Meeting new people is low on my list of beloved things to do. It’s right under cutting my toenails. I recognize the necessity. However, it involves tarnishing my carefully crafted, bold demeanor. Being around new people means I’m inwardly freaking out, obsessing about every inch of my large, brown body, facial expressions, and mannerisms. Forget actually having to do or say anything because the anticipatory mental choreography distracts me from listening to vital information I need to avoid looking like an idiot. By that point, I’m so worn out from panic that I resolve I’m never going into public again and that I have enough friends and colleagues, thank you very much.
Being able to read people doesn’t help. Somehow, I ended up all Deanna Troi and can tell almost immediately when someone is not my peeps. It’s not that I’m deciding immediately based upon looks only if I I’m going to shun someone from my life. It’s that teaching for 20 years gave me the skill of gauging personalities and sensing moods. Well, teaching and childhood trauma.
This mishmash of traits once made it tricky to meet friends or romantic partners, so I’d just befriend whoever was sitting closest to me in any given situation. My ex? Sat next to me in British Literature. Yet it’s that anxiety about social interactions that led me to eating barbecue at a park in Evanston, Illinois overlooking Lake Michigan and falling madly in love with a man even shyer than me.
In late 2002, the college classmate and guy I’d made the mistake of moving to Kansas with broke up with me. I think we’d mutually come to the decision the day before, but my codependency, depression, and total loss of self caused me to recant, so when it came to the official end of the near four-year commitment, I sobbed, fell to my knees, and begged my ex to change his mind.
Not one of my better moments.
Within 24 hours, my parents moved me back home. I spent a year working in temp jobs, rebuilding my sense of self, spending time with my parents, and reconnecting with old friends. Moreover, I wasn’t in an emotional state for several months to meet anyone new anyway. I was single without wanting to be, had a graduate degree but was making minimum wage in a hateful insurance job, and was living with my parents. Again.
Still I missed romantic companionship. I was 22, had hardly explored who I was, and wanted to have fun. Hanging out with bars wasn’t my scene, and any other option felt far too scary. How was I to meet new people without the comfort of turning next to someone in class? My friends weren’t great options for gateways to new people. My best friend was married already. Another friend hadn’t even kissed anyone until she was 27. Yet another friend had relocated to California. I was on my own to figure it out.
Sitting at home every night, I started spending a lot of time online using Yahoo Messenger, and yes, I’m aware of my age. But everyone told me meeting people online was dangerous. No one online could be trusted. They were all lying about who they were. They were all predators. I’d end up murdered in an alley and a subject of a true crime documentary.
Of course, I did it anyway.
Just waiting online with “available” next to my handle wasn’t going to work, so I relied on the bravery of being assertive when you’re home alone in your childhood bedroom. I searched for cute guys.
For those too young to remember, Yahoo! featured a member directory with user profiles. I did a search for 25-35 year old guys in my city. About thirty names came up on my first search. I went through the names, only clicking on those who appealed to me. This, however, was my first exposure–so to speak–of what would become normal internet behavior. I saw a lot of male genitalia. I honestly was waiting for my parents to barge in and be like, “You’re grounded!”
Finding a non-perv who seemed like he wasn’t going to stab me as soon as he got me alone was a challenge. I searched for months. I messaged and got messages from a lot of people. I clicked ignore on even more of them. Men offered to chain themselves up for me and let me whip them. Some flat out asked for pictures of my breasts. When I met BinIC, it felt almost too good to be true. He was normal. So normal that he too was terrified of meeting people in person, but his was a clinical fear. I met one guy whose photo was clearly him but also felt like an outright lie, and he asked to masturbate on camera in front of me, then disappeared so fast that I thought he might’ve been David Fucking Copperfield. (He did kinda look like Copperfield on a bad day.) Then there was the Indian guy who might’ve pleased my Indian father. However, after the second date, that guy intentionally bit my lip while kissing, and he took some skin with him. And liked it.
Things started to feel hopeless, but one profile kept coming up in my searches. His handle said “An Evil Wun,” which made me want to message him. But he had a Jimi Hendrix quotation on his profile, and his hobbies included golf. That reminded me way too much of the rich guys I grew up with, so I’d never messaged him. Yet he was often online when I was, and I couldn’t escape how much I liked his handle.
I waited for weeks before I messaged him, but after busted dates, a little lip skin, and far too many unwanted dick pics, I thought it was time.
