drive back to Apple Valley because this really wasn’t a good idea. And on second thought, I think that you’d better take me off your ‘buddy’ list because this is way out of line.” After a couple or three weeks he got tired and drifted away. But I’ve met some great people through the Internet. I’ve met a couple of really wonderful women too. Sometimes I’ll go to an online prayer group, and I’ve never seen these people in person before, but we still feel a real closeness. There’s one lady that I’ve been corresponding with for four years. Never seen her, have no idea where she lives. Out of the blue I’ll get an e-mail from her with this nice attachment or something thoughtful, just when I need that something thoughtful. She lost her son last year to a drunk driver, and I felt it just as much as if she were my best friend and she’d lived right here.
So there’s a lot of pluses to it, but there’s also a lot of deception, like the anaesthesiologist from Rancho Santa Fe who portrayed himself as five nine — a little bit below my height requirements — five nine, about 140 pounds, this, that, and the other thing. And, you know, it’s a good thing he described exactly what he’d be wearing because I was sitting down when he walked in the restaurant. And when I stood up, my eyes went right over the top of his head, and I’m five one, and I was in flat shoes. So it was uncomfortable from the beginning.
Midway through the meal he did tell me that I was never going to survive down here in San Diego County because I was too common.
Q This does not sound like a good first-date chat.
A I was too common. [Laughs.] Funny thing is, we exchanged some great e-mails before that.
I met another guy that was just great. And I should have known better the minute he said, “Why don’t you drive down here? It’s a long way to North County.” But I figured, “What the heck, this will be an adventure.” I wasn’t working at the time. So I drove down there. We met at a little microbrewery. Turned out to be a really nice guy. He was funny. We did a lot of laughing. We tasted some beer and had some appetizers. It was fun. So we made plans to meet again. About a week later he called me on a Wednesday and he said, “How about Friday night?” And I said, “That’s fine.” And he said to me, “Well, we’re going to go out, have a nice dinner, probably have wine with dinner. If I’m not up to driving back to utc, could I stay at your house?” And I very openly said, “Well, sure. I guess it would be okay. I have two extra bedrooms. It’s no big deal; that’s fine.”
And he said to me, “What did you say?” And I said, “Well, it’s fine. If you want to stay at the house, you can.” And he said to me, “I think we’d just better cancel the dinner plans.” And I said, “Excuse me?” And he said, “If you think I’m going to sleep in your spare room after taking you out for drinks and hors d’oeuvres one night and then a full-blown dinner with wine the next night, you’re crazy.” He said, “What kind of guy do you think is going to put up with that crap?” Bang! He never showed up to take me to dinner. I guess he was serious. [Laughs.]
Q How long had you known him before this happened?
A Probably a month. Then there was the first guy that I really got serious about. He used to drive here from where he lived, which was about 140 miles. And he’d come up for the weekend and stay in the spare room. He showed up one weekend and he said, “Let’s do something special, I want to go to the nicest place in town.” So we went out to dinner and just had a lot of fun together. When we got back to the house, he said, “I’m going to run out to the car. I brought you something.” Well, he brings in these two boxes and says, “Open them. I want to see your face.” And I said, “Why are you bringing these presents?” And he said, “Here.” He said, “You and I are good friends. I just wanted to bring you something.” The first box I opened had a pair of seven-inch heels, and I looked at those things, and I just started to laugh because I’m trying to picture myself walking around in those shoes. And he said, “Open the other box and you’ll understand.” So I opened the other box, and, sure enough, Frederick’s of Hollywood, the most filmy piece of whatever they call that stuff. And I said, “John, what is this?” And he says, “Well, you know, I figure we’re to the point in our relationship where we should be becoming intimate.”
I said, “Well, to me, that’s something that should just happen. It’s not something we should plan.” Real problem. And I’m trying to keep this light. But I’m crackin’ up. He was hurt. There were these huge tears in his eyes, and he said, “I just can’t believe this. I thought for sure that you and I were going to make something of this, that we were going to prove these people wrong, that this Internet stuff is not a bunch of garbage, that soul mates do meet. And then this happens.”
For about two months after that I didn’t hear from him. And then out of the blue he e-mails me. He was okay about it. We e-mailed back and forth for maybe six or seven more months, just always saying that maybe we’d get together, but nothing ever happened. I don’t have a problem with being alone — it’s fine — but want to be alone? Absolutely not. Whether I can find love on the Internet? I hope so. But it’s been four years, hundreds of experiences, not all face-to-face. I probably met 15 of them in person.
Q Okay. With all this experience, do you think you could craft an ad that would more accurately separate the chaff from the wheat?
A I don’t know what else you could do besides be honest, but being honest obviously wasn’t the way to go. [Laughs.] You know, in the beginning it was interesting; even now I’ve met a couple more people and I’ve dated. But you know, it’s not just the Internet, it’s like real life.
Q The idea that the Internet is somehow separate from real life is one of the reasons I’m doing this article. When something this new comes along, it can take a decade or more to develop a new etiquette to go with it. And then you have new things like phone sex and IM sex things.
A You know, people are satisfied with that. To me, it’s just borderline gross to do the online garbage; you know, to do the telephone garbage. But that’s life too. How many times do you sit in a bar and have some guy come up to you and it’s the flirty-flirt. And then it’s the body language. It’s the same thing except you can’t do the body language in cyberspace, so you end up doing the verbal conveying of the body language. And I know that any time that I had that on the Internet, any time I’ve had anybody come on to me that way, I’ve drawn a real hard black line, and I’ve said, “Not me, babe.”
Q So what advice would you give people that have not done this at all and they’re thinking of doing it?
A I would tell them to try to be as honest as they can about who they are. I’d say don’t go into it with great expectations. Go there saying to yourself, “Maybe I’ll make a friend. Maybe I’ll meet somebody on the Internet that I can talk to.” There’s a great thing with being anonymous. You can pour out your heart to a total stranger. You know, there’s a little bit of security there. You kind of unload it and never have to unlock the door.
And then I get kids, kids — “Saw your picture. I’m in love. I love older women,” blah, blah — and I just have to tell them, “Thank you very much, but you know what? I’ve got kids your age. Isn’t me.” I get a lot of young guys.
Q What is the age range in your ad?
