HELL: Live and let die
During my senior year of college, I was working on my thesis: "The Stages of Online Relationships." Not surprisingly, my research took a decidedly ethnographic slant when I met Ian. He had a brogue and a military title -- he apparently had served in the Falklands War (which was really the Realm's last imperialistic belch) -- and he said "I love you" first (and unprompted). How could any girl resist that combination?
Within weeks of meeting him online, I flew down to Texas to meet him -- and noticed the following: (1) He was considerably larger than expected; but hey, I was a woman in love, and I chose to be as deep as he was wide. (2) He refused to wear a seat belt, a little revolutionary act against America. (3) He liked his hotel rooms below freezing, which resulted in Little Miss Me flying home fluish. No matter -- we were in love.
Memorial Day weekend, I logged on and sent Ian an instant message. In response, I was told by someone who identified himself as Ian's friend, that Ian had been killed in a car crash. Cue hysteria on my part, barely contained despite late-night consolation from my roommate and my parents. I couldn't believe it. Oh, cursed safety harnesses! Oh, prideful expatriate! Over the next couple months, I tried to be a brave online widow, finding comfort in the (embarrassingly earnest) shrine I'd made to Ian. It consisted of his picture, a shell I'd found with him on the beach, and a sad, empty bottle of Aspen that I'd begged off the perfume girl at a local department store.
Months later -- one day in August, to be more exact -- my roommate informs me that someone named Andrew has called for me. Presuming it is a dear friend from D.C., I eagerly answer the phone that evening. "Hey, Laurell, this is Andrew," drawls an unfamiliar voice. "Do you remember me?" I did not. "Are you sitting down?" he asked. I immediately balanced on the back of the couch. "Remember Ian?"
To my credit, I maintained my precarious perch on the sofa while Andrew disclosed the "truth." He worked for the government, he said, investigating terrorist activity on the Web. During his assignment, he met me, fell in love ... and was told by his superiors to end the relationship or risk jeopardizing the effort.
Now, the recovering Harlequin addict in me might have been tempted to buy the whole "I'm a lord and you can be my lady" crap, but I knew a steaming stream of crap when I heard one. Maybe it was Andrew's confession that "Ian got on [his] nerves, ya know?"
The coup de grâce, discovered through a series of still more pathetic decisions on my behalf, was that Andrew was married. With children. It was almost enough to make a girl give up on meeting folks on the Internet ... until the Welsh millionaire came along. But that, brothers and sisters, is an different story entirely.
-- Laurell Haapanen, Seattle, Wash.
HEAVEN: Going for quantity but finding quality
As you often hear from happy people whose stories make you sick, I wasn't looking for true love. I was looking for kinky sex. And the fact that I was answering ads from a kinky sex Web site should've made that clear. But to anyone surprised to learn that your basic S/M types would be looking for a serious relationship, let me say that the majority of kinky counterparts I came in contact with were in search of just that -- someone they could tie up, spank or urinate on but, ultimately, just someone to love.
I'd already had something of a fun and slutty summer, followed by two disappointing meetings in a row, so I'd decided to leave my heart out of it and go for quantity over quality. "The King of Kink" was actually the third guy I'd met in 10 days, by which time my emotional investment and expectations were pretty low. But there was something startlingly kind and comfortable about this man that stood out above the others. I decided I didn't want to meet anyone else.
Since I still wasn't thinking about something long-lasting, it didn't hit me right away that I was falling in love; that I was actually thinking about a future with this guy. But one night while watching "Black Adder" together, I had the feeling I was home. After a few months, I was using the "M" word for the first time in my life and not feeling nauseous or panicked. He felt the same. And we each felt guilt over past relationships that had ended because we'd thought we weren't the marrying kind. (Remember "It's not you, it's me"? Turns out it is you). And we learned we were the marrying kind, once we found each other.
Our wedding was in Las Vegas, a year and a day after we met, in a semi-Jewish ceremony, with a yarmulked "Austin Powers" presiding, in front of friends and family who only know I met my husband online and that I'm very, very happy.
And truthfully, he and I are not a perfect match even when it comes to our kinks, but that's not likely to last forever (like, say, a piercing or a branding -- oh, never mind). But the way we view the world and the commitment we have to each other probably will.
Good luck to all of you in search of love.
-- Name withheld
HEAVEN: Laughing all the way to the altar
I really had no business trying to get another relationship going when we met. I'd recently made a Lifetime-movie-of-the-week-worthy escape from a relationship with a guy who owned the movie "Lost in Space" on both DVD and LaserDisc because he liked the sound quality. He would flip between the two of them and ask which one I thought had better center-channel sound. Every weekend.
