By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 10/27/2020
Posted: 9/18/2007 6:00:00 PM
Topics/Keywords: #Blogging #Humor #Internet Page Views: 4970
Is it possible to make real-life friends on the Internet?

Last night we had dinner with a friend from back East (actually, it's Ohio which she thinks of as the "Midwest") and the topic turned to Internet dating. Is it possible, we discussed, to meet a quality person on the Internet, someone you'd want to be friends with if not married to?

I recalled my friend Tallulah's experience in this regard. She had met someone in an AOL singles forum who seemed to be a nice guy. Recently widowed, Tallulah was gritting her teeth to jump into a dating scene she'd abandoned before the Second World War; and this guy, whom we'll call "Charlie", might qualify to be a worthy successor to the deceased Mr. Right. There was the minor obstacle of his residence: he lived in Alabama and Tallulah was a resident of Phoenix. However, she had family in Alabama and had been planning a trip there anyway. Why not drop by and meet Charlie in person while she was there?

No fool, she decided to take a friend with her on the journey. Since Charlie lived off the beaten path, and nowhere near any motels or other conventional lodgings, she and her friend accepted Charlie's invitation to stay at his ranch (or plantation, or whatever it is they call country homes in Alabama these days).

Charlie's home was beautiful, if somewhat under-decorated; he was reasonably good-looking for a man his age and gracious in that down-home Southern way. Tallulah and her friend planned to spend two or three nights there.

It was late when they arrived, and, after dinner, Tallulah and her friend retired early, Tallulah cautiously admitting that Charlie seemed like a catch.

In the morning, Tallulah noticed that Charlie was an avid photographer, with a whole room devoted to storing his equipment and a closet that had been made into a darkroom.

In the afternoon, trying to return to her room in the unfamiliar house, she inadvertently opened a closet door and found, to her surprise, that it contained a camera on a tripod, lens pressed against the wall. It was purely by accident that she moved the camera and discovered the lens was actually pressed against a tiny hole in the wall. When she peeped through the hole, she discovered it led to the guest bathroom she and her friend had used the night before to prepare for bed.

Tallulah informed Charlie there'd been a change of plans, grabbed her friend, packed the car and tore down the driveway before you could say "pervert photographer".

That was the end of Tallulah's Internet romances. She now just visits her children.

Which is a shame, because the Internet is today's dating scene. We all spend so much time commuting and in the workplace that there's little left to devote to the other traditional partner hunting grounds such as church, volunteer groups, or social organizations.

I tried Internet dating myself. Of course, this was over ten years ago when the mechanism was hardly polished. In fact, there were no dating sites per se; I had to join AOL to find a "forum" that would let me advertise for a cute guy.

I'll spare you the effort I put into trying to package myself into a product that someone I would like might want to date ("46 years old" becoming "experienced"), or the time I spent mooning over an incredibly well-built Canadian forest ranger whose picture turned out to be that of a porn star.

As it turns out, I did meet a couple of decent guys. I went out to dinner with one, dinner and a movie with another, and a day at the beach with a third. They were nice enough, but the chemistry wasn't there. Actually, the guy I went to the beach with, I never saw again but I dated a fellow I met at the beach that day several times over the next year or so. So the beach date wasn't exactly wasted.

But then there was Mark.

Mark lived in Minneapolis, and loved comic books. Well, I love comic books, or did at the time; and we spent 90 minutes on the phone on our first conversation talking about the nuances of the Batman of Earth-1 versus the Batman of Earth-2, how terrific was Adam Strange and how sad he wasn't given more exposure in the DC Universe, and how, exactly, Superman had been able to visit Spider-Man when they live in different parallel universes entirely.

When, a few days later, I got a teaching assignment in Minneapolis, I was excited at the opportunity to meet Mark in person. —Especially since he didn't have a digital photograph to share with me. All I knew was that he had blue eyes and wore glasses.

Mark met me at the airport. I knew it was him the moment I saw him, partly because he obviously recognized me from the photo I'd sent. But I was horrified. To say that Mark was unattractive is an understatement. Mark was to physical attractiveness what Brittney Spears is to propriety. He was possessed of a number of characteristics that, individually, could be written off as "not his best feature". Unfortunately, taken together, Mark had no "best" features. In fact, he had no good features. He didn't even have any mediocre features.