A I think it’s 50 to 60. So I’m pretty specific. I mean, it’s flattering, I guess, but I wonder what does this guy need another mother for? What could we possibly have in common? And the old retired guys just love me. You know, if somebody sees the ad and a week later they’re in love with me, that sets off the little bells. I don’t believe that you can fall in love with somebody that you’ve never had personal contact with — for example, watching how they interact with other people, not just how they interact with you. There are a lot of people that are good with words. That’s why there are so many great books out there. But do you fall in love with words? I just think you have to go into it with a very open mind, but when you’re looking for love, you mistake other things for love. That’s just the voice of experience. I’ve been there.
Q If you are interested and there are no red flags in the first couple of weeks, you get going and meet so you’re not wasting time.
A Absolutely, absolutely. And if it doesn’t work, stop there, don’t play games. And people want to play games. Like, “How many free meals can I get out of this?” You need to get that face-to-face experience, find out whether or not these things that I’m kind of reading between the lines are real. The important thing is to go into it without expectations, if you’re going to meet somebody that you can spend the rest of your life with. There are some people I know that I wouldn’t want to spend the next 15 minutes with. [Laughs.]
Q Is there anybody in your life at this time?
A Well, I have somebody that is — Well, he’s in Minnesota right now and we’re close, but it’s…
Q Geographically unlikely?
A Yeah, well, at least for the immediate future. Nothing is geographically impossible if it’s important enough to you. So I guess right now this relationship isn’t. Though anything could happen tomorrow or even five minutes from now. Like I say, the Internet thing started out as just a fun thing to do. I didn’t start out being serious about meeting the man of my dreams on the Internet. Maybe I’ve met him and already rejected him. Like my friend always says to me, “You know, you’re so darned fussy. Look at all these guys that you’ve dated.” I don’t know. Maybe he’s already come and gone. Could be.
Chris | Age: 40s
Q Could you give a brief overview of your Web romance?
A It started in 1997. I met C online right after I got my computer and got online for the first time. She lived in Florida, and we talked for — hmmm, probably a couple of months. I talked her into coming and seeing me, and she said that she was living with somebody. I didn’t find out till she got here that she was married — well, at least a couple of weeks before she got here — and she had two kids. That didn’t really bother me. We had a fantastic week. Rode on the gondola down on Mission Bay. We went all over the place and hung out together, did the wild thing, and it was a marvelous week. And then she went back. We kept corresponding through e-mail and on the telephone. She said that she was going to get a divorce. So I went down to Florida. And it was a nice trip across the country. Stopped and saw my grandmother on the way. I built an “ark” on the back of my truck to get my stuff there. It was a huge plywood box in the back of my Nissan pickup. My dad helped me build it. It lasted all the way across and probably about half the year that I spent down there before I finally tore it off the back and crumpled it up. I should have kept it on there [laughs] ’cause I had to come back. She decided to stay with her husband, so I came back across the country.
Q Where online did you meet her?
A A place called the Poetry Place, chat room. It’s on aol. We both like poetry.
Q Did you send poetry back and forth?
A [Groans.] Many poems.
Q How did you start out? Did you send her things that were not written for her before you had any for her?
A There was one I sent that I did not tell her was not written for her [laughs].
Q Did she send you a poem back?
A Yeah, she sent me a lot of poems back. We pretty much swapped poems all the time we were on the computer together.
Q Enough to make a book?
A Enough to make three books. The first book was all the hot and spicy love poems. The second book was my going across the United States and hangin’ out there for a while. And the third book was after I came home.
Q How long from the time that you met on aol did it take before you had your first phone sex together?
A Probably about three weeks.
Q Who instigated that?
A Me [laughs].
Q Phone sex seems to be an integral part of a Web relationship — the impossibility of the distance, the yearning to shrink the distance somehow to…
A …to a small area around yourself.
Q How long did it take for you to decide to quit your job, build the ark, and leave?
A I met her in April, I started really talkin’ to her in May, and I decided to go down there probably in November of that year, same year — about nine months.
Q You had to make some serious decisions — quitting your job, leaving all of your friends, your apartment. Was that hard?
A I was ready for a change. It was time for an adventure. I hadn’t had an adventure since I was 20 when I took off and went to Seattle for another woman [laughs], my first wife.
Q Was that before you married her?
A Yeah. Well, she got pregnant down here, and she went up to live with her mom. And she said if I wanted to be with her, I’d have to come up there. So nine months after she went up there I took off after her, hitchhiked all the way up to Seattle. Took two and a half days. So I needed another crazy thing to do since I turned 40. That marriage only lasted 2 and a half years. My second one lasted 15 years. So I figure when I’m 60 years old, I’ll go to New York.
Q So you decided to leave your life behind. And she understood that you were turning your life upside down on her word. What can you say about how she convinced you that it was safe for you to trust her?
A She said she was getting a divorce and that she had filed the papers and everything. So I figured it was pretty much a done deal. And that’s the reason I took off in February of 1998.
Q Did you do any poetry readings on your way across the States?
A Yes, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was pretty cool, pretty good crowd. I had met a couple poets from there in San Diego. They were here doing a featured reading. So they hooked me up on my way back.
Q After you got to Florida, how long did things go smoothly?
A [Laughs.] Two months. After that it was pretty much downhill.
Q So for two months you still believed that the divorce was going to happen. How often were you able to see each other during this time?
A Every school day she’d take her kindergarten-aged daughter to school. Then she’d stop by and see me for about three hours, then go back and pick up her daughter and bring her home. And she’d call me when she got home, and we’d talk for another hour till her husband came home.
Q When did you get your first glimmer of “Oh my God, this is not going to happen”? Did she come right out and say, “This is not going to happen,” or was there a period of time where you were suspicious that it was falling apart?
A She just started coming over less often. I started working days. She cut it down to the weekend, Saturday and Sunday. And we would go to poetry readings together on Sunday for a while. Then she cut it down to Sunday, and it went downhill from there.
Q So how long did you stay there after you stopped seeing her?
A I never stopped seeing her. She’d always come over at least on Sundays for a few hours right up until the time I left.
Q That must have been hard, like eating two marshmallows a day to survive. I would think the pain would be huge.
A Yeah, that’s what finally convinced me to come home. It was just too much for me.
Q Did she want you to stay?
A Yeah, she asked me to stay. She wanted me to stay and be her friend.
Q “Friend” as in “discontinue your physical relationship”?
A Yep, and I didn’t really like the place that much [much laughing].
Q Did you remain physical up until you left, or was there a period of time that you dabbled at just being friends?
A We stopped making love in August, and I stayed until April.
Q Did you stay that extra eight months because it would be too traumatic to pull up your new roots so soon, or was it because you still had hope that things would change?
