Love in the Age of Social Media

WaPo has a piece on how social media are "the new matchmakers," which is an interesting enough piece on how people are meeting these days, but also gives me a chuckle, since there's really nothing new about it.

Iain and I met on a now-defunct proto social media site, back before "social media" was a phrase that had been coined. That was in 2001.

It started with a single private message on March 15, 2001—one that I sent him, inquiring about a quote on his profile. It was an Oscar Wilde quote, and, both of us being voracious readers, we started talking about books. Which books we loved. Which books we didn't love. Which books we would recommend to the other to read.

Our private messages started getting longer, and we exchanged email addresses. Iain first offered me his, saying I was welcome to email him, giving me the option and no pressure. I emailed him, because it was an invitation and not an expectation. And thus we began what was, for some time, a daily exchange of epic emails, first about books, and then films, and then everything.

There was a six hour time difference between us, he in Edinburgh and I in Chicago, and I would use my lunch hour, or my commute home from work, to compose lengthy responses to his detailed, funny, and fascinating emails, and then look forward to his response.

Later, he would tell me that he used to walk around Edinburgh, listening to music, and compose his emails to me in his head before writing them.

I am a reflexive and instinctual writer; my thoughts come quickly, already composed in complete sentences. Iain is almost precisely the opposite. He deliberates over every word, picking every turn of phrase so carefully. He is exact in his writing, even the most basic work email. I know that about him now, but I didn't then. His long emails mean even more to me, knowing what he put into their composition.

The wait between each daily exchange was delectable, and then excruciating. We agreed to meet on instant messenger, for a real-time conversation. And then we met again. And again.

I liked talking to him. I liked listening to him, and I liked telling him things.

One morning, I was into work early—the only one in the office. We were chatting on IM, and I gave him my work number, saying if he ever wanted to chat on the phone... My extension started ringing nearly before I'd finished the sentence.

And there was his voice. His quiet voice with its lovely brogue.

Later, he told me he'd called me right away, because he was afraid if he didn't do it, he might lose his nerve and never ring at all.

I don't remember much of that first conversation. I do remember the first long phone conversation we had, at the weekend. We spoke for hours, about religion and politics. I remember lying on the couch in my flat, and I remember telling him, "I would like to have this exact same conversation with you fifty more times."

We were friends. And we fell for each other. Before we'd ever even seen each other's faces.

International calling was expensive then; prohibitively expensive from mobile phones. There was no texting; our mobiles didn't have cameras to send each other pictures. I bought a crappy little webcam that sat atop my monitor, and he went to an internet cafe, as they were called in those days, so we could send photos of ourselves to one another.

There was a shitty webcam broadcasting from the construction site of the Scottish Parliament Building, which was being built at the time. Iain would give me a time to watch, and I would tune into the live stream, to see him running and waving, a tiny little figure in the distance, appearing in a series of still images.

We read books at the same time so we could talk about them, and mailed each other packages. One day, in one of our daily emails, a habit we retained for a very long time, I sent him an Omar Khayyám quatrain. He told me to keep my eyes on my mailbox. The next day, a package arrived from Britain that he had sent nearly a week before, containing The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, with one dog-earned page. On that page was the exact same quatrain I had emailed.

text of the quatrain reading: 'A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, / A Jug of Wine, A Loaf of Bread—and Thou / Beside me singing in the Wilderness— / Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow! '

In August, five months after we'd stumbled into each other online, I flew to London. A couple of hours after my plane landed, his train arrived at Kings Cross station, where I was waiting for him. I watched him walk toward me down the long platform, and tried not to let my legs buckle beneath me. He walked up to me and we embraced, then pulled apart and looked at each other.

"Hi," I said.

"Hiya," he replied.

We began to walk out to the street, and he began to turn the wrong way. I reached out and grabbed his hand. We looked at each other and we smiled and we kept walking, our fingers entwined.

Social media, they say—"they," those people who are forever saying those things—discourages human interaction. Well, maybe it does, for some people.

On March 15, 2001, I sent a person I didn't know a five-word private message.

On Thursday, in our little home with our three cats and our two dogs, Iain and I will celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. I am grateful for the life we have built every day.

I am so glad I sent that message, and so glad he replied.

[Please feel welcome to share your experiences building relationships, romantic or otherwise, in comments.]

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