The weird thing about the digital era is that you can fall for someone, really fall for them, without ever meeting. Not in an obsessive fan-fic way, but with very deep, true, invested emotion.
After needing a break from men for a while, I eased myself back into the dating scene via online dating and my algorithmic matchmaker of choice was OkCupid. I had a brief stint with a guy who was a Crossfit enthusiast, and when that fell through I decided I quite liked the benefits of dating a fitness addict, and searched for more of the same.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my search was flawed in that I’d forgotten to constrain the geographical boundaries. Thus, what I was rewarded with was a complete list of every OkCupid user with “Crossfit” listed as his interest, ranked by descending match percentage. The #1 hit was handsome, gorgeous even. His smile was unreal, unforgettable. It’s years later, and I still remember exactly how that first smile made me feel- as if my veins had been shot up with a potent cocktail of intrigue and desire. It wasn’t until I clicked through and perused his profile that I realized this 99% match was not destined to work- he was living in California, and I in New York, soon to move to England.
With nothing to lose, I messaged him anyway. It was something along the lines of,
“Hello! You may wonder why a girl from thousands of miles away is messaging you, or even how she found your profile. That’s probably a longer story than I need to share. Basically, we will probably never meet and I have nothing lose, and I believe that it’s always nice to say nice things. So, here goes: You are really hot. Like, really hot. And your smile is incredible. That’s all I wanted to say. Good luck with your search and have a great day!”
I figured I would leave it at that. Guys always seem to be the ones complimenting the girls, and I figured why not turn the tables for a change. Maybe he’d be having a bad day and appreciate it. Maybe he’d be weirded out. In either case, I was fairly certain that the results of me sending one note to a stranger over the internet couldn’t be too resounding. I never expected a response.
But I got one.
I woke up the next morning, and thanks to the time difference I suppose he’d written to me while I slept. He was appreciative of the compliments, reciprocated them, and made a few other remarks worth a reply. That night, I wrote back.
In the morning, I had another message.
This carried on until it transitioned to e-mails. Every day I would wake up, and check my inbox hoping not to be disappointed while trying to reign in this illogical emotion I was feeling. It was illogical, I knew that, but we can’t help who we feel for. He was good, so good, morally. His values matched, or even raised mine. He was intelligent, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and unerringly respectful. For the first time in a long time I felt as though my brain, my emotions, and my personality were all superseding my sex appeal, and for the first time in a long time I felt valued and precious. Messages from him were becoming the high point of my day.
I was a nanny at the time, just for a few months before taking on grad school. I gave him my number, told him sometimes I got bored while the baby napped and that he could entertain me while I worked. He did. The first few hours of my morning always dragged because it was too early for Californians to be up and about. I would go into work, do the breakfast routine and then put the baby down for his first nap and sit absently on the couch with the baby monitor until my phone would vibrate with a text, almost exactly at noon everyday. He always asked how it was going, or started with a joke. I don’t know how but I remember that in weeks and months of the same routine I never got tired of that first text each day. I would text him photos of the simple humor that childcare brings.
I moved to England and we worked out a way to Skype frequently. I relied on him a lot those first few months as I adjusted to the culture shock. Before I knew it, we’d been speaking every day for half a year. His grad school had a study abroad program in London, he told me. He applied. He got in.
He was coming to England in ten months’ time.
We never had ‘the talk.’ We never defined what it was that we were doing. More than once I would look at myself in the mirror and wonder just what on earth I was getting into. Here was somebody who I may actually never meet, and yet because of his presence in my life, however remote, I was unable to emotionally invest in anybody else. It all felt so strange, like something from a novella or a teen TV series, but certainly not like something I would be doing. And yet.
We soon slid past the year mark of when we first began talking every day. As the academic year closed and summer approached, I grew jittery with anticipation. I imagined what I would wear when I went into London to meet him for the first time. I would wear a short sleeve, white lace dress. Hair down, long, with its natural wave. Minimal makeup and flats. I wanted to think I would maintain my composure when I saw him, but suspected that instead I would throw caution to the wind and jump onto him. Would he kiss me? I hoped so, but I didn’t want to hope too hard. None of the romance was ever explicit.
The summer months were my field season. I needed to travel and collect data for my thesis, living for six weeks in a remote area of the Andes. Shortly before I left, he told me of a girl he met. We’d both been dating for the last year and a bit- I’d had a ‘boyfriend’ even, although I always knew it wasn’t as meaningful as it ought to have been. There was no taboo, but I knew that nobody else was going to measure up. I could easily separate sex and attraction from my deeper emotions, and I knew that I was only biding time until the latter were fulfilled. For him, though, maybe it was different.
The first moment in which he described her to me, I knew it meant trouble. He’d never told me his archetypal woman but as he described her, I knew she fit the mold. He was enamored. I was jealous. I encouraged him to pursue it- he’d never had anything meaningful for as long as I’d been speaking to him, it was his time to actually feel something.
Halfway through my field season, I was sitting alone in my shack of an apartment, watching hazy spanish television that faded in and out with the weather. I didn’t have a phone, and my internet was spotty. He and I hadn’t set up a time to Skype in weeks. When I finally caught him via instant messenger, I was so relieved. Finally we would be able to talk, catch up, plan our meeting in the autumn.
He only had a few minutes, he said. He was heading to a summertime beach barbecue. How was I? I was okay, getting by and ready to go home. That was good. He needed to tell me something. What did he need to tell me? He didn’t know how to explain to his new girl that a stranger he met over the internet was expecting him to study abroad in London next term. It made more sense, and it was easier, to just cancel the trip. That was his prerogative, I said. But before I let it go, I needed to hear that it at least had meant something to him. That it wouldn’t be easy, or painless, to shut me out. He didn’t even know me. He was sorry I seemed hurt. He didn’t know what else to say, except that he had to go.
I said two words, seven letters.
And that was the end of that.