A A little of both. Apart from 2 and a half years in Seattle, I’ve lived in San Diego for 40 years. My roots are deep.
Q Moving was not a small thing for you, not a Web whim. It sounds like real love. How is your relationship with her now?
A We still talk a little bit — not much — just mainly “Hi, how are you?” “What’re you doing?” “Doing fine.”
Q What do you think caused her to back away?
A I think she was afraid of giving up the security of what she had, having to go back to work and take care of the children all by herself.
Q So if she divorced him and lived with you, she would have to suddenly get a job?
Q And you were not making enough money to support a family?
A Not everybody, no.
Q So was this a shocking realization for her, or did she consider it before, like, “Oh, honey, whatever I have to do to be with you, I’ll do; if I have to work — whatever I have to do to be with you, I will”?
A That’s what she said before I left, and she actually did get a job down there for two or three months while we were “exploring” — I guess you could call it — the relationship.
Q So comfort won out over love?
Q And her husband has no idea?
A I don’t think so. I saw him a couple of times when I was down there, but it was at readings and things.
Q Are you ready for your next Web romance?
A [Laughs.] Something a little closer to home. Either that or she’s got to fly me out.
Q Did she spoil you for Web romance?
A No. Right after New Year’s, when I knew that I was planning to come back home, I met three other girls on the Internet. One of them had a pass to a campground on the Gulf of Mexico. And she took me out to a swing there, and we made love that night on the swing. Nobody else was there. It was late, ten or eleven o’clock.
Q How long did you know her online before you warmed the swing together?
A About a month. We talked on the phone every night when I got home, on the computer too.
Q After the “swing” night, what happened with the relationship?
A We saw each other a few times, but we never made love again.
Q How about the other two girls?
A One of them lived in Fort Myers. It was about a two-hour drive, and I went down there and spent the weekend. And she came up to my house and spent the weekend a couple weekends.
And then the other one was in Sarasota, which was only 30 minutes away. I went down and spent the weekend with her once.
Q So you had three consummated Web romances before you came back to San Diego?
Q So you healed pretty fast?
A Well, I haven’t had one since I’ve been back. [Smiles.]
Roy | Age: 45
Q How did your Web romance begin?
A That is easy. It began with aol sending me one of those “50 hours free” CDs. I installed it on my noisy little “lawnmower” computer, and suddenly I was connected to the universe. I went berserk. A lot of nights I would hardly sleep. My eyes got that webhead glazed look. I am not kidding. It was serious. I think someone should have done an intervention on me [laughs].
Okay, back to the romance. So I was trying to find a way to communicate with someone in the Congo, in Africa. I imagined this lonely researcher studying the mating habits of some rare snail and sending e-mail with her gas-generator-powered laptop. Of course, we would fall in love and I would go help her. Maybe I could record the snails’ mating calls. I envisioned her as a cross between Jane Goodall and Teri Garr.
One thing led to another, and I discovered “message boards,” places where you post a question and get answers. There were a lot of people looking for wives, and as I searched, I saw the same names popping up on the message boards for different countries. So I thought I had better get going before all of the wives were taken [laughs].
I posted my wife-seeking notes on the message boards for at least 20 different countries — small islands, places I had never even heard of before. All of the continents were covered. I also put a few “pen pal wanted” notices up. I only got two responses. The first was from a woman in Germany. She answered a “pen pal” posting. We wrote back and forth for perhaps a week or two before it started to heat up. I was out of control. We wrote huge novels, and we would “meet” for instant-message fests that would go on for hours. I would carefully copy and save each conversation and print them up to read over and over during the day while she was asleep or working. I ached to “hear” her voice on my computer and checked my e-mail every few minutes sometimes.
Q How long did it take you to have instant-message sex?
A [Smiles.] About four weeks. She sent me a photo of herself in her underwear that she took with a mirror. It was wild. It came in this little box with rock-hard cookies — yeech! — and four or five photos. That was when we started having X-rated IMs, but it was not enough. We made a date for actual phone contact and had some very wild phone sex.
Q Did you plan to visit each other?
A I wanted to go right over there even if I was only there for a few days, but there was one little problem. She was married — unhappily, of course [laughs]. So I asked her to show my photo to some of her friends so that I could meet a single German woman. She did not do this. She wanted me all to herself.
Q So did you ever go to Germany?
A I was ready, had the money and everything. The idea was that I would go as a friend that she was showing around and possibly fixing up with someone there in town. We would have sex on our way from the airport in some field and whenever possible.
Sounds insane now when I tell the story. Anyway, it got to the point that her husband noticed that she was acting odd. Then she told him about me and how we were in love. I could not believe it! So much for me going to visit. She would cry and refuse to come to bed with him so she could stay up and do Internet things. At one point she sought professional help. Then he cut it off, disconnected her computer.
Q Was that the end of it?
A Oh, no, not by a long shot. She started calling me, and that was really bad ’cause he would look at the phone bills. She told him she would leave if he did not turn the computer back on. So he did. But things were still very tense. They had planned a trip to the U.S. — Nashville, L.A., and San Francisco. This was all ruined because she could not bear to be so close to me and not see me.
Q Did you see her on that trip?
A Yes. When they were in L.A., they stayed with friends. She took a trip to Mexico without him so that she could see me on the way. One of the stops was the Hotel del Coronado. I picked her up there, and the rest of the tour went on to Mexico.
The idea was that I would drop her off at Seaport Village when the tour came back through there on the way back to L.A. While they did not talk about it, he knew she was going to see me, and he cried and begged her not to make love to me. She told him that she would decide between us after the visit.
Q How did it feel to see her in person for the first time?
A It was strange. I mean, we had done so many intimate things in our daily fantasy world. I mean, on one hand we had never met and on the — you know.
Q Did you kiss when you met?
A Not for an hour or so. Her daughter came along to chaperone. They did not talk about her seeing me, but he knew she would. He cried when she left because she might not come back.
We went back to my apartment, and I was getting drinks for her and her daughter. She followed me into the kitchen and we locked lips. I mean, six months of yearning poured out of us in one minute. And I was breathless, brain screaming for a way to get rid of her daughter. So we gave her $20 and said, “Go shop. We don’t want you to be bored while we talk.”
We were naked in less than 5 minutes, and we knew this was it — 30 minutes max alone. Things happened very fast, and it was unreal, to say the least. Well, after 15 minutes there was a knock at the door. We were partially dressed just in case. So we got it together quickly. She ducked into the bathroom to freshen up and get dressed, and I opened the door.