I went to dinner with a friend and we decided that what we really needed was a couple of nice, light, fun relationships. We laughingly composed an ad designed to lure the kind of sex-deprived Silicon Valley boys we saw in the cubicles around us every day.
"Do you have to look in your Palm Pilot to remember the last time you had sex? Does using the words 'sex' and 'palm pilot' in the same sentence make you blush?"
When I got home, I decided to actually post the ad. If nothing else, it would give my friend and me something to laugh about. I expanded on it, included some of my information, posted it on Yahoo personals, and waited for the responses to roll in. They did, but were mostly delete-button fodder.
I heard from guys who wrote really, really bad porn even though I hadn't asked them to, and some guys who couldn't spell (worst were the porn messages written by guys who couldn't spell).
Slipped in among all of them was an e-mail from a guy who said he liked to cut up old issues of Highlights for Children and put new captions on the illustrations. He made me laugh, so I wrote back to him.
We traded "Simpsons" quips and well-edited personal information for a week before we decided to meet. With great trepidation, I parked my car and took the train to Berkeley. He was there when I got off the train, despite the fact that I was half an hour late. I first spotted him leaning against the railing, reading a book. He looked up, we made eye contact, and walked to dinner.
I suppose the food was good; we never really touched it, because we were laughing so hard by the time it arrived. At one point the owner of the restaurant came over and chastised us for not eating the meal he had prepared.
After that, we went for a drink, and as we sat in the window of the bar, I decided that I really wanted to kiss this guy. So I leaned over and said, "I know I'm going to do this at some point tonight, so I'm just going to get it out of the way." Then I kissed him. It was probably fumbling and awkward, but in my mind I remember it as perfect.
The fling was a failure. Wedding invitations with our names on them will be mailed out in March. Life is good.
-- Sara Achenbach
HELL: A snail male's lament
This is not the typical Internet romance story but another take on the situation.
My girlfriend and I had been going out for a year when she started chatting with someone -- secretly, over a period of six months -- while I helped her move to new cities, jobs and houses, and helped her through a wide range of family, medical, monetary and social crises, including a miscarriage. Finally, she borrowed money from me to travel overseas to meet some mutual friends, and unbeknownst to me, arranged for her Internet love to meet her also (to her credit, she did eventually pay me back). I met her at the airport on her return full of recharged love for her, and she was cold, then colder, then coldest and soon broke up with me, citing irreconcilable differences.
Three months of "just friends" later, I found out about the guy; six months after the breakup, I found out how long she had been chatting with him -- after our dates and fights and parties and trips. Eight months later I helped her move overseas to his city; and five years after that they are married -- and good luck to them.
I realize that there is nothing surprising about the story so far, but there is a point that needs to be made, especially for those involved in similar situations. I felt betrayed and angry as I found out more and more of these revelations. If I had known that every time she did something that annoyed me, she chatted for hours with a guy on another continent who didn't have to deal with her insensitivity or her nature, well, maybe I could have been more realistic to her about the lure of fantasy vs. reality, or maybe I wouldn't have worried about being so supportive through everything that happened between us.
He hadn't had to sit beside her for hours while she complained about his friends; he hadn't had computer discs thrown at his head or had to listen to her oft-described conspiracy theories about supermarkets or banks or the world in general. He only got the good bits. Had I known about it, maybe I could have approached it somehow, or at least been aware that I had a competitor saying in her ear when she was angry, "You're right. He doesn't really understand you."
If this had gone on with a man in the same town, I would have found out sooner, and would have had a better chance of competing on an even playing field. How can you win when you don't know the game is being played? (Yeah, I know sports are bad analogies for relationships. Got a better one? War, perhaps.)
It is very possible that the two of them are better suited; perhaps we would have broken up anyway. But the third party is often shafted when a lover cheats online. Trust me -- it hurts! So if you are the one doing it, if you are planning to try things with the e-love -- think about breaking it off with your snail-male now. Come clean about the relationship straight away, move on out that door, and if you're not sure enough to do that straight away, ask yourself why. Do you just like having a second fiddle or something nice on the buns warmer? Is that fair?
Alternatively, if you are having fun on the e-side, and it looks like it's becoming serious, ask yourself if you are giving the present boy all the chances he deserves. Why not set up a dummy account and flirt with him as well? See how he does with the same questions.
Be careful out there. It's not all as at-arms-length as you might think.
-- Name withheld