Silver & Snow's internet love affair

The story of one of the earlier internet marriages, a Yahoo love match.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

It's a small world after all

Bigga, or Junior as I now knew him, and his family became regular visitors to our home. My teenage son, Stu thought that he was incredibly cool because he drove a car with the kind of sound system Stu could only dream about. I took unfair advantage of the situation by enlisting Junior's support in keeping my lively son in line. Who wouldn't make best use of a cool role model who didn't smoke dope, drink or steal but held down a regular job and took good care of his family?

But what interested me most about life online was the chance to make contact with the rest of the world. It was fascinating to be able to talk to people from thousands of miles away and find out about their lives. At that time chatrooms seemed to be full of those who genuinely wanted to make friends.

Some of those friends I made in the beginning remain in contact still. Others came, chatted and went. One in particular stood out from the others. He was from New York. 'Not the city', he told me, 'the mountains'. Whenever I logged on, he was there. Not that I minded, I enjoyed his company immensely.

From his description of himself, I pictured a Grizzly Adams lookalike sitting in front of a computer all those miles away. Admittedly this image of him was largely down to my imagination. He had simply told me that he had long hair and a beard. I coloured the rest of the picture all by myself. It became a daily routine to chat with him at particular times and, if he was delayed for any reason I found myself becoming concerned, anxious. After all friends disappeared so easily in those days never to be seen again.

One day, shortly after turning on my computer, my screen went black. Feeling irritated, I restarted it. Still black. Then the panic began to set in. I called the shop I had bought the system from and was amazed that they didn't share my sense of urgency. They offered to send the faulty monitor away to be checked, saying that it would take about a week to ten days. Somehow it seemed that the more calm the response I was receiving from the person on the other end of the phone, the more agitated I felt. I insisted, no, I demanded that they supply me with a replacement monitor and I simply refused to take 'no' for an answer. Looking back I still blush at the thought of the conversation. They must have thought I was nuts! But they agreed and before I left home to collect the replacement I made a phone call to my bewildered sister-in-law. 'Claire, listen carefully. I need to you to log onto your Yahoo messenger. Send a message to Drsnowking and tell him to wait for me, I won't be long'.

As I drove to the shop reality hit me. I was becoming way too attached to a person I would never meet. He lived on a different continent for goodness sake. It was a recipe for disaster and perhaps it was time to back off.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Confession Time

It wasn't only those that sought to trick and deceive that had an online fantasy life. It was fun! Harmless play-acting, just so long as you didn't take it too seriously. My other self was much younger, much slimmer and outrageously flirtacious. Fairly early on I realised that it is easy to get carried away when communicating with only the written word. There is a tendency to overstate, to overemphasise. At times, it was only after hitting the Enter key and sending my contribution to the conversation into the chatroom, that I actually reread it and gasped, 'Oh, my God, I don't believe I just said that'.

It was during one of 'those' conversations that I was introduced to Biggaford in a Yahoo chatroom by my neighbours from accross the way. He was loud, funny and larger than life. From that day on, whenever I entered the room he would greet me with, 'BIRDIE, HI BABEEEEEEEEEE'. We would talk for hours on the instant messenger, confiding things to one another that we would never tell another living soul.

Then came the day when Bigga suggested, 'Let's meet up Babeeeee, we can do lunch'. By this time, I considered him to be a close friend and would have loved to meet up with him for real. Just the one snag, I was not at all like the young, gorgeous blonde he would be expecting. So, with a sigh I typed my excuses and left.

Bigga wasn't around much for a while after that. When he did appear in the same chatroom, he scarcely acknowleged me and didn't stick around long. I felt hurt, what had happened to this great friendship we had been building? After a week or so of the cold shoulder, his name lit up on my messenger. On impulse I sent him an instant message saying, 'Just what the hell is going on? Why are you ignoring me?'. His reply left me totally gob-smacked. 'Hey Birdie, if you don't want to meet me for real just cos I am black, that's fine by me'. It was time to come clean or risk losing a good friend. Maybe he wouldn't want to know this old lady but it was time to find out. 'You had better give me your number, because I think we should talk', I told him.

It was a little weird actually hearing his voice for the first time and before I lost my nerve I blurted out the awful truth. I was not 21 years old and I didn't bear even a passing resemblance to Pammy Anderson (not that I seriously would want to). The sound of the giggling from the other end of the phone line stays with me to this day. 'Babee, I don't look like Wesley Snipes either'.

That weekend we did 'do lunch'. I invited Bigga and the friends from over the way to lunch at my place. Although I felt instinctively that he was not a homicidal maniac, I wasn't totally mad at that stage, so I opted for a little safety in numbers.

We heard him long before we saw him, a faint boom, boom at first and as he drove into the street the windows almost rattled from the sound of the music blasting from his car. As he climbed from behind the wheel and strode towards me with a huge grin squeeling, 'Babeeeeeeee' and enveloped me in the biggest hug I had ever experienced, I could see the net curtains twitching. 'Sod them, let them look'. This huge man with his flashy car and his loud music, wearing an ankle length leather coat was and remains a true friend.

I became the ultimate Internet Bore

It is hard for someone who lives only in the offline world to fully appreciate life online. As I talked endlessly to the people who worked in my office, telling them of the hilarious times I had joking around with my chatroom friends, I couldn't help but notice the glazed expression on their faces. Looking back, I now see what a dreadful bore I was. These people had 'real' lives. They had neither the time nor inclination to sit for hours in front of a computer screen talking to faceless strangers.

