Three's A'loud

Internet dating in the nineties

My eldest is 10 years old this year. And last week a boy at our church came over and asked for her telephone number. Did I mention she is only 10 years old?

Since then they have been talking to each other on whatsapp.

I keep a bit of an eye on my girls’ whatsapp conversations (with their knowledge) because I believe this is a learning experience for when they get onto all the other social media channels. I tell them that if they write things they don’t want me to read then that is a pretty good sign that they shouldn’t post or send it at all. I am not stupid enough to think this will last into their teenage years (or next week) but for now it seems to give them a bit of a gauge for measuring what is appropriate to share. After all, at the ripe old age of 36, I still use the same measure for most of the things I post online (Hi mommy!)

So anyway. She has been having very sweet but short conversations with this boy. Probably the equivalent of the notes we used to pass in class back in the day. And for some reason it reminded me of this boy I used to know once. We also sent notes to each other for the longest time and only ever spoke in person once.

In 1998 things were waaay different from how they are today. I was 16 years old and we had just gotten our first dial up modem at home. To make a long story short, a friend at school invited me to spend two weeks over the December holidays with them at the seaside and two days before our departure she told me that she was just kidding and her parents actually never agreed that I could go along. I was devastated to put it mildly. Home alone all summer on the farm. So my mom was full of kindness and made me hot chocolate and left me to explore “this internet thing” for days on end. Literally. Back then no one knew anything about the dangers of meeting strangers on the world wide web, it was pretty much all new territory. And of course it wasn’t long before little old me discovered chat rooms. Queue the Aladdin theme song: “A whole new wooooooorld…..” My summer was fun again. I can’t say I saw the sun once but man, did I meet some interesting people.

The fact that I ever started talking to this amazing man was a miracle in itself. I mean, seriously. I was so lame. First of all, my screen name was PsychoSusan. I thought the alliteration-that-is-actually-not-alliteration was really clever. People had no pictures or bios, just conversations rolling down the screen. Incidentally that is also where I learned to type because if you couldn’t type fast enough, your clever comments were completely irrelevant 30 seconds later. After a few nights (and typing for 72 hours non-stop) I was a machine and could keep up with any and every conversation. Until this day people comment on how fast I type.

But I digress. If you liked talking to a certain person, you could create a “room” which sounds all intimate but it is actually just today’s equivalent of an inbox-message. It was just a massive miracle that I didn’t get caught up in dodgy conversations with freaks. On the contrary, I was probably the boss of all the freaks. I was there all hours of the day (and night) and soon came to rule my little kingdom of weirdos. I was best friends with everyone. The “male model” from France (yeah right). The “famous American actor” who wouldn’t tell anyone “who he really was” because then we would “treat him differently”. (Whahaha) The “Indian heiress”. Looking back they were probably all 40 year old men living in their mom’s basements but who am I to judge. I was a 16 year old girl who hadn’t even kissed a boy before. And I loved the fact that no one new that. I could be the smartest most beautiful person in the room if I told them I was. So when this new person with an unpronounceable name introduced himself on the chat-feed I was all haughty. You don’t just enter this chat room without introducing yourself to PsychoSusan first. “What type of a name is Araghorn anyway.” I typed. Somehow, in all my years of reading every single book I could get my hands on, I had missed the Lord of the Rings. Like I said, I was lame. But Araghorn was really gracious about it all. His favourite book hadn’t been made into a movie yet and he liked explaining the significance of his character. He was really clever too. He could keep up with every conversation on the chat feed and soon annihilated my reign as the person with the most clever word play and puns. So when he invited me “to a room” a few days later, I was quite happy to oblige. We started having our own conversations. Real conversations. He was a 21 year old university student at the same university I planned on going to in a couple of years (yes really). And just like that I dropped all the pretences and I was a 16 year old girl again. We chatted for hours. And when I say “hours” I mean “days.” He was so smart. And funny. I was totally completely in love.

Did it turn out to be true love? I am now a grown up with kids and responsibilities and can’t sit here writing through the night anymore.


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