Q Did her daughter know what was going on?
A She must have.
Q Was this a test to see if you were going to pursue the relationship further?
A Yes. We agreed that we would decide what to do about us after we met. She decided to stay with her husband, and I got sane again [laughs].
Q Was that the end of it?
A Yes. We never had phone sex or anything again and even decided not to contact each other so she could get her life back in order. The whole thing really woke her husband up, though, and now he tells her he loves her and they are happier than they have been for years.
Q You said that you got two replies. Did you follow up on the other one?
A Yes, but that was kind of a hybrid relationship. A young lady from Houston, Texas, answered one of my “find a wife” postings. It was for an island called St. Kitts. She asked if it had to be St. Kitts and why I was so interested in that particular island. The truth was that I had never heard of it before [laughs]. So I came up with some fluffy reply [rolls eyes]. Anyway, she was not from the Caribbean; she was in Houston, Texas, but she had a sister in St. Lucia, which is a small island 15 by 30 miles or so. So the idea was that if I could pass her inspection, she would tell her sister about me.
We talked a lot on the Internet and wrote e-mails back and forth. She was very thorough. Then came the “voice test.” She called me early on. I liked her and she liked me. I wondered if she was actually the one wanting a husband, but she assured me that she did, in fact, have a sister and that she was just being careful. I sent several photos and answered questions about my pedigree — you know, my family — How do I treat my mother, stuff like that.
Q How long did it take before you were able to contact her sister?
A About three months. It took a lot of work. One day she wrote me that she had made her sister aware of my existence and that she sent a photo of me. Her sister liked what she saw and sent me a photo of herself by regular mail. She had no computer. The photo was not a good photo. She sent several more and they were not so hot either. I was trying to be open to the possibility that her personality and the lush island ambience would combine into a nice package.
Q Did you want to pursue the relationship at that point?
A No, not really. I felt silly for putting so much time and effort into someone before actually seeing at least a photo. I should have asked to see a photo. I think part of me did not want to take the chance of being disappointed. My fantasy of this love-starved island beauty had to be better than the reality.
Q Did you do anything to discourage her?
A Not really. I was at a loss. What could I say? — I am not good at that kind of stuff — like, “Sorry, you turn my stomach” or “You are not my type; let’s be friends” or “Sorry, but there is no chemistry between myself and your photo. Could you give my photo to one of your friends?” [Laughs.]
Q So your silence could be misconstrued as approval.
A Yes, it could, and I was involved with a flesh-and-blood relationship, which took a lot of energy. You know, all that real-world stuff can take a lot out of you, but there was still a chance for my fantasy to come true. What if the photos that she sent me, two or three, were all just bad photos, you know, the kind that can make anyone look bad? All of the photos that she sent were over two years old. I mean, perhaps she lost some weight. Maybe she gave all the good pics away and sent me the leftovers. So I asked her to take some for me. Well, this was very interesting. She had lost weight, and she did not look bad at all. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, I had a 7.2 desire for her.
Things accelerated after that. She would send me “care packages” with bottle openers and tourist stuff, like a sticker of the island’s flag, stuff like that — oh, and some shells and soap and cards at least once a week. The cards had this kind of 1950s leftover-wallpaper look to them. I have to admit that I was getting hooked on the whole thing. I had this big box with her stuff in it. There were tourist pamphlets and maps and letters, lots of letters. I would sit in bed at night and go through them and daydream about my new life in the Caribbean. She also sent food, odd and mysterious candy made from trees. In the photos of her and her house — I mean, hey, walk out the door and grab a meal! Yep, I was in alternate-Fiji heaven.
At the time I had a business, and I thought that I would open one up there, or at least run the one I had from a laptop with a cell phone modem on some beach in paradise.
The letters were not enough, so we started talking on the phone. What a mistake. It was fun but insane. My phone bill was heroin. Like, I mean, I had to steal car stereos just to get my fix [laughs]. That was when we discovered the fax machine. I would get a fax almost every day. She worked at a travel agency and they had one.
Q When did you start to plan your trip to see her?
A Well, I tried to get her to come to see me [laughs], but she could not get away. I thought that working at a travel agency would get her cheap airfares, but there is no such thing coming from that far down. I mean, St. Lucia is so far down the chain that you can smell Guyana.
Anyway, I got a credit card with a $1000 limit and bought a ticket. The plan was for me to stay a month. This was not easy to do with a business. I had to make up a lot of work so things would run smoothly when I was gone. I had so many fantasies about the trip and how I might just not come back at all [laughs].
Q Did you stay in a hotel?
A No. I was pushing it financially just going there. The thought occurred to me that committing to four weeks in a strange country with strangers might not be too swift, but it was fate, an end to the nightmare of urban life. The trip down was intense. I had never flown over that much water before, and the plane from Miami was very small and full of beings from an alternate universe, more like a Tijuana bus than a plane flight. The fact that the island was covered with fog and it was night did not help.
When we landed, my heart was pounding with a mix of fear and joy and fatigue. The first thing I saw was a Kentucky Fried Chicken [laughs], but I could tell that I was not in Kansas anymore.
Q How did you feel when you first saw her?
A Well, I had some difficulty recognizing her. Apparently half of her town was there to greet me — well, four or five of them. She was like a shy football player. And her hair was in a homemade hat made of a cut-and-tied pair of nylons. After all of the phone calls and faxes and cards and letters, she had apparently run out of words. We all piled into one small car and proceeded to wind around an impossible maze of tiny roads. We had to make several stops to drop people off, so it was a long trip. And I don’t think we went more than six miles [laughs a lot]. Everything was wet and muddy and very green. The people were not in their houses; they were all out on the streets. There were several large gatherings. I was told that these were weeklong funeral parties designed to console widows and mourners alike.
When we got to the house, I had another shock. The photos she had sent me were real but very misleading. It is common there to fix up the front of your house and leave the back and sometimes the sides unfinished, I mean, with rebar and naked cinderblocks oozing untrimmed mortar. To get water I had to go to the bathtub. Then she showed me to “our” room.
Try to imagine a wimp like me, mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, sweating like a pig, eyes wide with disbelief at the condition of the windows. They were all those ’60s multipane nightmares, and half of the glass was missing. Have you ever heard a mosquito laugh?
Q Did you know that you would be sharing a bed before you came?
