What a tangle web we weaved,
if we practice how to deceive.
ABOUT a couple of years ago a friend gave me a call that caused me some concern. "I'm in love," she said. I was about to tune out of the conversation, since that was about the millionth time she was telling me about some new guy, when she added, "I met him on the Internet."
That's what threw me off. I ordered her to say it again. "He works with computers. He's about 30, and lives in Florence. His name's Alessandro but his chat name is Alex, which is the English/American version of..."
I was speechless. Next thing I knew, she was coming over to show me a picture that Alex had sent through e-mail. She was also coming with a slice of tiramisu, which he had sent as well, ordered through the aforementioned technology and paid for with his credit card.
Between bites, she said that he had sent her money ("To fix the computer, after I mentioned that it wasn't working well. How sweet--I didn't even ask for it,'') since they were "practically married." And then she blurted out: "You know he has cancer. He's dying."
When she left holding the laminated picture of her virtual fiancé ("Doesn't he look like Tom Cruise?" she asked me) on the tiramisu plate, my head was whirling. Money? Cancer? Florence? Internet?
The idea of love through the Internet had never failed to make me laugh before and then make a self-assured "Thank God I'm not desperate," complete with eyes rolling and arms raised heavenward. The Internet Sweetheart is the newest version of the Sentimental Pen Pal and the Whispering Phone Pal, but the classic and current models sound equally ludicrous. How does one say it, "I'm falling virtually in love"?
"You've Got Mail'' was cute, and I liked it, but I liked it only as a movie. I didn't take it to heart, and I expected no one would, either. Meg Ryan herself said that love on the Internet couldn't possibly happen.
I have seen it happen before. Another friend fell in love with someone over the Internet as well. After a series of electronic love letters, they both agreed to meet but didn't push through because the guy met a car accident and died. Or as my friend was made to believe. I was very suspicious though. After playing detective by calling the local police station where the supposed accident happened, we found out that no record of that accident exist. We were told that it must be a prank.
Love is even hard enough to find in real life, probably because it's even harder to know if what we do find is the real thing. "Most people," Jose Garcia Villa once said, "are not potential lovers...because in the general environment, everybody meets a man or woman and they think they fall in love...but love is an illusion, and very hard to find. Very hard to find."
Whitney Otto wrote in ''How to Make an American Quilt'': "Now think about…the ideal lover union. It is as uncommon as any wondrous thing. Yet everyone expects to find it in her life, thinks it will happen (in a matter of time), feels entitled…If it was so commonplace, why would artists find themselves obsessed by it, churning out sad paintings and torch songs?"
I dissected my friend’s love life and tried to prove that this Italian dude was a dud. After all, I could create a totally new me on the Net. I could send a touched-up picture of myself, call myself ''Eternal Love,'' claim that I go to the south of France on weekends, and compose love letters for my Austrian bloke to keep love burning. If I could do this, so could Alex. He worked with computers, and for all I know, he was researching on the time span for Internet courtship to turn into Internet love.
He was also, as he claimed, on the other side of the world. Now, you know how easy it is to lie when the one you're lying to is not in front of you. If someone wants to con somebody else who will never find out, he might as well go all the way. But is this why Alex took the trouble of sending Eirene tiramisu and 250,000 lira?
But the cancer story either pushes the envelope or makes the whole thing rational. He could be someone, much like some people on the news, who preys on gullible girls like my friend (and my friend is a little more gullible than most). Or, he could be genuinely sick with cancer, who hoped to find, before he dies, the girl of his dreams, anywhere, everywhere, and finally found her on the Internet.
Three weeks after her call, my friend called me up again to say that Alex was dead. His best friend sent the news by e-mail. She was crying, and, just like the last time she called me, I couldn't find a word to say to her. All the words were hers: "I loved him so much. I loved him so much! Why is it like this? I finally found the guy I was going to live with for the rest of my life, and suddenly he is gone…"
I don't know if this Alex ever really existed, and I suppose I never will. But if he wasn't real, her pain was and so was her love for him. "I never felt so--complete,'' she said. ''It was as if he had filled the void in my life."
I guess the Internet is a weird place to find love. But so is everywhere else; it has become increasingly harder to believe that we can find love in the midst of many loveless earthly events. But everywhere else is where everyone is looking, and if anyone can look anywhere for some, can't he or she do the same thing on the Internet? Love filled the void in my friend's heart, and along with millions of others, their connections filled the void in cyberspace.
I think I finally have to believe in this Alex on the Internet, because no matter how cynical I am, I still hope for an Alexander of my own. One always hopes that he is out there, real and reachable, even if it takes a modem and several megabytes to find him.
