When I spotted the topic for this month’s Skeptics in the Pub, I immediately started casting around for babysitters so that Pete and I could go. Not because I felt we were experts, or indeed because there was anything else for us to learn about internet romance, but just because it made me smile so broadly.
Despite having met in a comments box, looked into each others’ eyes at a blogmeet, and flirted for weeks by email, I’m not really sure you could ever have called this an internet romance. Sure, it was spawned on the internet and facilitated by the internet, and the internet was one of the main things we had and continue to have in common; but when you say “internet romance,” don’t you mean either a) online dating site or b) chatroom roleplay?
Ten years ago, if you asked us how we met, we might have glossed over the internet part and told you we met in the pub. Well, not you; you’re internetty enough to be cool with this. But Real Life people were less comfortable with the idea that you could pick up some stranger online, and meet them in real life. Much less go out for pizza, accidentally-on-purpose go to bed with them, and live happily ever after. Now we usually tell the truth, either because we know we’re talking to someone else who did the same, or because we like to shock where we still can. It’s quite possible that I still haven’t told the entire truth to either of my parents.
Then, and perhaps still a little bit now, online dating seemed a bit more seedy than the entirely wholesome thing we did. A bit more dodgy. People do both intentionally and unintentionally misrepresent themselves online, but that’s not restricted to dating or chatrooms, and not all weblogs tell you the unvarnished truth about a person. Pete’s probably did; it was mainly photographs of snails and posts about computer stuff. I love that he hasn’t changed one bit. But that wasn’t the whole Pete. It’s probably true of most bloggers that the part of yourself you put online isn’t your whole self; it’s your edited self, whether you want to make things look better, or worse, or you just don’t feel the need to share it all. In addition to that, the reader interprets within their own frame of reference, so my assumptions on reading Pete’s weblog before I met him were quite wrong.
However, my assumptions on first meeting him were also wrong (I thought he was sweet), and it was the lengthy emails that we both wrote while we were supposed to be working, in the weeks following our first date, where all the dark depths of his personality were revealed (I’m talking dark depths like chocolate with high cocoa solids, not marshland full of buried corpses). Yet email was still a medium in which we polished up our best sides, played to our strengths, and built a wonderful fantasy relationship that flourished both online and off precisely because there was very little mundane reality. Okay we had to eat sometimes but no-one ever had to put the bins out when we only had weekends and emails.
And then blah blah blah all that stuff in the middle & our son turns 8 next week, etc. Thanks for listening.