internet relationships: the good, the bad, and the ugly

My birthday is tomorrow.

Gifts of luv, money, new life, geeky men can be sent here.

what we lose, we become
in this dust bowl of a soul, of this ego of the mind
just a little too hungry, i don’t know

this is something i’ve been thinking about for the last few years that i have never gotten around to writing about. oh yeah sure, i’ve had internet relationships — i think now it’s more of the norm than anything else. but there is so much trepidation about it and so much myth — i finally had a reason to write about it.

so here you are, sl00ting around the web. you find someone’s website that you think kicks ass. you email them. they email you back. your swapping email back and forth all day at work. next thing you know, you’re sitting up on irc all night talking to them. OR your sitting on icq and you get messaged by someone who is dong random searches and you come up. You exchange a few pleasantries and next thing you know your picking out china patterns. OR you are on a mailing list and you start exchanging words with someone whom you admire for their thoughts.

so then what?

someone once said to me, that if airlines started offering special discounts for people who met via the internet, they would make a killing.*

Back in 1995, when i met my first person off the internet, i was scared. At this time, most of the people i hung out with on a daily basis didn’t “get” my obsession with computers or with the internet. My friends didn’t get “it”. But they were intrigued. They thought i was crazy to have been meeting someone, who while i “knew”, i never literally met in “real” life. And that’s how i met Matt.

The basic jist of the story is this: i met Matt on irc one day while i was wasting time instead of working on homework for Trig. He was a student at U of West Georgia. We started talking back and forth and things just clicked. i thought it was silly to have “like” text, but, anyone who knows me knows that i’m pretty stubborn and that nothing stands in my way of things. i liked this person, i liked him a lot. The little thing called geography didn’t bother me. But then there came a time when you can only do so much talking and have to make the decision on whether or not your going to carry the relationship farther than what it is. We made that decision to meet.

i had told all my chums about him by this point and they were as intrigued with meeting him as i was. So, one fine day in October of 1995, he flew to Michigan and we met.

My job was to reserve a motel room and meet him at the airport. My friend Jenni was along for the ride as she had also talked to him via irc and on the phone. i still remember standing at Kent County Airport, smacking on gum anxiously as he debarked from the plane. My breath caught. When he entered the gateway for visitors, i ran up to him and gave him a big hug.

Nervousness was all around.

i remember sitting in my car, getting ready to get out once we hit the bar to meet my friends and he looked at me and i looked at him. i just melted. He learned over and kissed me so right that i became a puddle on the floor. We walked, hand and hand with sheepish grins on our faces to have him meet my friends.

A few foo-foo drinks later, i was calmed down enough to not feel like i was going to throw up. Matt held my hand at the bar as everyone chatted around us. The DJ was playing a slow song when Matt asked me to dance. My friends were looking at us in awe.

When he left a few days later, i cried so hard i thought my heart would break.

Of course, things weren’t as perfect as they had seemed. Matt and i had talked about me flying down to Georgia for his birthday which was also Christmas day. in November of that year, i was planning on going to a journalist conference in DC and had called him to see if wanted to meet me there. He started hemming and hawing about it and told me that if i met someone, to go for it. i was like “what the fuck are you talking about? i’m dating YOU!” he kept telling me that he would understand if i met someone closer and that it would be “okay” if i did that. He also didn’t want me to spend my money on a plane ticket to come down for Christmas. he wanted me to save it. i argued that was whole point of having that money — that was what i saved for.

i flew to DC with the rest of my friends from the college newspaper i was on. ironically, all the girls in the group were dating someone — and i was the only person who didn’t cheat on my “bf”. i did meet RJ — but that is another story in and of itself.

When i got back to a cold and snowy Michigan, Matt called me. i was at the newspaper room working on edits for the next issue. He wanted to break up — he needed time. He needed to make sure this was what he wanted. i couldn’t believe it. i was absolutely aghast. i cried and begged and pleaded. i had convinced myself that i was in love with him and i thought he felt the same way. That is what he told me. i had put my faith in someone and i got my heart broken.