Finally, I sent him something similar to this: “Hi. I was looking through some profiles of people that are online, and yours caught my eye. If you’d like to chat some time, feel free to say hello. Hope to hear from you!”
Safe. Generic. Nothing too risky.
Then Messenger crashed.
Did it send? Should I send another one? Am I gonna look desperate if I send another one? Do I just pretend it didn’t happen? Fuuuuuck.
When I got Messenger up again, I sent a panicked message to An Evil Wun saying that I was sorry if he replied, but my Messenger crashed, so I missed it.
To my surprise, I got a response. “No, I didn’t reply. I was busy when you sent it.”
My ears got a little hot, and I apologized for being paranoid. He laughed and told me it was OK.
I learned An Evil Wun’s real name. He and I talked every night for the next week. In that week, we learned we had a lot in common including the British sitcom Red Dwarf and an intense love for the city of Chicago. He was a computer nerd, and I love nerds. We joked about running off to Vegas together, though as I later found out, he was serious. To explain the connection we had defies words. I knew this guy was going to be important to my life, but the skeptic in me couldn’t explain it let alone believe it was really happening.
But I had a rule: No meeting anyone from online for at least two weeks. He was ready to meet that second. I told him he had to wait. Instead, we exchanged personal descriptions (mmmmm, tall with dark hair and glasses? Yes, please.) and eventually, pictures. I shared a pic of a recent photoshoot my bestie and I had done together. He asked me which one I was. I told him. He said, “I hoped so.” It was no offense to my bestie. It’s just that I was more his type.
Shortly after the picture exchange came the first phone call. The next night, we had our first date.
My friend and I decided to surprise him at his work, a computer retail store. I wanted to meet him in person before our date, so I knew who I was looking for. The nerves, y’all. The anxiety. He played a song for me called “Strangelove Addiction” by The Supreme Beings of Leisure. I giggled a lot.
That night, we met at Village Inn. He wore a Star Wars t-shirt. I don’t remember much of the conversation other than it felt good. And in the parking lot as we hugged, I waffled about giving him a good night kiss. He, however, did not. He went for it.
When I tell you that–in that moment–I felt stars, fireworks, god, and the universe–I’m not exaggerating.
He uttered a stunned “wow,” and I morphed into Ferris’ sister, Jeanie, as she left the police station.
No meet cute story is actually done, though, until the guy survives The Gauntlet. Like the American Gladiators, my bestie and sister were ready for him. Yet it started shockingly well. Over dinner at Olive Garden, An Evil Wun and my bestie hit it off immediately, and she gave her approval.
Then came my sister.
The second weekend after we’d started dating, An Evil Wun and I were discussing my need for a new car. I told him I had a better chance of finding what I wanted (I’m picky) in Chicago, and he suggested we head there together. My sister nearly had a fit. She couldn’t believe I was going to Chicago with a guy I barely knew. She wanted his full name, vehicle description, and license plate number. An Evil Wun, overhearing the phone conversation, joked he could also give her a blood sample. Not missing a beat, she said he could leave it in her mailbox. Thankfully, she was laughing and joking. I think.
Once we arrived in Chicago and looked for a car, he insisted I go with him to a place called Hecky’s in Evanston. He told me the story of when he first ate there, and he swore up and down that Hecky’s had the best barbeque sauce on the planet. Of course, his level of passion for it plus it being barbecue, I was down. Before we even got in, you could smell summer wafting from the place. Above the door was a big, yellow sign with the name of the business, and once inside, we learned Hecky himself was manning the meats.
With our incredible smelling lunch in hand, we drove a short mile toward Lake Michigan to a park on the outer edge of Northwestern University.
On that warm August day, shaded by the tree canopy and the breeze off the lake, we sat and ate in silence at a picnic table, watching speedboats glide across the lake. The sun glittered on the water, and I fell in love three times: Once with Hecky’s, once with the view, and once with the man I now call Hubster. We’ve been together for twenty years, married for fifteen.
My friends and family weren’t wrong; meeting in-person the people I met online was, indeed, scary. With the creepers I encountered before I met Hubster, I was on the verge of declaring my loved ones right and giving up. Instead, I trusted that my preferred, less anxious method for meeting people could yield something good, something beautiful even. Without online mediums, I’m not sure I’d have made any new friends since high school. But certainly, I would’ve never met my husband. Or had Hecky’s.
That one guy can keep the skin from my lip though.