June 1, 2011

Love in the time of dial up

Filed under: stories — jennifer @ 3:46 pm

Before there was Twitter and Tumblr and Flickr and Facebook, before the web could even been used in a graphical user interface, there was irc, Internet Relay Chat. Now it depends on how low you have been using the web and how old you are, you may have even used irc, a UNIX based chat client. It was all forward slashes and dir and rm and texty goodness. It was on this nerd saturated platform that I met my first love, John. We spoke for almost two years before we met in 1995. I will let that sink in. We were both channel operators on The Undernet on a channel called #chatzone.  It sounds nerdy, but I was in it for the social media-ness of it all before there was social media.  I was working at the university, making web pages in hand coded html, using tables and columns, advising young computing science students,  ahhhh those were the days. (I married one of the young Grad students eventually)
You see I had a teeny tiny pick-up-and-through Mac SE I bought in 1987 and used for my internet shell account provided by the university and a 14.4 baud modem ( I did eventually get a better MAC). I had graduated with my BA in Communications in 1992 and fiddled around with service jobs and a couple of contract research jobs and then I started at the University in 1995. We didn’t have a romantic relationship at first. I was having a very torrid chat affair with a man from Kentucky who turned out to be married. Who turned out to hold a gun to his head now and again and who was arrested just before he was about to visit me. I found out from his wife who he was more or less keeping hostage. She was afraid for my safety for he finally had a plane ticket to come and visit me. Short version of THAT!  After talking to John for about 2 years, we finally met. He came to visit me in the great white north from Alabama. Literally a world away.

Anyhow John. Funny as hell, smart, charming, and “back in the day” I didn’t even know what he looked like until we had been chatting for almost two years. We exchanged photos the old fashioned way, we used a film camera, had the photos developed and MAILED THEM to each other. We used stamps and shit. We chatted on irc, email, on the phone.  At one point I sold my bike to pay for my phone bill. Long distance also used to be way expensive, especially internationally. Oh ho ho ho, how you kids must be laughing at us.  Anyone who has had friends made online knows that it can be a very intimate experience and you can get to know someone quite well despite the lack of physical presence.

Finally John was able to visit. Neither of us were particularly financially flush, but he came here for 10 days and it was one of the most wonderful times of my life.  For you see, by 1995, I had never been in love.  I was 25 years old, but never loved a boy. We met in person, we hugged! We got along! We played Trivial Pursuit (I could rarely find a suitable adversary), he won most, but not every game.  We drove to the rocky mountains, we saw bears, we hiked, he mocked me for not being able to canoe, we had sex.  I had never had sex with someone sober.  I was always drunk.  I don’t mean to make it sound like I had a huge double digit list of lovers, there weren’t that many, but all were one night stands previous to this experience and I was super nervous.  He liked me and HE wasn’t drunk. I liked him and I WASN’T drunk.  We had a great time, never at a loss for things to talk about, joke about, we watched The British Open (it was on tv?), we had a loving time.  John was a tall guy and once put me over his shoulder and it was the coolest thing, I felt like a cave woman. My car broke down somewhere between the rocky mountains and the city.  My dad had to come and get us.  It was embarrassing, but my dad was cool and didn’t ask too many questions. We made it back to my apartment and finished out our visit.

Eventually, it was time for John to go and although the romance and story of the first love of my life doesn’t end here, it ended there.  We loved each other, but he lived THERE and I lived HERE and I guess the universe (and our our decisions), made it impossible for it to be THE only and final love of my life.  It was difficult, I was lonely, I thought I would be alone the rest of my life, yes I was 25, but I didn’t think anyone would ever get to know me the way John did, see me the way he did, love me.  But the relationship, for it was one, was one of the most important of my life.  It proved I could love and be loved.  Just as I was.

Not the best photographs, but I believe we were using disposable cameras.  Yes, John is a hockey fan, no, not my team.


Updated about Kentucky guy with gun:

There really wasn’t much more to it other than me being stupid and desperate and him (the Kentucky gun lover) saying all the right things and me totally ignoring the warning signs. Other people knew about him and he was apparently manipulating other girls/woman and one did tell me to “step off” (it was the 90s). It was hard to get information about his criminal activity during or after our “affair” due to him being so far away and I didn’t know who to trust. We did talk on the phone a lot and email for quite a while before he was arrested. It was very painful and I felt very stupid to realize I had been conned/duped. It was one of those things that brought John and I closer, he understood how you could get so seemingly intimate with someone on irc, though email, on the phone and have them turn out to be a completely different person.  In my case, he turned out to be a psychopath with a history of such behaviour.