The truth came out a few years later:

it seems that while matt was finishing his degree, he had short funds (who isn’t in college). A good friend of his was going to live in Atlanta and was going to sublet her apartment. it was a two bedroom and she was going to sublet it to him and to another girlfriend of hers.

He and the other roommate started dating and had been since the summer, while i was under the impression that we were a “couple”.

Matt found me a few years later on irc and wanted to call me — he had things to tell me. i had known about the story from him previously — but he needed to tell me something he said.

So i was living with Danny then and even though Matt and i had worked out our differences as a couple, we were still friends.

He told me, that he had fucked up. it had been eating away at him for the last couple of years of what he had done to me. He knew, he said, that i was the one for him. But the whole distance thing and my faith in him drove him mad. He got shit over (who hadn’t?) by his last girlfriend before me and he just assumed that i would do the same. So, to protect himself, he started dating the roommate. The ended up living together later on. it wasn’t that he really loved her — he did. But he wasn’t in love with her like he was with me. He knew he fucked up. He knew that he had let fear and uncertainty eat away at his soul till he had to cut me loose. He couldn’t apologize enough he said. He wished he could go back to make things right. but by this point, years had traveled between us. i was living with danny — we were talking about getting engaged. my heart broke even more because the girl in 1995 would have said yes to him in a heartbeat. and now things had changed. he loved me he said — and he always would. he would never forgive himself for letting me go. he told me he loved me and that was literally the last time i heard from him.

on the ride into work, Cat, Scott and i had the conversation about internet relationships. i needed feedback. i wanted to know what they thought about it. Cat had scary stories — not of her own personal relationships but of freaky friends she knew. Scott was more positive about it. He said, if it weren’t for the fact that he was meeting new people off the internet, he wouldn’t know what he would do. He’s extremely shy — this gives him a chance to open up and talk to people he would have problems talking to in face to face conversations. Scott moved to SF for someone he had met on-line, and they dated for two years. Cat told me of a girlfriend of hers that had been “dating” this guy for about seven months before she actually met him. The friend flew to be with him for the summer, they fell in love even more so and got married.

For me? Well, that’s a whole different story in and of itself. Out of the countless 100s of people i have met off-line that i knew on-line, the relationships are really no different than in a face to face encounter. i love going out drinking and having fun, but i do not think highly of meeting people in bars. Four years ago, the one person i had met in a bar had attempted to rape me at his house. if it weren’t for the fact i had brought a friend with me, it probably would have happened.

But out of all those 100’s of people i’ve met, 90% had been platonic relationships. i’ve meet people from user groups or mailing lists of common interests. i’ve gone to parties and what not. it’s no longer weird or strange, it just /is/. Living out in SillyValley, where everything is internet related, it’s hard not think that you met someone off-line as opposed to online. This past Christmas time, i was walking around downtown with a bunch of people i had met from the mailing list FTE. it didn’t seem strange to me that the i wouldn’t have met any of these people if it weren’t for the fact that i had to take the initiative and sign up on the mailing list.

i’ve heard people rag on the fact that people who are on-line have no life (i find it amusing they feel the need to say this on irc — hypocrites?). But, if someone was out going out every night and partying and wooping it up — that’s having a life? it’s a contradiction in terms to me. Like what i said above — that i am weary of meeting people in bars — but on the flips ide, where else am i gonna find someone with similar interests but at a like gathering? it just doesn’t make sense to me why the common thread seems to be that people are all over the fact that it’s okay to do one thing and not okay to do another.

a few years ago, i came up with a book idea about two soul mates who lived 3000 miles apart from each other. each chapter of the book flip-flopped between the two characters: each telling their own side. i hadn’t thought about how they had met yet, but the idea would be that they would have a relationship /before/ they met. that they knew upon meeting that the other was it.