A No. I hoped so but doubted it. That is the oddest part of Internet romance. I mean, “What date is this?” [Laughs.] By the time you get to meet someone in person, you have already bared your soul and discussed names for your firstborn. There is a surreal quality to it no matter how many deep breaths you take.
The photos made the place look like a villa, but this was indoor camping. My Caribbean goddess was just another underpaid single mother. Some things are truly universal. I had imagined that the cost of living would be nil — little or no rent, food falling off of the trees. Now, to be fair, I must say that food does indeed fall off of the trees, but the wages there are very low. She was a travel agent in one of the larger places, but she came home with something like $30 per day, and bus fare had to come out of that.
Q How did your first night together go?
A Next question. [Laughs.]
Q How long did it take to match the intimacy level of your letters to the situation at hand?
A About ten minutes. We were frozen silent. I mean, we had been yearning to be by each other’s side for the better part of a year, and now I could reach out and touch her. So I did. Everything was okay, I guess, but I still felt like I was floating on the ceiling, kind of watching what was going on. I had no choice [laughs]. I mean, there I am and she is willing and I don’t have the cash to stay at a hotel. This is the real deal.
We slept together for a few nights, but then her family disapproved, and she felt pressure to sleep in the living room. It became obvious that we were not going to sail into the sunset together, and it was hard to even talk.
The language they speak there is a mix of local slang and French, which is actually all their own, and it is not written anywhere, completely passed and maintained by word of mouth. I heard very little English there, but they had to understand it to read books and signs.
Q Did you stay the full four weeks?
A No. By the third day I was “passed” to a friend of hers, and he took me around and showed me what life was really like for the locals. I did venture out on my own two or three times, but it was odd, and I knew that, at least on this side of the island, I was rare.
He took me to a plantation, and I followed him around while he ran things. Then because it was payday, they had beer and roasted a goat afterwards. Many of the locals thought I was a minister, and at one point walking by a church they thought that I was there to perform the funeral rites. The few folk like me that I did see had bumper stickers on their Land Rovers like “Jesus is Lord” and stuff like that. Church is big business there.
Oh, that reminds me. It turns out that she was very religious — Seventh-Day Adventist, I think — and all day the radio was spewing this bad version of Southern brimstone mixed with songs about putting the devil in a little red box and crushing it with a hammer, sung by young children. In fact, a little girl was visiting, and during that song she chimed in and sang along. Apparently it was a big hit.
As the time went on, I felt less and less at home and wanted to leave, but at the same time here I was. This was my big voyage into the unknown. What did me in in the end were the mosquitoes — 75 bites’ worth!
I called the airport and booked a flight for the morning of the eighth day [laughs], and I was sick as a dog, had a 100-degree fever. I was so-o-o glad to be home. I am sorry. I don’t think that I can deal with the Third World.
Q Are you done with Internet romance?
A Oh, yes, big time. You know, the one story that really sums it all up is my first morning waking up there. I went into the bathtub to get a nice cool glass of water. I’m half asleep, and I fill it and guzzle it. Well, let me tell you, after a rainstorm the water is mud. Not just brown. I mean mud. And that’s the way my brain felt [laughs]. I am really done.
Ted | Age: 49
Q You have an ongoing Internet relationship with a female?
Q How did you initially meet?
A I downloaded a program from Microsoft, Microsoft Chat 2.5. This is about four years ago. And they had an ongoing IRC-based chat program, as well as chat rooms for special interests. The only one that I was really attracted to was the AA chat room. There were always people in there to chat with about AA stuff.
One of the habits that they have in this particular program is that you can change your online nickname instantaneously. I kept changing my name. I had a dominant name, which was Squid — for no reason; I just think it’s a funny word, always gets a reaction. I would change the name in response to whatever the topic was. Whenever somebody made a joke, I would just start a little strange little repartee with somebody. And she noticed this, or just some of my responses. Or there would come somebody into the AA chat room who would go contrary to the AA dogma, you know, “Be a man about your sobriety” or “Go out and drink; you’re a bunch of weak-kneed…” and I would talk back to them. I’m a very fast typist — not very clean — but somebody would respond, or I would have four or five responses.
Q And she recognized you?
A She noticed that I had five replies for everything, you know, vroom, vroom, vroom. She liked that. So she started whispering to me from Minneapolis.
Q “Whisper” as in an “instant message”?
A Well, kind of, it’s conversation that you can do actually within the chat room. She liked my sense of humor, I was always so, you know [laughs]…Midwestern, and she used that same sort of Midwestern plain talk. We talked for three or four months and finally exchanged phone numbers. The first time she wanted to call me, I said, “Well, I tell you what, I need to get off the computer for you to call me, so I’m going to switch off now, and I’ll expect your call.”
And she goes, “Okay.” So I turned the computer off. It was a sheer act of faith, no guarantees that she would call. One of my favorite sayings is that “No one knows you’re a dog on the Internet.” It was a New Yorker cartoon. There’s a dog at the keyboard, and there’s a monitor, and he’s typing. “No one knows you’re a dog on the Internet.” She didn’t know if I was a dog or the real thing, and she called, you know. And there was the voice attached to the personality I had already constructed. And it seemed that the person I seemed to be talking to was the person that belonged to the voice except, you know, she was from Minnesota — “How ya doing? Oh, geez.” I mean, not the cartoon Fargo voice, but it was definitely there.
We just started talking about this, that, and the other thing, stuff you talk to friends about at meetings, you know. First, we started talking, you know, contrasting experiences of sober alcoholics, just sort of ideas of God, who He, She, It is, what we used to think and how we think now.
Q So if it happened at all, did the subject of seeing each other come up, and who brought it up, and how long did that take?
A She brought it up a few times, and I never really followed through. I think it was established right off that this was not going to be an intimate relationship. You know, first we were talking to each other like we were friends, and sex was out of the question, absolutely. You know, it’s just a weird dynamic. Part of me didn’t want to meet her, didn’t want to have what I think she looked like demystified.
Q So you told her in no uncertain terms that in order to preserve the relationship that you were not interested in consummating the relationship, taking it to another level.
