Recently, my friend, Carol, was a groomsman in James' wedding in New York. Yes, a groomsman, not a bridesmaid. She stood next to James, whose best friends were mostly women, thrilled for him, but harboring a secret melancholy. At the reception, she sat among the other bridesmaids and groomsmen, while James' cousin, Ronald, emceed the floorshow, breaking out into song. He had a good voice and Carol was instantly smitten with him. She sat there, eyeing him all evening, though didn't speak to Ronald once.
Back in Houston, where she lived, Carol and James talked about Ronald and how James had wanted his best friend and cousin to meet for years. He thought they were perfect for each other and told Carol so.
"If there are any two people who belong together, it's you and Ronald," James said.
Carol got Ronald's email and sent him a message that day. And thus began a three month Internet-telephonic-text message correspondence, wherein the two fell madly in love. They chatted every morning, afternoon and night, sometimes for hours at a time, making plans, dreaming. Though they lived in different states, there was an eerie familiarity and connection between them. They drew each other out, professing their deepest and darkest secrets - Carol wanted to have a baby sooner than later; Ronald wasn't sure he ever wanted to get married.
Over those three months in spring, Ronald planned a trip to Houston, where he would stay for the summer with Carol and Carol planned another trip to New York, where she would stay with Ronald and attend a birthday party of his best friend in Woodstock.
As the day of her trip approached, she called me in a state of utter excitation. "This is it," she said. "I can just feel it. Three days with Ronald! Three whole days in New York!"
I told her to take it slow, not to expect too much, as Internet dating often went awry. "You're too pragmatic," she said. "We're in total love!"
Upon her arrival in New York, Ronald had a car waiting for her at the airport, a thoughtful gesture. At his apartment, he'd bought her an expensive orchid, her favorite flower, and a bottle of wine, which they opened and drank, while they talked and talked. They went to dinner and laughed and ate and on the way home, they held hands. The sex they had that night was terrific, according to Carol, but when it was over, Ronald turned to her and said, "You aren't the one." Just like that.
Carol called me in tears the next day, wondering how it was that someone could make up his mind so quickly, that something with such promise could turn so ugly. What I told her, as I have told many friends, is that online dating is chancy at best. The problem, of course, is disconnect between the voice on the phone, the extended emails, all that cyber-intimacy and the corporeal incarnation of that voice, the emails, that intimacy. In other words, some folks just can't add it all up and, when faced with the reality of it all, they simply shut down.
In Ronald's case, he only wanted the fantasy of Carol, not Carol herself. He wanted the emotional connectivity, the soothing voice at the end of the long day, but not the relationship itself, those flesh-and-blood moments that stretch out and give two people who live in different states and different time zones a reason to risk. And even though they continued to have great sex that weekend, even though what came before it was beautiful and caring and sweet, in the end Ronald simply wasn't willing to see beyond his own fear, to see Carol as she really was - someone who would've loved him unconditionally. This kind of love is hard to find and incredibly rare. Carol knew this and her love existed beyond the keyboard. It's a shame Ronald probably knew this as well, but was too invested in sitting at his computer, typing love letters, rather than meeting Carol halfway. It's a shame he couldn't try a little more to live in the world, with Carol, instead of hiding behind his dangerous, hurtful and ultimately useless rhetorical façade.