His forehead was short, like a beetle's, sloping into a head that was neither bald nor covered with hair. I guess you'd say he was bald, if you had to choose; but from his pate grew long, colorless strands that floated upwards and around with the breeze.

His eyes were blue all right, a watery blue that made me want to blink when I looked at them through the Coke bottle eyeglasses perched on his misshapen nose. His skin was heavily scarred, deeply cratered with pockmarks that may have been from the measles but looked more like the remnants of the Black Death. His lips were dry and cracked and didn't quite come together on his left side, so that a trail of drool dropped to his chin, which he occasionally, but not often enough, wiped with a handkerchief he kept in his hand for that purpose.

I could only hope he was handsome by the standards of his own species.

My horror wasn't so much for his looks, but for the red rose he carried in his sweaty little palm. Well, okay, it was also for his looks; but mostly it was at the discovery that I was so shallow his looks mattered to me.

I was horrified at the discovery of an unhappy trait in myself that I found even less attractive than Mark.

Mark took me to dinner. I could hardly eat. Fortunately I had insisted on staying at a hotel, in fact already had reservations so that was my excuse for not spending the night with him. During the rest of the week, the moment class was over, Mark was waiting for me with plans for a fun filled evening—at a movie, or dinner, or visiting the biggest-in-the-world Mall of America (which, since I don't like malls, I like least of all malls). The best that could be said for all these activities was that Mark was less repulsive in the dark. Remember, he was still a nice, interesting guy. It was his appearance I couldn't stomach, that and the fear that he might fall in love with me.

By Thursday, a new issue had arisen. I was scratching like crazy, and found I had somehow picked up body lice. It had to be from the bed in my somewhat cheesy hotel, which was like God punishing me for not sleeping with Mark. I bought the lice shampoo and de-loused myself, and angrily told the guy at the front desk that I wanted a new room for that night with clean sheets.

When finally the time to leave Minneapolis came, Mark drove me to the airport. "I'll call you when I land," I promised.

"You don't have to," he said kindly, taking me hand. "I can see in your eyes this isn't going to work out as a romance. I put a lot of stock in what I see in a person's eyes. I can always tell."

"Well—but—it's not—" I spluttered.

"It's okay," he assured me. "There's either chemistry or there isn't. You can't force it. And the truth is, as nice a person as you are, you just aren't attractive enough to me for us to be a couple."

To say I had mixed feelings as I flew home on the plane, would be an understatement. He didn't think I was attractive? He broke it off with me?!?

I heard from Mark one more time, a few days later. He called to warn me that he apparently had somehow gotten an infestation of body lice on his sofa and that I might want to clean my clothes in very hot water in case I had picked up any while sitting there.

So, I explained to our friend's cousin, I had never had the experience of meeting anyone on the Internet that had become a long-term friend.

However, later, I realized I was completely wrong. I was right as far as dates went, but not regarding friends. Because, when I was running the Abductee Support Group on the CompuServe Encounters Forum, I did make several friends with whom I'm still in touch. One was a family who all but adopted me. When I was despondent over breaking up with my boyfriend, they insisted I come visit and even gave me a surprise birthday party. Later, when they moved from Connecticut to Washington state, I helped drive the van. And before that, they even shared a vacation with me in Alert Bay, British Columbia.

The four people in the photo below, including me, all met on the Internet. So, yes, it is possible to make friends in this modern world.

Me with long-term Internet friends Ann, Aitan and Pete on an island on Alert Bay.

In fact, one could say that the almost-lost art of writing letters has been revived by this new technology. While not everyone who sends an email or text message does so eloquently in the old style, in the new style the eloquence is still there, as we use words in turn to describe our feelings, our experiences, even the most banal (and, sometimes, exciting) moments of our lives.

The art of letters developed because lengthy delivery times made it possible to describe, in detail, things we can now simply photograph and attach. But that was only part of it. And, in any case, the real point was that they allowed people to learn about each other in depth, with time allowed for reflective thought. And that hasn't changed. You can't really interrupt me while I'm composing a text to you. So I get to reflect, phrase, refine, and shape my thoughts in a way that conversation can never permit.

Besides, not everyone on the Internet is an unattractive, peeping photographer. I know you're not! So, if you want to try making friends on the Internet, I say, go for it!

What's the worst that can happen?