A At this point, I don’t want to mess it up with any presumptions of what I think I deserve or what I think is inevitable in a relationship. I have to goad myself because I fall in love really easily. I set myself up for a fall a couple of times in a relationship I was in some years ago. People meet someone that sort of burns a hole in your soul and makes an impression that lasts a lifetime. I still don’t know what that’s about, and I’ve just been hesitant ever since to get into another relationship. The times I have that I’ve let my guard down, it didn’t work out. And there’s self-recrimination, remorse, anger, you know…having a “bad-hair day” of the soul. We talk about her relationships and her emotions and I talked about mine. It’s been beneficial as a friendship, a particular type of friendship, and I don’t want to ruin that. I mean, I say that now…of course, by instinct I am an opportunist. I never say never. The earlier relationship that I was talking about was prior to my becoming sober [laughs], “You’d drink too if you had my problems.”
So jumping back to this relationship, I just don’t trust myself making a particular leap if I’m going online. You know, after doing a face-to-face, what do you do now?
Q I see. If it did go well, something would have to change.
A Exactly, and I’m not moving to Minneapolis. Again, I’m not ruling it out. I would like to visit. I’d like visiting her to be part of that larger tour.
Q So that would take some of the pressure off. So it sounds like it’s not a dead issue.
A Well, never say never. We have a good friendship. I am also involved in another online relationship, getting reacquainted with a girlfriend I had in high school who I hadn’t seen for a real long time. We reconnected because of our high school alumni webpage.
Q How interesting. Who found whom?
A I found her. Well, in a way. There was sort of — She was someone I dated in high school for a period. She was the first girlfriend I had in California way back in ’69. I found her webpage, and I found her sister. I remembered the last name. I knew that she had a sister, so I recognized her sister’s name and thought it was her. So I sent her an e-mail and said, “Hi, it’s me,” and said a couple of things that made absolutely no sense to her. But fortunately her sister forwarded the e-mail to her. And then the girlfriend I had in high school sent me this e-mail, and we did some catching up. She doesn’t own a computer, but she communicated from the newspaper she worked at in Los Angeles.
We just e-mailed back and forth, and finally, again after a period, I became intensely curious. You get like that. So it was something like, “Well, this is the computer, and I bought it four years ago, and I bought it to experience something that I hadn’t experienced before, and this is part of it.” Again, wanting to be in a relationship, longing for it to be something different. I decided I wanted to let this play itself out.
Q How long ago did you reconnect with your high school sweetheart?
A It was about two years ago. Years. She was working up in Los Angeles. So she came down on the train.
Q After how long?
A After about 28 years of not seeing each other. She said, “I’m going to come on down there.” So we got to talking, and I told her some things. I said, “You’ve got little green flecks in your eyes.” She said, “How do you know that?” I said, “I remember it.” And she said, “Wow, that’s amazing.” So the train was late down at Santa Fe station downtown. The trains kept arriving but not hers.
Finally her train pulled into the station and I’m sittin’ out there with a sort of vague idea of what she looked like, ’cause, again, I hadn’t seen her in about 28 years. I’m looking at this general interesting assemblage of humanity, and I see her finally. So I walked up to her and she was looking into my eyes, and she said, “Are you Ted?”
Then I took her over to the motel where she had made reservations. We just had a very courtly, proper visit. I expected the distance. I was very curious about how it all would feel. I gave her the tour of San Diego. She had not been to San Diego in 15, 20 years. So we ate at some restaurants, walked around, talked a lot. But we made what I think was probably a big mistake: we went back to the room and attempted intimacy. It wasn’t really successful.
Q That’s pretty dramatic, 28 years, high school sweetheart.
A Yeah. I told her what I was feeling, or thought I was feeling. She was also just out of a relationship of her own that was long-standing. She was reticent to get into a relationship. My instinct was that I somehow found some sort of intimacy through the Internet, and I didn’t like it.
Q How long was it from that first Web contact to the time that you physically met?
A Probably three months.
Q So during that three months this was a pleasant thing in your life.
A Well, it was pleasant, exhilarating in some sense.
Q Did you have the same feeling that you had with the young lady from Minneapolis, that “This feels nice. I can keep that or I can take a chance of losing it”?
A The woman in Los Angeles was something that I overreacted to. I had unreasonable expectations. It was a little too much for me to deal with.
Q Was she your first love?
A She was the first girlfriend I had.
Q That’s pretty powerful.
A Yes, it was. The first one I had sex with was the girlfriend after that. When we got together this time, there was this huge cloud of unknowing. This big sort of mystery between us, you know, “What would it be like?” And I think beyond anything else, we sort of scratched that itch and found out that it was really nothing special. The act itself was sort of very — mediated by performance anxiety.
Q What happened to the relationship after that?
A It just stopped. We stopped communication.
Q So what you were concerned would happen did happen.
A Pretty much. I e-mailed her a few times, but she wasn’t responding.
Q Is your openness to a relationship from the Internet gone?
A Well, that wasn’t the reason why I looked her up. It was more of a “Let’s see what happens if I hook up to the Internet” kind of thing…just go into these chat rooms and see what develops…see what happens if I put my e-mail in here or send an e-mail to somebody I haven’t seen in years. There’s always that sort of “Let’s see what happens.” But now? No. I don’t know if I would trust that box again with my emotional well-being. I was sort of seduced by my own expectations again, which is good. It demonstrated I still had the capacity to feel, that I’m not dead, not driftwood, you know, I’m still breathing, that I have these desires and I can still be activated, that I exist as something more than the sum of my —
A — scars and lost desires and bitterness. I don’t regret the whole thing. But this machine, you know, it’s a glorified mailbox. It’s only as good as the human motivation behind it.
Q Now, one thing I’m curious about is: Did you ever go through a period of yearning and longing for the young lady in Minneapolis? Was there ever any chemistry?
A No, but I have this idea, this notion that sex was never more than one click away. In the case of my original girlfriend who I reestablished contact with, I was seduced by my expectations. Like, “Wow, when are we going to have sex?” But the Minneapolis one is real. There is a camaraderie based on an attraction to a personality, as opposed to a previous history and expectations of sex. It’s a relationship that’s not based on an attempt to decorate the résumé in terms of life’s accomplishments. If there’s something embarrassing, you admit it, which seems like the basis of a good relationship, whether it turns out to be romantic or not. So in answer to your question, I haven’t completely soured on the idea of connecting on the Internet with somebody else. I just think I have more realistic expectations as to what those relationships can be.
Kurt and Becky | Ages: 39 and 35
Q The Internet is a whole new dating ball game. Many of the old rules or customs don’t apply. How did you feel about the lack of personal contact?
