Once upon a time, I had an internet boyfriend. It’s juvenile, and embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. I was introduced to him several years ago via his Opera blog, and I was instantly captivated by his insightful writing, his (apparently) staggering intelligence. My first correspondence with him made me nervous. Surely, I thought, this man is going to think I’m an imbecile. I agonized over the choice of my words, trying to construct sentences that that were cool yet friendly, articulate but not showy. To my surprise, he didn’t ignore me or mock me. I was encouraged. The frequency of our correspondence increased, as did the depth of the subjects about which we would correspond. The emails led to phone calls, and over the course of a year or more, I began to suspect that I was in love with this person.
The human mind is a powerful tool. It can shape reality like one of those guys that carves statues out of ice with a chainsaw. In this life, most people see only what they want to see; instead of frozen water, we see a dripping, glistening angel. This is even easier to do when you never actually have to see the truth that is tucked away in another time zone half a world away. Its easy to have a relationship with a guy whose farts you never have to smell, whose ex-girlfriend’s photograph isn’t haunting the sock drawer. It’s very easy when the person is just a photograph themselves, or a disembodied voice saying nice things to you over thousands of miles of telephone wire. Unless, of course you think you're in love, in which case you want to snuggle with them and eat waffles in your underpants.
Naturally, meeting one another face-to-face was the next step. I hadn’t told him I loved him, of course, nor he I. But because I had been carrying around the secret knowledge of my love like a burning jewel in my chest, I was eager to tip the hand of fate. It didn’t matter that he lived thousands of miles away and the entire situation was wildly impractical. I am a hopeless romantic. Love, I was sure, was about overcoming the obstacles and proving everyone wrong. I was dazzled by the potential of “our story” and determined to go to him against the advice of everyone I knew. I would be like a shot of distilled sunshine. Once he’d swallowed me, I would radiate warmth throughout his guts. I would soften the cruel edges of his reality and whisk away the gloom. And when at last he saw that his world had become a soft place, he would fall.
So I went. I flung myself into someone’s arms and plead my case. But the man in whose arms I slept was not the man I loved. In fact, that man did not exist, and never had. He was an animated construct in my mind, a flimsy scaffolding of ideas over which a tapestry of words had been stretched. I danced him all around my imagination, dreaming about his exceptionally fine company, his sparkling dinner conversation, his brilliant massages. And when I gazed into his eyes over a bouquet of flowers (which he’d picked for me), I would see rolling prairies filled with love, undulating and endless, and all for me. I was so enamored with my vision that it obscured the reality, the way a mirage cloaks the brownness of the desert floor.
Some months later, at my impetuous urgings, he abandoned his life to move and be with me. He showed up one morning unexpected, bleary-eyed and lugging two shabby suitcases. I’ll never know why he did it. Maybe he thought he had to. Maybe he was just lonely, or maybe he, like me, was chasing a person made of words and dreams, a girl who wasn’t me. In any case, the excuse he offered was that he loved me. That he was on my doorstep was all the proof I needed. But you can’t prove something that isn’t true, no matter how hard you try.
In less than two months the ice sculpture had melted, and I had trouble reconciling the man I loved with the formless dampness that shared my bed. I kept looking and looking for those love-prairie eyes, and all I saw were toadstools. I didn’t know what had happened, where my brilliant, special boyfriend had gone. It was like a missing persons case. Day after day went by until I just had to accept that I would never hold the man I loved. It was a truth as hard and final as death. I mourned my poor, dead boyfriend, and raged against the imposter who didn’t know how I took my coffee, and couldn’t make me smile.
When he finally left, I wanted to hate him. But he was only a sad stranger in an old overcoat, just like he’d always been. For a while I was angry at myself instead, embarrassed at my foolishness, my pride wounded at the idea that I wasn’t clever or pretty or enlightened enough to have brought the puppet in my mind to life. He had come all that way, but he still didn’t love me. It’s me,
I thought. I’m the creeping fungus that devoured the love-prairie and put out the light in his eyes.
Why am I telling you all of this? I don’t know honestly. Maybe because I know that there are other hopeless romantics out there that might be on the cusp of making the same mistake. And maybe some of them read my blog. I know what you’re thinking- that the really important lessons in life have to be learned the hard way, even though they usually seem obvious. But, for what it’s worth, you can’t love a person you’ve never met. It defies the very principle of the word. To quote a song by some gospel singer whose cassette tape my mom used to play in the car: Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of your will.