Never seen thee nor touched thee
But known thee with all my heart. --Quixote's song to Dulcinea
I thought it would never happen to me.
Like most affairs, it started innocently enough. Ours was a different encounter; I met her in an online chatroom.
On our first encounter, I was practically smitten by her mystique. I find her very interesting. She was so different from anybody else I met online -- teasingly playful, innocently naive, simple yet complicated, serious yet funny, sincere yet evasive. She has the contradictions that intrigued me. Our first meeting was so interesting that both of us realized we were chatting for almost half a day. Soon, as we said our goodbyes, I gave her my email address wishing secretly to "see" her again but thinking that that was the end of it, never imagining that my life would change soon.
Like most chatroom meetings, I am used to brief yet memorable encounters. I never took these boy-meets-girl encounters seriously. Meeting someone online is very much different from real life, I thought. Either, they may be pulling my legs or I was just a mere passing fancy. After all, these were just mere online affairs that can be easily “shut down” like the window’s operating system.
But the next day, as I checked my emails, savoring my morning cereal, I received her curious note: "Hi, remember me? We chatted about poetry so I send you a poem I wrote...I am not too good in writing poems but I hope you like it..."
Indeed, I liked the poem she gave me. I found another quality I liked from her -- she is very literate. I sent her my own poem about our encounter.
That was the start of our “poetic” affair.
Over the next days, our computers must have overheated as our fingers ached from all the chatting and email exchanges. I know mine did. Our messages came fast and furious. We learned about each other - that she worked as a pharmacy technician in Oregon, shared apartment with a co-worker, has birds and horses and two cactus plants, love books and write poetry. I told her important things about me which I never revealed online.
From then on, we knew that it was to be more than just a budding platonic friendship between us. Over the next months, we danced around each other with our chat messages, sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously, but always implying that we were getting to be more than just friends. She would email me late at night to tell me she couldn't sleep and I would mail her back to tell her it was the same case with me. I was getting scared of where we were heading.
One day, on one of our chat sessions, we blurted out our feelings lurking for a long time. I said "I love you". She replied, in a very sincere tone: "I love you too, I want you to be a part of my life. I want to grow old with you and be my friend, my lover, my partner."
I cried for I never felt so loved in my life.
Soon, after so many electronic and snail mails, telephone calls and on-line chats, our relationship blossomed into a new level of intimacy and intensity.
"Do you really love me?" she asked. Of course, I answered, "Yes."
I was unprepared for her next question. "Do you really love me to give up your family, your home and living in a strange land for me?"
Still feeling giddy and lighthearted, she was light and casual in her reply. "I don't know...let's take it one day at a time. I love my family; I love you. Is that possible or am I too greedy?"
That must have set off something in her, for in a few days she emailed me with a bombshell: "It cannot be and it isn't right. Maybe we should end this whole thing. You can’t leave your home, your family. We belong to a different culture. I am sorry. I hope you understand. I don't want to hear from you again."
I was stung. It took me all morning before I had the courage to face her in the chatroom where we first met a year ago. "You're a hypocrite," I said. "From the very start, when I said that maybe we should stop this as this seems to be getting somewhere I'm afraid to go, YOU WOULDN'T STOP. You promised not to hurt me, that you will love me no "ifs" and "buts". Now that we've reached this point, and I'm not scared anymore - because I now know how I feel for you - you've suddenly turned into a coward. But it's okay. You're right: let's stop this, now. So, I love you, but goodbye. Your coming into my life was a blessing; I'll always be thankful for that."
For the next weeks even months, I was alternately numb and tearful. While alone or with people, I would break into tears. People would look at me, and I would just blow my nose and say that I was coming down with the flu.
Every time my computer beeped, I would scramble to check. I seesawed between fits of rationality and impetuousness. I told myself it was all for the best, a blessing in disguise. If this hurt now, how much more would it hurt if it went on further? But then, I wanted to tell her the unbearable pain he has caused me. I wanted to hate her.
But I cannot hate her.
Today, though, I prayed. I realized how blessed I am to live a loveless but meaningful life, while so many others, maybe even her perhaps, live their lives always searching but never finding what I already have. The boring routine I had started to take for granted with my life was actually the haven of peace and belonging others would give their lives for.
I'd like to believe that she is basically a good and decent woman, which she really doesn't mean to hurt me. I'd also like to believe she really must have loved me to want all of me, or nothing at all.
Wherever she is now, I wish I can just thank her for the fond memories. I pray that she will find the kind of love that she deserves. I wish for her happiness and may God watch over her soul that no one may abuse.