i’ve always been a mind person. i would rather have dated someone who thinks similar to me than to date some gorgeous stud muffin. eye candy isn’t enough — i need mental stimulation or else i’m gonna get bored. and where else but the internet are you gonna find it like that? And the same thing flips both ways. i want someone who appreciates my head first than my body. that’s important to me. i’m not always going to be young and beautiful, but I’ll always have my mental facilities about me.

i hope.

it’s now June 12, 1999. And i should really get to the point of what this long rambling chronicle was about:

Lisa’s Steps to a Successful internet Meeting:

  • internet time vs Real timePlease be aware that things are highly accelerated in meeting someone on the net. The very basic conversion that for every one month on-line that you know someone, it equals 6 months in a day to day “face to face”. Why? Because of the lack of interaction with that person, everything is going on by feelings and words, which we all know is very intense. How you choose to act with that person is your call, but feelings and what not can be very harsh and unreal it seems. So take it slow.
  • On-line personality vs real-life personalityThis is a big one. The huge argument that i’ve heard about meeting people off-line is that you really don’t know them. My devils argument is that you probably know them better than anyone else. They choose to revel to you what they might not revel to their day to day counterparts. Be aware of that. it’s important that you go by gut instinct and how you feel. if something doesn’t feel right about the person, don’t put yourself in a position to disappoint yourself. Too many times people say “Well i didn’t know!” and they did know, they just choose to ignore it.
  • Timing is the keyWhen the words “i think we should meet” come out — be prepared for your relationship to change. Once you start about meeting face to face in the BBR (big blue room), you’ll find that anxiety and fear can start replacing your calm cool collected feelings about the person. While yes, it would be great to meet the person casually, don’t rush. This is very important. if you have interweb-newbie friends, they are going to think that meeting someone off-line is going to be weird. Go with what feels comfortable with you. For some people, meeting the next day works while with others it’s a year later. When and how you decide to meet is totally up to you, there is no set limit.
  • Friends and Familyif you are involved in an internet relationship that is of the romantic flavor, and you tell your friends they may think you have been hitting the crack pipe a little too hard. it is MUCH MORE common now to meet people on-line then ever before. They may disapprove. They may say harsh things. i’ve been on both sides of the fence, but once my “real” friends got used to the idea that i had “on-line” friends they were more willing to accept me meeting them. There are always going to be stories about people who got killed, raped or what have you from meeting someone online. Most of these stories can be traced back to urban legends and or myths started from something else. Meeting someone on-line and carrying it over to “real” life is no different then meeting someone from a personals ad or meeting them in another medium ie: through friends, blind dates or what have you.
  • Common Sense When you are planning on meeting someone for the first time, keep in mind the following items, which is basically all common sense:1. Meet in a public place. For coffee or dinner or what have you. Most of the friendships i have kept and generated from being on-line, those friends tend to be 1000’s of miles away. if i get really good vibes from the person, we will make arrangements to stay at each others house. My friend James flew in from England on five days notice and stayed with me and my roommates to go see Star Wars: Phantom Menace. Since James and i are platonic friends, there was no pressure other than nervousness (which is normal) when we met. We fell into our roles in real life as we did online. Because neither one of us really talked about the “stress, fear, anxieties” or even felt it before we met, our meeting was like two old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years.
    2. Out of town trips. if you are planning on meeting for the first time, take the time out to plan a trip. Again, work with what’s best for you. When i lived in Michigan, i drove everywhere, which i loved doing. i would crash at someone’s house and we would go to an irc party and have fun. Now, that it seems that most of the people i keep running into live more than 1k miles from me, flying to see them is the only option. Going by the rules above, when a date is planned, talk about the transportation. Split the cost of the plane/train/bus ticket. Decide what feels right to you about where to meet (whose city) and where you are going to stay. For some, staying at a hotel is an option or staying at the persons house. go what feels comfortable for you.basically, i could go on and on about this. but when you come right down to it, each meeting is unique and individual as the two people meeting. keep your wits about you, don’t let fear or anxiety override your feelings for the person and everything will be fine.

luv,
the birthday girl

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