Also, I have recently been in touch with John, which is pretty much what prompted this post.


  1. I had a roommate who ran up astronomical phone bills calling a girlfriend in England. And my parents existed on letters alone while he was in Vietnam. I’m glad you had a John to prove you’re super lovable. :)

    Comment by Genie — June 1, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

  2. Wow. Beautiful. I remember that chat thing – we used it at school back in the day. How times have changed.


    Comment by Mrs. Wilson — June 1, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  3. This story shocks me with how much communication has changed since 1995. HOLY CRAP.

    Comment by schmutzie — June 1, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

  4. I KNOW! John and I have been talking recently and I am all up on twitter and the blog and pinterest and everything and remembering how I used to sometimes wait hours to get on with dial up.

    Comment by jennifer — June 1, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

  5. It was life changing, we recently got in touch again and I realized how important the relationship was in my life. I sort of feel like where would I be without him?

    Comment by jennifer — June 1, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  6. Oh what a story. More more more!

    Comment by Bossy — June 1, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

  7. What do you want to know? He was a great kisser….

    Comment by jennifer — June 1, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  8. Wow. What an amazing story. I know this is totally nosy and inappropriate, but I want to hear the *long* version of the story of the married dude from Kentucky, because HOLY CRAP WERE MY PALMS SWEATING DURING THAT PART.

    As Schmutzie said, this is a fascinating look at how much communications have changed just in the last 15 years – an astronomical difference. As a teen I remember sitting up well into the night chatting with people on AOL. All through college my friends & I used our AIM away messages in much the same way people use Twitter now – “I’m here, then going here, here’s where to find me and a quote to make me sound both highly intelligent and imminently beddable.”

    Oh MAN were those the days. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by Nate — June 1, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  9. Nate, I put an update about crazy Kentucky guy on my post, since other people are asking….

    Also, you are highly intelligent and imminently beddable, from what I can tell :-)

    Comment by jennifer — June 1, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  10. Ah, the old days. I remember sitting in the lab while doing by winter bug nerd work and chatting on-line, black screen with orange text, the REEEeeeeeee beeb beeb beeeb as the dial-up kicked in.

    Great story, hon.
    (Glad creepy dude didn’t actually make it to see you!)

    Comment by Chair — June 1, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

  11. That is so sweet. I’m sure he remembers you just as fondly; I know I do all my old boyfriends. I just reconnected with an old one on FB, and we get along just as well now as we did back then, even though we’ve both been married for decades (you know, to other people).

    P.S. I am happy to see you writing again!

    Comment by Peggasus — June 2, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  12. That looks like a Mac Plus, it was our first one in 1986!

    Comment by Peggasus — June 2, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  13. For a second there, I was very disappointed that this post was going to be all about how you were in love with your Mac SE. Whew!

    Comment by rob — June 2, 2011 @ 9:42 am

  14. I had an internet relationship once, but unlike you, I DID meet the crazy guy –he came to my work unannounced, AND, it was our first time meeting! I never told him exactly where I worked, but I obviously gave too much away as he dug around until he literally FOUND me! I abruptly ended the brief relationship, as he clearly had no sense of boundaries; it was far too soon to meet (for my comfort levels). As it so happens, I ended up finding my husband outside of the virtual world, and in the real one. I’m so glad you never ended up meeting your Kentucky hero! Please keep it up, I really enjoy your writting Jennifer!

    Comment by Dawn — June 3, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

  15. Great story, brings back memories! I first started with instant messaging of sorts in 1986 and then chat rooms. I’ve met several friends and two lovers this way. I was just thinking about the chat rooms recently, wondering if they still exist? If so, point me to some good ones (ya know, with people who can think and spell)!

    Comment by Ellie — June 3, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  16. Met my first boyfriend on mIRC. Coming up on our eleventh anniversary this month. Ahh, IRC. :)

    Comment by Gemmit — June 3, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  17. Totally remember the time of John AND crazy Kentucky dude. That seems like a lifetime ago!!

    Love you xoxox

    Comment by kare' — June 5, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  18. I think I started getting involved with the internet, such as it was, in the ’96/’97 schoolyear, when I bought a secondhand Gateway off a friend of mine and moved into the nerd dorm which had internet connections in the rooms.

    I had an electronic puppy-love affair with a sweet Pakistani grad student in Chicago via ISCA BBS. It was pretty thrilling, even though it was much, much slower paced than the kids go these days.

    Comment by Meetzorp — June 19, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress

Switch to our mobile site