Believe me, I'm the last one you'd expect to tout the marvels of
technology. To me, hardware is hammers and nails, and a laptop is
where you sit a child. But that was before I went online last year -- before I discovered cyberdating.
Since then, it's been Allan in Toronto, Larry in Brooklyn and Mark
in Phoenix. There's been a witty London stranger and a banker in Mexico
City. A physician in West Palm Beach and computer wonks from South Jersey
to Zurich. All met through the Jewish Singles Forum on Compuserve.
Call me a cyberslut. While in more earthly venues I'm reserved and
sometimes shy, sitting in front of a monitor brings out my anima,
the femme fatale within. This is my medium. The verbal finesse of a
practiced writer is hard to resist online. During a live computer chat, you
exchange private one-on-one banter as your partner's responses roll down
the screen. You can dazzle chatmates with a clever word here, coy
repartee there. Most are bowled over simply by my typing speed.
As a single gal pal explains the appeal, e-mail relationships offer
the intimacy-challenged man "the illusion of closeness, without the
reality." I have much younger suitors whose romantic ardor I discourage and
invitations from overseas that are sweet, but impractical. And no cybersex
please, not even with the charmer from Cleveland who proposed marriage
during our first two-hour chat.
With a little daring, literary charm and a primitive 1988 hard
drive, I've found I'm only a keyboard away from adventure and intrigue. If
there's a spark during a chat, you can trade e-mail addresses to continue
the correspondence or arrange a future online rendezvous ("Meet you at 10
p.m. Wednesday, in the singles forum"). With a select few, I've shared
phone numbers -- the ultimate trust.
My most incredible online experience so far was meeting Phil from
Montreal. After one e-mail exchange, I had a nagging hunch. Was there an
otherworldly chance he was an engineering major at a
Penn State frat in the '70s with reddish hair?
"Yep," came the reply, amazed and bewildered ... followed by a
second back-to-back e-mail dated 20 minutes later. "Was I quiet
and did I live in North Halls?" BINGO.
While we had only dated about four times over the course of two
college trimesters during 1974-75, Phil became a born-again friend. We
began a rapid succession of e-mails, filling each other in on the missing
Our paths had taken similar turns so there was a certain
postmodern poetry about it. Both of us went on to Ivy League graduate
schools -- he to Yale, me to Brown. We both lived in Washington, D.C., and
Center City, Philadelphia, at various times. Phil went to Canada to teach
at McGill University and then started his own business as a computer
consultant. I also spun out on my own in 1985 as a freelance writer. Now in
our early 40s, neither of us had ever married.
He recalled hardly anything about our long-ago dates except that he
thinks he tried to kiss me once and it was like "kissing a wall." So he
THINKS he tried to kiss me? Well I remembered more than that -- at least
enough to embarrass both of us. Phil pleaded "selective amnesia."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Suddenly, I realized the definitive story was only a drawer away.
Surely, the voluminous spiral-bound volumes of angst of my college journal
would tell all. About Phil, I had written, "He is not 'Mr. Wonderful' but he is
reasonably bright, pleasant and very polite." A few dates later, however,
the verdict was "self-centered and egotistical." I complained about too
much beer, loud music and unstimulating conversation.
I e-mailed these findings to Phil, who took it all in stride and
quipped back that he is still self-centered. In January 1975, I scribbled
that I would go out with him again if he called, but not on a regular
basis. After that, though, there was no more mention of Phil.
Soon after we renewed our relationship online, Phil phoned to tell me that he would be visiting his sister in nearby
Cherry Hill, N.J. He'd be driving from Canada and
promised to phone when he got here.
"It's about time you called after 22 years," I teased, concealing
surprise that his voice was unfamiliar. The transition from anonymous
e-mail to the more immediate presence of the telephone was a bit unnerving.
We made plans to meet for dinner. My friend George said he hoped the
reunion would be enjoyable, but what if it was? he asked. "Twenty years of what
could have been. Really, could you handle that?"
My mother responded predictably that she'd like having a son-in-law
from Yale. I also have e-mail pen pals from Cornell and Harvard, I added coolly. "What are you waiting for? MEET THEM
ALREADY," she begged. I can't believe my own mother is not worried they could
be ax murderers. "So ask them to meet you at our house." As
if a blind date from the cyber-heavens isn't weird enough without having
your parents watching.
The big night arrived. After half a lifetime, I nearly didn't
recognize my date. He neglected to tell me he had shed the amorphous beard
and nerdy glasses since college. Over dinner, we chatted about our jobs,
families, dating history. I observed, amused, that he didn't even finish
one beer. He lost his taste for drinking after getting into meditation, he
explained. Really? We joked about our lack of social skills in college. He
couldn't remember my major and is not sure he ever asked. I conceded I was
practically mute around men. At the end of the evening, Phil walked me to
my car and mumbled something convincing in French that he must have picked
up in Montreal. He waited in the winter cold to see that my car started. We
should get together again when he's in town, we agreed, smiling
uncertainly, as if we were lingering once more at the door of a college
I lay awake much of the night, thinking about this unbidden
collision of past and present, the disparate galaxies of time.
There is no resolution for what was and what is. That impermeable
darkness that connects us to history and intimates the future.
You can run to cyberspace, after all, but you cannot hide.