I, only the other hand, had no social life. There was work and the kids but that was it. No way was I about to go out on the pull. I may have been desperately lonely, but I had some pride. So, I contented myself with being the life and soul of the chatroom party with an ever-growing friends list.

There were lots of others in the same boat as me. The world is full of lonely people, those who are sick, housebound, or just in need of a shoulder to cry on and the Internet was a lifeline. Some created fantasy lives. I was amazed at how many models, actors and successful businessmen there were with hours to spare to chat online. Others became involved in online relationships. This was particularly true of those who were unhappy or unfulfilled in their real life situation. After all, many reasoned, they were not actually being unfaithful because it was just words. Personally, although I feel that a little gentle flirting is harmless enough, I have seen too many people who have been terribly hurt by just words. But that's another story.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

WOW I am 'talking' to someone thousands of miles away

Our friends and neighbours from across the street had been raving for weeks about 'going on the chat'. They talked endlessly about their new online friends. 'Bigga said to me' and 'I said to Bigga', 'then we all ROFLMAO'. What the hell were they all talking about? It was all a nonsense to me. They would sit in my living room, giggling together about their online life and I had no idea what the big attraction was.

Well I had the hardware. Now all I had to do was work out what to do with it.

I had used a computer for years at work for wordprocessing and spreadsheets but I didn't have the first idea how to connect the thing up to the outside world. My teenage son was quick to elbow me out of the way as he shoved a Freeserve disc into the CD drive. 'Leave it to me Mum, I know what I am doing'.

We were soon joined by our neighbours from across the road who got us 'sorted' with a Yahoo messenger and directions to the chatrooms and left us with instructions not to change a thing. They were off home (20 yards away) so they could log on and chat with us.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting on the pager with our friends over the way. They taught us about netiquette (internet manners), and the various abbreviations which may be quicker for the chatter to type but take twice as long for the chatee to understand. It was fun, a new toy but I still couldn't see the big attraction. We were spending a penny a minute to talk with people who lived within spitting distance.

I wasn't sleeping too well in those days. Life as a single parent was hard. Not just financially, although money was tight, but the feeling of total responsibility with noone for support, emotional or otherwise. My older son could be particularly spiteful when we argued. Little did I know at that time the kind of pressure being exerted on him by his father to 'get the family back together'. Poor kid! Anyway, it was the middle of the night and I couldn't sleep. Well, perhaps a few minutes exploring the capabilities of my new toy might help.

Creeping down the stairs, careful not to wake the kids, I felt almost guilty. After all, what did I know about computers and the internet? I wasn't qualified, what if I messed it up?

Settling myself at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, i pressed the ON button and waited for it to come to life. So far, so good. I double clicked the Internet Explorer icon and was invited to connect.

In those days everyone I knew used Freeserve. We dialed up and waited to connect. Then we waited some more. At times it took a half hour or more. Disconnections were frequent and new friends were often lost forever by the time we got back. But this night it was quick and easy. This was most probably due to the hour. Most sane people were asleep in their beds. I sometimes wonder what might have happened in my life if I had had the usual loooonnngg wait to get online. Would I have given up and gone back to bed?

I following the directions given to me earlier in the day by the experts from over the road and found myself in a Yahoo chatroom.

I announced my arrival with the usual, 'hi room' and waited. As i read the lines of multi-coloured conversation I looked carefully for my new name. Then I saw it, 'hi silverbird, a/s/l?'. I couldn't believe it, someone actually wanted to speak to me.

OK, I could do this, all I needed to do was answer the questions. The trouble was that there was no way on earth I was going to confess my real age to a total stranger. I had been warned that everyone online is young and would simply refuse to have anything to do with someone of my advancing years. What harm would it do to knock off a year or two? None whatsoever. '35/f/london', I replied. Surely 35 wasn't too old to be 'on the chat'. My real age of 42 would have been quite a different matter. After a couple of minutes (this person's typing was even slower than mine), the reply came back. 'hi silverbird, nice to meet you, 46/m/new york here'. Oh wow, I was actually communicating with someone from another country. I couldn't believe it.

By the following morning, having spent the night chatting with my new found friend and acquiring a thumping headache, I had realised what the big attraction was.

Friday, December 24, 2004

In the beginning, before my life online

They say that the beginning is the best place to start. Well, who am I to argue? My life was so different and it all seems so long ago now. If someone had told me how things would be, I would have said that they were stark, staring bonkers. I know that everyone thought that I was mad. Perhaps I was but I wouldn't have it any other way.

At the beginning of 1999 I was a single, hard-working but desperately lonely mother of two boys aged 7 & 15. I had escaped from a fifteen year marriage which, although normal in every respect, left me feeling dead inside. There were problems for years but none of them were insurmountable, if only I had loved him. But I didn't.

After five years of being a lone parent I was ready to make a new start. I felt that I had to leave the house I had shared with my ex, to start afresh. So I sold up and moved on. It was a quiet close, not such a 'nice' area but safer, quieter and cleaner for the kids. I had done my sums, making sure that there was some cash left over for essential improvements to the house and one or two treats and after a few months of staying up late splashing paint around my new palace I went shopping.

On the afternoon of 1 Feb 1999 I unpacked a gleaming, new computer, purchased that morning from Macro. Life would never be the same again.