HELL: P.S. (Burn your clothes immediately)
I posted an ad that was both discreet -- not too much identifiable info -- and specific -- left-wing anti-authoritarian who likes silly but practical men.
We corresponded for two weeks, revealing more layers of ourselves. I'd be waiting for his next message and laugh with happiness when it arrived. His enthusiasm and wit intrigued me; he enjoyed my dreams about the French revolution as well as the odd synchronicities between us.
I got his phone number, and we talked until 3 in the morning and then until 4 in the morning the next night, and I still made it to my exam the next day. We were extremely candid with each other about our sex lives and sexualities. We planned to meet each other the next night and dared each other to have sex.
He was late. I was so nervous I felt like vomiting. He was skinnier than I had imagined; I was fatter than he had. We sat in awkward non-silence in his car: Who the hell were these people? Certainly not the witty, comfortable, sexual creatures who had been talking for hours the night before.
We agreed on buying a bottle of whisky and sat in his car by the sea, with him eating "evil corporate chips" and me spilling whisky on myself.
Then it was back to a room at the hotel he had booked, the hotel having been suggested by me. It was outwardly a cute little boutique with an impressive staircase and crystal chandeliers, but the rooms were poky with unimpressive décor, and our room had a stunning view of a car park.
We sat on the bed, drinking more whisky. I read excerpts from "Alice Through the Looking Glass," and we realized that there was nowhere to play CDs.
Eventually I made the move, to just get it over and done with, and the sex was OK. During the night I got up and went to the spare bed. Everything just felt hideously awkward.
We went for breakfast the next morning, and he told me that he found me "loud." I didn't mention that I found him controlling and pedantic.
I should add that he seemed like a basically nice, interesting person whose boundaries were probably incredibly challenged by the situation, and I was mostly drunk on whisky, which is a) not something I do very often and b) a beverage that does bring out the particularly wild elements of my nature.
Anyway, we parted with a profound sense of disappointment and relief on both sides.
Then I had to contact him via e-mail to inform him it was likely that I had given him head lice, which my 6-year-old had passed onto me.
-- Catherine May, Dunedin, New Zealand
HEAVEN: Engineer magnetism
She didn't have a picture in her profile, and somehow I found that intriguing. I e-mailed her; she responded. After a couple of months, we made a date.
She was 20 minutes late. I got cold feet and bailed after 15 minutes. So we missed each other. We agreed to give it one more try. We met in a coffeeshop in Berkeley. I was reading Mao's "Little Red Book" when she walked in. I figured, if she's going to flip out, might as well be now.
We talked for four hours that day (Christmas Eve). The next day we went ice-skating. It was pretty obvious that there was something going on. She's an engineer (civil). I'm an engineer (software). We actually like to play with slide rules. When she talked to me about the tensile strength of steel, I knew she was a keeper.
After two and a half years together, we got married a month ago, and we're just back from our honeymoon in Paris. I could not be happier. She's wonderful, smart, delightful, stunningly beautiful, and she pretends to find me attractive. What more can a guy ask for ?
-- Max Tardiveau, Oakland, Calif.
HELL: You don't say
I answered her ad at Yahoo out of curiosity more than anything else. Really. Having not dated in two years, I was content with the go-it-alone theory. Yet, for some unaccountable and unexplained reason, I started viewing profiles and ultimately sent Jamie a reply.
We agreed to meet at a local diner. What followed would be 45 of the most perplexing minutes I've spent in some time. I recognized her immediately, despite her being considerably heavier than her photo indicated. That was fine. At 6 feet and 230 pounds, I'm pretty burly. It was the conversation that left me crestfallen.
In under an hour, between my piece of apple pie and her bowl of chicken rice soup, she divulged the following: She was currently "between jobs," collecting disability. "Oh," I said with a small amount of genuine concern. "Were you in some sort of accident?
"No," she said. "I had a nervous breakdown. But I'm on behavior-modifying medication now, so I'm fine. And I made some great friends at the hospital. The guards were great. We used to smoke and crack jokes."
I also learned she lived in the basement of her ex-stepmom's new boyfriend. "Not bad," she said. "I fixed it up real cute." She offered up that her cleavage was her "best asset" and she was the self-appointed wedding planner for her friend's big day because, well, she had been planning hers since birth.
She told me her best friend committed suicide by lying down on the railroad tracks, gladly re-enacting the very scary head flinching she was unable to control when she got the bad news. She never once asked me where I worked, what I did, or where I lived. It was mid-October 2001, just over a month after That Day, and she didn't say a word about any of it. Not a syllable. It was like it never happened. "I don't read the newspapers or watch TV news," she said. "I don't wanna know that shit."
Time to leave. I offered to walk her to her car, a unit smothered in stickers for skateboard companies and really bad alternative bands. Centered in the middle of her rear window was a large sticker reading "Boy Beater."
I told her to have a good night and, lying my ass off, also told her I would call her after the weekend. "OK," she said, as I walked away. "Huuuuuugggggs." She stood there with her arms out.
"Yeah, hugs," I stuttered, eager to return to my solitary state.
-- John H., Ferndale, Mich.
HEAVEN: Boy howdy
Whenever I am hung over, I am a mammoth appetite crammed into a spinning vacuum of a head balanced on legs made of jelly. That morning was no exception. I was also late and stressed out. I'd been waiting to meet this guy for weeks, ever since he replied to my Match.com ad with a badly spelled note hinting at his life as an outdoorsman, a rugged testosterone-stoked type who had no time for bullshit like correct spelling.
On the phone, he had a gravelly voice that promised earthy sex and roughneck exploits like whisky-swilling late-night poker sessions, sharp-shooting, extreme off-road driving, and barroom brawls. His sense of humor -- 10th grade with a liberal slathering of pure sicko -- was irresistible, given the cynical frame of mind I was in following a humiliating divorce.
The trouble was, he was always traveling and we lived 100 miles apart. So we'd gotten to the point of long and frequent phone calls and rapid-fire exchanges of jokes in e-mail a long time before we got it together and met. He'd become a disembodied friend, floating outside the walls of my universe, and I had been hooked for several weeks.
Now, because of my self-pitying habit of staying up writing e-mails to guys and drinking a six-pack of Sapporo every night, I was an hour late, and I'd forgotten to take his cell phone number. Red-blooded fantasies combining the best of "Annie, Get Your Gun" and "9 Weeks" were popping like soap bubbles in my brain as I drove. All the same, I drove the 60 miles to our agreed-upon meeting place, which was mercifully a Denny's, in record time. Speeding when you are as hung over as I was is not a sensible thing to do, and I was relieved when I pulled into the parking lot, even though I didn't expect him to be there.
I was struck by two strong emotions when I first saw him. The first was disappointment. He was not the chiseled Harrison Ford type I had conjured to explain my attraction to him. He was unshaven, balding, bespectacled, and a little chubby, with a Che Guevara mustache. The second was elation. He was still waiting for me after an hour, he drove a huge pickup truck with massive knobby tires, and he was smoking a cigarette.
I let him buy me a huge breakfast. Then we went up into the Sierra Nevada in his pickup and took a long hike. I didn't know he had a gun, a filleting knife, and a shovel in the truck. I later told my friends he looked and acted like a combination of Yosemite Sam and Sam Elliott.
We've been married for three years now.
-- Margaret Malone, Dallas, TX