by Kelly Bowles
Computing lifestyles require one to become comfortable with social interactions over the Internet, and it is not uncommon to find oneself intellectually attracted to other users. Some users inevitably find themselves precariously falling in love with someone they have never seen, who may live on the opposite side of the country, or even on the opposite side of the world. Here are the stories of two couples who met each other the Internet, and why one failed and one suceeded.
Eloquence is running late, so she will be one of the last to join some of her best friends tonight at a Boston dance club. She is consumed with anticipation, eager to see all of them. Especially Raphrat, whom she suspects she is in love with, and has been shamelessly flirting with for months. As she finally enters the strobe-lit club, and immerses herself in the smoke and the crowd, home suddenly seems very far away.
Still excitedly anxious, she looks around, squinting without her glasses to read name tags. Eloquence is in a more unusual circumstance than you may think, becuase she is surrounded my her friends, but can't find them. Believe it or not, Eloquence does not know what her friends, and the man she is falling in love with, look like.
In actuality, Eloquence's given name is not Eloquence, but Elly. And Raphrat's given name is Bradley. Confused? Eloquence and Raphrat are only their online ‘screen names' that they use to establish their Internet identities.
Elly and Brad, along with the rest of the two-hundred people here, know each other over the Internet. This Boston event is called Convergence, and is the annual mass get-together for readers of the alt.gothic newsgroup. That means that for this weekend all these people have traveled from all parts of the country, and sometimes the world, to watch their favorite live bands, dance, socialize, and have fun at one massive party. And although many have their best friends here, many of them cannot be recognized.
Elly stands overwhelmed, until she finally recognizes a friend named April, whom she has met once before in person, and gives her an enormous hug.
'There's someone here who wants to meet you Elly,' she says, and pauses. 'Elly, this is Brad,' April exclaims, as she introduces an equally ecstatic and nervous looking guy who has been nudging up next to her.
'Hi,' he says, with an enormous grin.
'Hi,' she replies, And they hug.
All they can do at first is smile at one other. Neither Elly nor Brad can believe that now, after 6 months of flirting over email, and later over the phone, that they are finally actually meeting in person.
'I was really freaked,' Elly relates now. 'At that moment it was so hard to believe he was actually there, right in front of me, and not hundreds of miles away. And I had been trying hard to not get my expectations too high about him, so that I wouldn't be disappointed. But then there he was, and he was so beautiful. It must have been the cutest thing to watch.'
Brad explains, 'I just looked at her and thought, ‘Hey! Wow! We're attracted to each other. Imagine that.'
Then Brad ran her around the club, introducing her to 'a thousand' people, helping her match faces with names, until she had met most people, and then they settled into a quiet area of the club, near the pool tables, to talk while looking at each other, for the first time.
Across the club Brad's roommate Will, known as The Sandman online, and Jen, known as Laudanum online, were going through a similar predicament. After writing to each other online for 4 months, they too had finally met face-to-face, and were dancing together and looked like they were having a good time.
'That night I recognized Brad straight off,' Jen recounts, 'but he was with Will and Matt, and, for the life of me, I had no idea which was which! Especially since I expected Will to be so much shorter. Will ended up being in a pissy mood at the start of the night, but later we really hit it off.'
After the first night, everyone retreated back to the hotel for more socializing and partying. 'We hit that hotel like a whirlwind,' Brad says, 'to say the least. We came in there talking fast, talking loud, right through the building, tackling and hugging everyone we came across.'
'Yeah,' Jen says, 'that night was a definite party night.'
'And that was how we all met,' Elly says, and laughs.
But what happens next, you may ask? As more and more people get online and more involved with Internet relations, what do they do about it? Well, at Convergence everyone was finally all together. But that wonderful weekend inevitably ended, and all the net.goths, as readers of alt.gothic are called, had to leave each other and go back to their homes. Brad and Will, for example, returned to working on their Bachelors of Art at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, while Elly went home to Madison, Wisconsin, and Jen to her corporate job in San Jose, California. They're separated again for months.
'It was so hard leaving Brad. You can't even imagine ... And all Jen and I could write to each other and whine about how much we wished Convergence had lasted longer, or that we could be with Brad and Will in Pittsburgh,' Elly says.
Two months later, Elly and Jen, like increasing numbers of other Internet users, made the difficult decision to pack up their bags and move across the country to be together with their friends.
'I can't believe that simple geography almost prevented this from happening,' Elly says, as she nustles into Brad's arms, and looks into his eyes. Now together in Pittsburgh, Elly and Brad are still going out, and very, very happy in their relationship.
'It was a good way for me to assert my independence, and move away from my parents and the town I grew up in. Plus I had friends and Brad here, so it seemed like a good idea,' says Elly. Elly had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Medieval Studies, and hoped to find a career as a librarian in the Carnegie library system. She now works full-time at a clothes store in Oakland now to pay the bills while she hopes that a library position comes through.
But net relationships, like any others, have their failures. Will and Jen, for example, stopped dating a month after she moved. He left her in Pittsburgh, and moved to Charlotte, Virginia, where he continued a relationship with another net.goth woman.
'I guess I misperceived who he was over email,' Jen explains. 'He just struck me as being much more mature and responsible than he ended up being in real life. And, although he really has a good head on his shoulders, which shows up in his witty and sarcastic writing, I didn't see him use that head too much when I actually got here. He was flunking out of school and being a jerk. It ended up being a bit of a mess.'
'So, yeah, I moved across the country to be with him, and that didn't work out. But I also ended up with a fun roommate, a whole new group of friends, and an opportunity to live on the East Coast,' Jen says. 'So, it's all worked out, in a way. I was just sick of never bring able to see my friends, and now I can everyday.' She is still considering moving back to California though, because she has only found secretarial temp work here in Pittsburgh so far, and was getting paid better in her previous executive secretary position in Silicon Valley.
Now, you may ask, why would someone chose to meet someone over the Internet, as opposed to real life? Isn't this something only desperate computer geeks do?
'Meeting someone on the net is different, but not strange. It really isn't much different than meeting anyone in real life,' Brad says.
'People already meet in unusual places, and it's much better to meet someone over the net, as opposed to a random bar,' Jen comments.
'You get to meet their minds first,' Elly explains. 'You don't have to worry about awkward pauses in conversations, or silly things, like how close your knee is to their leg. It brings a level of intimacy more quickly, because you don't have to face that. You can talk more freely, and get a really good sense of what they're like.'
'You have to be careful though,' Jen warns. 'I wouldn't recommend setting out to meet your true love over the net. There are some psychos out there. It's something that just happens when you're not looking for it, just like in real life.'
So, as with any relationship, sometimes net relationships work out wonderfully, and sometimes they don't.
'There is no foolproof way to do this. My advice is to keep your minds open, and if things work out, to eventually go get a plane ticket and go meet them,' advises Elly.
'You never know what could happen,' she adds, 'not only are Brad and I very happy, we almost got to speak on Ricky Lake about our relationship!'