A When you meet people face-to-face, you see their appearance before you talk to them. The opposite is true when you meet on the Internet. Basically, when you meet someone you also get information through pheromones, and they’ve proven that. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve read about this. Our bodies actually send out pheromones into the atmosphere, and they land on other people. It affects women more than men. It really affects the way you perceive someone. Like, if you’ve ever been around someone and you just don’t like them and there’s really no obvious reason for it, you know; or, like, when you say someone just isn’t your type — that all has an impact on it.
So when we’re on the Internet, we don’t have that interaction; you know, our pheromones don’t go through the computer and end up on the other side. It’s more of a mental connection. So it’s like doing it in reverse because you are bypassing that, and if you’re going to have a serious relationship with a person you have to come back to that eventually.
Q How did you meet Becky?
A My wife and I both had accounts on America Online, and we met in a Christian chat room. And over time we would meet in there and talk. And basically, when you’re in a chat room, everybody can see what you are saying. So in a sense, it’s kind of a public place.
And then, of course, we started to IM each other and e-mail. I would say from the time I met my wife online to the time that we got married was about eight months. Which is, believe it or not, the average timeline for a relationship. What happens is that whenever two people of the opposite sex start communicating, it’s like a nature thing: You begin to move toward one of three things. You either come to a point where you have to break it off, or you come to a point where you want to get married, or you come to a point, which a lot of people do, where you have a physical relationship without getting married. So, basically, after a certain amount of time that you’re together, your bodies start reacting and things move along. Usually eight months. But I think with the Internet that may get sped up.
Q How long did you chat in the public chat room before you started IM’ing and writing e-mails?
A I would say probably a good month.
Q I see. In Internet terms that would be fairly slow.
A Yes, it was.
Q And what did you see in her small words on the glowing screen that attracted you to her in particular?
A You know, to be really honest, before I actually came out and met my wife, we talked on the phone as well. First of all, we IM’d and talked online. I would say we met around the middle of December. Towards the end of February, I’d made the conscious decision that if I wanted this to proceed any farther that I needed to find out, if I met her, was it going to die right there? Because of what I mentioned before about the pheromones, you know, chemistry. I had met another person online sometime before her, and when we saw each other in person, it just died immediately. It was really strange, you develop a mental connection online and then you meet in person, and it’s not like you’re totally heartbroken, but some people you see and there’s a spark, and with some people there’s just nothing. We didn’t feel bad about it. And so when I thought I might be getting serious about my wife, I actually flew from San Diego to Indianapolis and just spent a couple of days there. I didn’t spend a lot of time; I just wanted to see if there was something there. I didn’t want to waste too much more of my time.
Q What happened after you met in Indianapolis?
A Well, it felt right. So I began planning to move out there. It seems to be easier for a man to change environments, and she had a son as well. In fact, I’ll tell you, when I went out there my wife already owned a house. But with the price of real estate out there I could get a minimum-wage job and still pay the payments on a house for us. So we actually bought a house when I moved there. It’s 2100 square feet. Now, if I was back in California, I’d be lucky to be able to afford to get an 800-square-foot house.
So I decided when we got serious that I would move out there and it would be a lot easier for us to get along financially.
Q How long did it take from the trip to Indianapolis to you moving out there?
A I came in February and things felt right, it really clicked for both of us. We knew that we were a lot more serious about moving forward. So we talked on the phone and we talked online sometimes…but we moved to phone calls for the most part. So then I went out and spent a week with her in May. I remember ’cause it was the week of the Indianapolis 500; then I came back to San Diego. So it was at that time in May that we actually decided that we would be getting married and we had planned the wedding for August. So I got my things together, quit my job…
I didn’t really have a lot of belongings, just a few things I needed to keep. It wasn’t too bad. I went back a week before the wedding, and I stayed with her brother. My mom flew out and so did my grandmother, and I had two friends help; one was my best man. One of the things that was neat is that both of my parents were really supportive.
Q That was my next question. [Laughs.]
A It’s kinda neat ’cause they never met my wife. All they knew was what I told them, basically. We got married in a little church that was built in 1899. And then I had to find a job.
Q How long have you been married?
A Since August of ’97, so three or four years.
Q Things must be going well.
A Yeah, one thing that I’ve always wanted to do ever since I can remember is to adopt children. I always believed that all children should be given a good opportunity to make something of their lives. And when they are in foster care they already have three strikes against them. Because the reason you’re in foster care is because your biological parents could not take care of you properly. And I’m fortunate enough that my wife wanted to adopt. So we have five children now. My wife had a child from a previous marriage and a foster child who we want to adopt and then the three siblings that we have just adopted.
Q So they are all from the same family?
A Yes, they are. So, basically, we met, courted, got married, moved in together, bought a house, and adopted three children all in about four years.
Q That’s a lot.
A Yes, it is [laughs].
Q So have any of your friends become interested in having an Internet romance as a result of being exposed to yours?
A Not really, pretty much all of the friends I have now are married. I don’t have very many single friends. I don’t discuss it much, but a lot of people are pretty amazed by my leaving everything behind to move out there to live with her.
Q So were the people close to you always supportive, or did it take them some getting used to?
A My dad said, “Well, I trust your judgment. If that’s what you want to do, I’m all for it.” It’s nice to have a dad that has that much confidence in my judgment.
Q Do you have any tips for people who are in the midst of or considering getting involved with an Internet relationship?
A As far as the Internet goes, you know a lot of marriages are broken up by Internet romance. We are all creatures of habit, and when we connect with someone mentally, we tend to think the grass is greener. A lot of times, I think, people romanticize it. So my advice would be to realize that you can’t circumvent meeting someone face-to-face. So don’t get too wrapped up at first because sooner or later you’re going to have to meet. When you keep this in mind from the start, at least you can see if it’s not happening before you’ve really invested too much. If you are online and you are talking to someone every night, then you are investing yourself in an unknown situation. It’s not really a romance yet, it’s just a connection that could potentially develop into one if the chemistry is there when you meet. It is also important to be realistic; I mean, if this gets serious, are you willing to move to where she lives if need be?
Q Leaving San Diego must be difficult for you.
A It was not that hard once I made the decision. I am very happy.
Q Could I have a word with your wife?
A I’ll get her. [To her] He’s gotten my side of it, now he wants yours.
Q Was this your first Internet romance?
A I met some others before Kurt, but we didn’t date. I met Kurt in a chat room with 30 other people all chatting at the same time.
Q What was it about Kurt’s words that set him apart from the others?
A He liked my screen name. That was the first thing.
Q Kurt told me you chatted for a couple of months before you IM’d or e-mailed.
