In early 1998, my marriage was on the rocks and we separated. For now, the details aren’t important. It might be a long post for another day.
I was consulting around the USA, flying out of Dallas for the whole week every week. My now-runaway wife and girls were back in England. I spent enough time in hotels that I gave serious thought to giving up my Dallas apartment completely. The travel had a big effect on my life because it was almost always only planned the week before. IBM hardly ever gave me more than a few days notice of where I needed to be. As a result, I couldn’t make commitments to meet colleagues or friends in cities around the USA because I couldn’t be sure of being back in the same place the following week or for any given date.
As I was away from either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning to Friday evening, it was hard to make friends in Dallas and I had only one friend (and his family) with whom I was close. The Internet was in its infancy. The World-Wide Web wasn’t much of anything at the time and most companies didn’t even have a web-site. Most news arrived via NNTP newsgroups. In short, the online world was fairly limited.
Sometimes I would use a site and chat client called ICQ (I assume it was named after “I seek you”) to chat to random people.
I didn’t say if I was male or female and I generally chatted to women (what a surprise that I find women more interesting than men). Hiding my sex didn’t matter because women would figure out that I was a guy within a few minutes. When I eventually asked about this, the explanation was consistent: I said nice things about my kids, whereas most moms complained about their kids!
The Random Chat function of ICQ was quite popular at that time. In my case, it provided me with electronic penpals.
Today, “chatted” might imply all kinds of things. Sexting, video chat, etc. Sorry, but back then (yes dammit, I’m *that* old!) the interface was very primitive and it wasn’t even possible to exchange pictures/photos as far as I recall. In fact, electronic pictures were a novelty as scanners were still slow and useless, and photos were printed on paper (yes, this was the era before digital cameras).
For me, chatting via ICQ meant that. After all, I was doing it to fight off loneliness rather than get laid. How exactly would I hook up with someone? I couldn’t even be sure of regularly being in the city in which I had an apartment, never mind some random U.S. city!
I made some friends along the way. Some were very nice. Some seemed broken. Some scared the crap out of me. And some are still friends to this day.
I only met a few of my virtual friends in real life.
One was in Oklahoma and having a relationship with a man she then discovered was married. She was distraught and showed up at my apartment one Saturday night looking for sex to salve her disappointment. What?! It’s a shame I’m not that kind of guy; she was *very* cute, but she’d have regretted it the next day. I still don’t know how she found out where I lived.
One lived somewhere in Dallas. We met for lunch once and had a nice time but have never met since, although we still exchange emails and chat on the phone occasionally. One day I may visit Dallas to say hello. She’s a fascinating and brilliant person, even if she’s not my type.
After I left Dallas for Switzerland, I was still living by myself and sometimes chatted online. This is how I ‘met’ one virtual friend with whom I’m still friends today. We almost met in person once. Maybe next year we’ll get around to meeting in person. Hi Mel! (As you may gather, she reads this blog sometimes.)
The last time I posted about penpals, I discussed the resounding success of meeting and marrying my penpal. During this later time, I made friends but no more. It’s hardly a surprise, as I wasn’t really aiming to meet someone special. I still had unfinished business with a separated wife, and eventually she moved to Switzerland to join me. In early 2000, the family was reunited and the marriage lasted 11 more years. It wasn’t the same as before in some ways, but it still seemed like a fairly strong marriage compared to most. (In a later post, I plan to talk about how I now see my marriage with the benefit of some hindsight.)