No, I didn’t meet him on the internet. I met him in another life. Or, we met serendipitously at a park and this is all just a flashback to another dimension. Or, something.
Fine. That’s not true. But I’d just like to let you know that the day I “met” him was the day after I decided I was going to be alone for a very long time, by choice. So I didn’t seek this out. I’m not on eHarmony or Match or OKCupid or any of those sites that allow for blatant lies and involve scanning the interwebs for love. I was not looking for love on October 17, 2012. I was at my parents’ house upstate, recently dumped, greasy-haired and bored, clicking around online. And then—BAM—in the book of faces, I was looking at a JPEG of a face that I didn’t know but wanted to.
His light eyes were just faintly green but striking through a mop of honey-brown curls sprouting from his tanned brain-case. He was smiling, but not too much. He showed his teeth and they were white and straight and I wanted to know how he sounded when he laughed or whom his arm wrapped around before he cropped her out. (He cropped her out!) He was happy and sunned and single, maybe. He went to a fancy grad school and was an editor at a literary magazine. That meant he read poetry for fun and overlooked his academic qualifications and opted to work for a nonprofit passion project.
Approximately 445 clicks later, I knew everything about him. I knew what his fouth-grade teacher looked like and I knew that he wore oversized flip-flops when he was three and liked to hang out with his older sister’s friends when he was nine and liked to lie on the marble floor of his living room because it felt cool. I knew that his dad taught him how to play chess before he learned math. I knew what a good painter his brother was and how proudly he wore his homemade Halloween costumes. I knew his childhood dog had died, only to be replaced with a look-alike which made him just as happy. I knew that lots of people liked to say “happy birthday” to him and missed him. I knew he traveled a lot and once had very short hair and had a favorite tie and once owned a PC and built his own bed and had lots of pretty girlfriends in New York and once fell asleep with his guitar in his arms.
For all intents and purposes, lets just say that I “friended” him. And he “friended” me. And we moved from the internet to the cell phone and then to a cafe on the Upper East Side. Online I was chatty, engaging, enthusiastic, mysterious, coy, flirty. Online he was interesting, interested, adventurous, open. We could talk for hours, and we did—about everything from tree houses to Canada. In person I am awkward and shy with bouts of mania. I am self-conscious and quiet and come across as aloof and apathetic. In person he is contemplative, porous, boyish, romantic, subtle, wonderful. In person I loved him instantly but in person I lost my courage and made him feel undesirable.
We went on a brief walk past the museums and up to the 95th Street subway station. We were both going downtown but he opted to walk when he realized we were headed the same way. He wasn’t dying to spend another uncomfortable seventeen minutes with me. He gave me a book of poetry he had brought with him and I turned purple and we parted ways. On the train I cradled my face in my fists and lamented, for I knew I’d never see him again. I knew I was better in JPEG, PDF, HTML, TIFF. In person I was bleh.
An hour later I regained my digital confidence and sent him a message apologizing for being less than thrilling in human form. I blamed it on the weather and the time and Mercury being in retrograde—and he admitted he was surprised to hear from me. That weekend he went home to visit his mother and I went home to visit mine … and a funny thing happened. Sandy came and swept away the power and the roads and the flights. There he was, stranded, and there I was, stranded, with nothing but a cell phone and a candle. And so we talked. For hours. For days. For weeks. I learned his painter-brother’s name and his mother’s favorite flower and his favorite piece by Beethoven and how many cookies he can eat in a sitting and I told him about my love for horses and we planned a trip through the Redwood Forrest and we decided on three kids and a small wedding on a lake and to always cheat at chess even when we’re 102. We sent poetry back and forth and music and photographs and video clips and we were the best of friends. And then the storm cleared up. The trees were peeled off the roads and the airports reopened and the TVs turned back on. And then he was in Manhattan and I was too. And we had no idea if we could be this in love, offline.
Why was it so much easier to be great with a screen between our faces? This is a question I would struggle with for many moons. Am I crippled and the internet is my crutch or is my essence crippled by the internet? I’ve always been an uneasy person. I’ve never quite felt comfortable in my skin. I’ve never been praised for being genuine or tender. The problem is, it’s not because I’m not; it’s because I’m embarrassed to be. I’ve spent so many years filtering my reactions to seem cool for fear of being too vulnerable. This distance doesn’t translate online. In the digital world my delivery is in-sync with my intention. If I were to say “I love you more deeply than anyone I’ve ever loved in my life” online, it would be read as sincere and profoundly true. Whereas, in person, as I tried to articulate only a month later on edge of a bed on the Upper East Side, it came out flat. It came out untrue. It made him wonder if I even loved him at all. My voice and body get in the way of the truth.
Has technology not only fostered, but encouraged my ability to connect in the flesh? Am I a product of my generation, or am I just a sociopath that gets to pretend to be normal online? (Joke.) I know I have feelings. I know that’s what’s happening when I’m crying in the doorway with my shoes on before the date’s meant to be over. He’s wondering if I’m a robot and only against these accusations am I the most human. I’m becoming human through the process of existing offline. Emoting for emotions. Crying for tears. Smiling for happiness. Hugging for remorse. How to stay in-line with your feelings while expressing them offline: A love story set in 2013.