Note: This is a guest post by Kelly Merrill who blogs full time at MormonBasics.com.
Back in the day, Internet relationships were treated with more aversion than blind dates in the shallow end of the gene pool. Yet it was through the Internet that I met my wife. In the late 90s I was a divorcee with four children. They ranged in age from 8 to 16 years of age. I had three girls and a boy. I had spent three years as a single father, and I really wanted some adult company.
Do not get me wrong, I loved my children dearly, but I really wanted some adult female association. The only problem was the lack of time for said company. I lived in Lehi, Utah at the time. I worked in downtown Salt Lake City. Normally that is a 45 minute commute, but they were redoing all the freeways in Salt Lake Valley, and it was not unusual for me to have a three hour one-way commute to or from work. By the time I got home at night it was all I could do to fix dinner, make sure everyone had a pulse, feed the pulse, then put them to bed.
I decided that I had to do something, but I was not entirely sure what options were available to me. Someone suggested I try the latest and greatest thing to hit the dating market, the Internet dating services. Well that sounded like about as much fun as a rusty needle at an inoculation party. But my choices were limited by my lack of time to actually see another adult human outside of work hours.
My first concern was finding an appropriate place to meet people. Since I am LDS, I did not want to join just any old site. I finally stumbled upon a place that offered to hook me up with some pen pals to help me find the woman of my dreams – ldsfriends.com. Yes, this very site. Back then it was a lot more wild and crazy. Don’t most pen pals equal wild and crazy?
I created my profile, which I just recently reread for the first time in many years, and I must say, I was very impressed with myself. I do not remember ever being that smooth. At one point I was corresponding with more than 30 women. That is where the wild and crazy came in. Talk about overkill and exhaustion! Finally, I received a note from a lady in Hawaii who, as it turned out, was a distant relation of mine. I think she said we were half second cousins once removed. I do not honestly know what that means, but it is not the same as first cousins, so I am good with it.
We started writing back and forth to each other in November of 1998. By Christmas time of that year we decided that since she was flying to Utah for Christmas we would meet in a safe place. Internet dating had such a sketchy reputation back then that one could not be too careful. We decided to meet on Temple Square, and each of us brought a child in tow. The child was our safety clause. We each secretly figured that if the other person was awful or scary for any reason, we could use our child as an excuse to leave. Yes, this proves that even adults can be cowards.
I cannot say that our time together for that hour and a half was wonderful, though we both enjoyed it as much as is humanly possible with two children who were bent on making their individual parent suffer as much as possible. They were both whiny, moody, and sulky. We did our best to ignore them.
After Christmas I was not too sure how to proceed, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was nothing. Finally, after a couple of weeks of silence, Elaine (that was her name) called to thank me for the date. She had to call me, because I was too much of a clod to call her. That was the beginning of the end. We started to call each other every weekend, and we wrote emails almost daily. During our phone conversations I would generally rehash what I had taught in High Priest’s group. She was in Primary, so it was always new to her.
By February things were getting more serious, and the M word came up a time or two. By the second Sunday of March I proposed over the phone. By the first week in April she flew me to Hawaii for a visit as a birthday present. Nice. No pressure. In June she flew to Utah during summer break at BYU-Hawaii. That is when she met the rest of my children. We were married on July 20th, and I moved my family to Hawaii on August 2, 1999. Counselors will tell you the most traumatic things you can do to a child is to move them, give them a new parent, change schools, and change cultures. Yeah, I did all of those things to my children at the same time. It is a wonder any of them speak to me today. I am happy to say that they have all finally learned to love their stepmother and have a good relationship with her. And I have a good working relationship with Elaine’s daughter.
My wife and I have been married for more than 15 years now. To give you an idea how evil Internet dating was considered to be when we met, here is a quote from one of the letters I sent to Elaine. And yes, she saved every word of our correspondence during our “dating” period. I think it was so if I backed out she could sue me for breach of promise or something.
“I really wouldn’t call this dating. Perhaps we can use one of the euphemisms of the day and say that we are cultivating a mutual familiarity with each other. That doesn’t sound nearly so bad as ‘dating over the Internet.’”
Some Wise Counsel
When meeting anyone over the Internet it is important to remember a few key factors.
1. Emotional intimacy can move faster than physical intimacy because you are not physically close to the person. Do not discount the importance of the physical chemistry part of your relationship. If you move too quickly with your emotional intimacy, then when you finally meet and you discover there is no physical chemistry, you might feel trapped. This can be very awkward, and it is very difficult to get out of this kind of relationship. There is no substitute for physical proximity.
2. Remember that when you write to someone you have time to put your thoughts in order before you say something. You can edit them or delete them at will until you are satisfied with them. In a live relationship you cannot do that. Make sure you have plenty of face time with your new friend. You actually need the time to stumble over your own words and make mistakes in conversation so that you can both see more clearly what you are getting into.
3. Before you commit to any kind of lasting relationship, be prepared to spend some time together working side by side. If you cannot clean the dishes or paint a room or do service without getting into arguments or grappling for power in the relationship then your relationship may be doomed before you have really begun. There just is no substitute for time spent together.
4. When you do get to spend time together, remember that you are both still on your best behavior. It is very difficult to measure the real attitudes of a person when they are still exhibiting “company” behavior. If your newly beloved’s family starts telling you stories about his/her temper or poor social behavior, even if you have not ever seen it, believe it. I have learned from personal experience that more often than not these stories are true. Consider yourself warned. And remember that your beloved will be looking for those same stories about you as well.
Getting to know someone and falling in love with them is difficult and complicated even under the best of circumstances. Using a medium other than a natural face-to-face method is risky. Assume there will be surprises down the road. Hopefully they will be good and not bad surprises, though you are likely to get a healthy mixture of both. Even face-to-face courtships can hold hidden surprises. I was one of the lucky ones. We had our hardships, and our times when we wondered if we had made the right decision, but it has all worked out well for us. I hope you are as fortunate as I was.
What tales do you have of your online encounters?
Kelly Merrill owns Mormonbasics.com, a website dedicated to strengthening the testimony of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.