A Right. Well, we’d just see each other in the chat room, and one day he suggested that we IM.
Q And that progressed to e-mail and then to phone calls. How often did you talk on the phone?
A Maybe once a week, then a couple times a week. Then after he flew out in March, it was daily. We met in early fall, in the chatroom.
Q How did your friends react to your relationship?
A They thought I was nuts.
Q Was there anybody that was supportive?
A Not really.
Q Did they tell you horror stories about their experience or that of others?
A Just not to trust anybody, and I should go to the airport with someone, and not to be alone with him, and stuff like that.
Q Did you have a chaperone?
A I had one lined up — it was my sister — but her boyfriend wouldn’t let her come.
Q Oh, too dangerous.
A It was in the daytime so I didn’t mind.
Q When you met him at the airport, that was the first time you had ever seen him.
A Yes, and I did ask him online for a couple of references, other people who knew him.
Q What did those people have to say?
A One lady said she had met him online too. She and her husband were from North Carolina, and he had flown out and stayed with them for a week. She said he was real nice except that he was a little bit…I can’t think of the word she said — “eccentric,” I guess. But “really nice.” So I told him he could fly out so we could meet.
Q How did you feel when you first saw him?
A [Laughs.] Well, he got off the airplane and it was mid-March — it was warm here for March — and he had on this huge coat and this big wool hat pulled over his face. I thought he was cute. He just looked so funny and he was the only one wearing a coat. It looked like he was expecting this huge storm.
Q Who did you introduce him to first?
A My friend Cindy and my boss Jennifer. They came over that night and we were playing cards.
Q And after that initial meeting, how did they feel?
A Oh, they thought he was weird.
Q OK, so there was not an instant…
A But I liked him. I thought he was different, but I liked him. For instance, when we were playing cards, he’s very anal with games — that’s just how he is. If you don’t stick to the rules, he gets mad and he acted like that the first time I met him when we were playing cards.
Q So he got right down to…
A …being himself [laughs].
Q He was not afraid to be himself.
A Oh no, he can play a game now without being so uptight. He doesn’t have the rules out reading them lately.
Q Sounds like you are good for him.
A Oh yeah, we are the exact opposite. I’m, like, humorous, easygoing, and he’s a little uptight. You can ask anyone who knows him about the way he was then and the way he is now.
Q Did something inside of you say that there was another, calmer Kurt there waiting to come out?
A Yeah, and other than that, we liked the same things, like music and bowling. And he’s willing to put up with me. I could drive someone crazy. And he likes movies, and at least he was willing to play a game.
Q Did he actually ask you to marry him, or did you talk it over?
A Well, that was in March. And after he went back to San Diego we talked every day. We planned for him to come back out in May and I figured he would ask me to marry him, but he hadn’t really said anything yet. When he came back out the second time in May, he asked me to marry him. The third time he flew out we got married.
Q Did he get down on his knees?
A I have a swing, like a porch swing, on my front lawn, and he proposed to me there on his knees.
Q How long did it take you to say yes?
A [Laughs.] Right after he asked me. We knew…you know.
Q How much time do you spend together?
A All the time, except when he’s at work…so that’s 14 hours a day together.
Q That’s something.
A Yeah, we don’t really have any friends. It’s been him and I, and the kids, of course. When we got together, my 12-year-old son did not want anything to do with him. I mean, I knew Kurt was a good man when after we got married and he moved in, the first thing my son did was tear up Kurt’s room. He didn’t want him there, but Kurt just went with it and stayed.
Q How long did it take for your son to accept Kurt, if he ever did?
A Well, he’s not mad anymore, but he makes it clear that Kurt’s not his dad. He just doesn’t want to let him know that he does like him. We’ve only been married three years — it took two years for him to start to get over it, and then we adopted four more children [laughs]. We’ve been through a lot in our three years together. More than most couples go through in ten.
Q Do you have any advice for someone thinking of getting involved in an Internet relationship?
A I’d say take your time; don’t get married the first time you meet.
Q Which is what you did, well…second time.
A Yes, I would have them date longer. When you’re online and on the phone, it’s not a substitute for one-on-one. So even though we have a good marriage, we still have to work on that emotional aspect. We never really had that dating kind of thing. But I think it works for us ’cause we’re older.
Q So you’re still courting each other.
A We really are. We met, we got married, and then we bought a new house — our other house burnt before we got it sold. That happened a month after we moved out. And then three months after being in our new place we got our first foster child and then after a year we adopted three more kids and on and on and on. He’s a good person to put up with all of that.
Q Sounds like he’s special.
A He is. I try to tell him every day, of course, even though he’s at work eight hours. I probably call him four times a day.
A Yeah, on average, four times a day.
Q Do you send him off with a bag lunch?
A Oh yeah, sometimes.
Q Does he ever get notes in his lunch?
A No [laughs]. I don’t think I’ve done that, are you kidding? I’ve got five other people to make lunch for now. I do try to make him special things, and when he comes home, there is always dinner on the table. Always. And sometimes I’ll drive down and have lunch with him.
Q That’s romantic.
A Yeah, it’s kind of nice.
Q I’ll say, to drive an hour each way to have lunch with him.
A Yeah, we’ll walk around, do something, grab a bite. It’s nice. I try to give him the night off from the kids sometimes, and he does the same for me too. I just go into the bedroom and he’ll deal with them out there. We’re very fortunate that it’s worked out this way…so far [chuckles].
Q When you have disagreements, how do you work them out?
A I make Kurt cry [laughs].
A You think I’m kidding, don’t you? You know what, we hardly have disagreements. [To Kurt] Do we? We really don’t, and if we do… I’m trying to think of the last one, it’s usually over the kids. When we do, we try to talk it out.
Q Right then?
A Maybe not then, but later, ’cause usually he’s mad and I’m mad — and then he’s crying in the bathroom.
A [Kurt] Oh stop.
A But if he makes me too mad, I’ll call his mom in California.
Q Get a referee?
A Well, she’s the only one that can understand what I go through with Kurt. [Laughs.] She knows what he’s like. No, really, we hardly ever have any disagreements. I’m telling you, he’s such an easygoing guy. My ex-husband’s wife threw him out of the house three days before Christmas and he didn’t have a place to stay, and Kurt let him stay here. So that’s what kind of person Kurt is. But I said, if it was his ex-wife, forget it [laughs]. I’m not that nice. I still get online and talk to people, and I talk to people who got together. We just got lucky. [Laughs.] He got lucky.