How Online Dating in the 90's -- When the Net was for Nerds -- Changed Me Profoundly

by aholtom

In December of 1994, most teenagers had heard of the new Internet-thingy but had never used it. It was only used by nerds like me. Cell phones were for rich people, and text messaging and IM's had yet to be invented. I was an eighteen-year-old know-it-all living in Missouri, with an active imagination and a streak of rebellion, and planned to switch colleges after an emotional (and academically disappointing) first semester. Disappointing because I'd grown accustomed to straight A's, which didn't come so easily anymore; emotional because a frat guy I'd somehow fallen for had broken my heart when I discovered him in bed with another girl. Ironically, I'd planned to finally sleep with him that very night... Blessing in disguise, I suppose. Who knew that a few months later I'd be living across the country with a much older guy -- a guy I'd meet the very first time I used the Internet -- contemplating an abortion?

It started one night in the college computer lab, the only place kids could access the Web in those days. I figured out fairly quickly how to navigate the Internet, and, not wanting to seem like the total nerd I was, I looked for a 'cool' website. I found a Beatles chat room. And there, I found Greg. He was a college senior living in the coastal community of San Luis Obispo, California, which he described as idyllic. It seemed like a galaxy away from my land-locked, tiny hometown of Farmington, Missouri, notorious for the herd of cattle that resided across the street from the high school. Somehow, even with our six year age difference, Greg and I managed to find a lot to chat about that first night: the Beatles, my favorite new singer Sheryl Crow, the movie Dazed and Confused, President Clinton, college life, our families, our nonexistent love lives... We stayed awake type-chatting about everything and nothing until 7:30am, when I had to leave for the one class I liked.

Before we logged off, Greg asked for my phone number and mailing address. This was a time when people used their real names, and the term "Internet predator" hadn't been coined. I still knew better than to give Greg too much personal information, so I asked for his instead. Enamored with this new guy and the new way of communicating, I couldn't wait to go online again the next night. When I did, I realized there was no way of knowing when Greg would be on there at the same time, and we didn't have e-mail, so I called him. It was love at first sound. We talked every single day after that, despite the long distance charges. The cost was worth the 'high' I felt after hanging up with him. I became an addict, living for the sound of my phone ringing.

While I wasn't repulsive to the opposite sex, or so I'd been told, for all I knew, Greg could've been extremely unattractive. I really didn't care, though. I was hooked. Chatting on the phone was easier and better than chatting online, and we exchanged photos and letters via snail mail. To my delight, he was cute! He thought I was, too. After communicating with him for a couple of months, I was ready to leave the only place I'd ever known and race to California to meet this guy in the Real World. I thought we might be soul mates. I didn't enroll in a second semester, but somehow my parents convinced me to stay in Missouri. I got two full-time jobs, since I had no life outside of Greg, and started saving money -- money I would eventually use for my trip to California.

By the summer of 1995, I had saved a couple thousand dollars, enough for a college-aged person to live off forever it seemed. On August 15th, I woke up, looked at Greg's picture for the millionth time, called and quit my jobs -- without notice -- and then started driving west. Greg had no idea I was coming. I didn't eat or sleep. I just drove. I stopped only for gas, water, the restroom, and once to take a photo of the Oklahoma City bombing site, which only further compelled me to follow my heart. In all, it took me and my gas-guzzler two days and two hundred dollars' worth of fuel to get to San Luis Obispo. Palm trees swayed a graceful welcome to me as I knocked on Greg's door. He opened it, visibly shocked but equally delighted, and kissed me like they do in the movies. It was the most magical, unbelievable first kiss ever. Being in his arms felt as natural as breathing.

With his roommates' permission, Greg immediately asked me to move in, and we became inseparable. That is, until we realized I was too young to patronize the places he and his friends wanted to hang out at. They were well into their twenties, after all. Even in our hip college town, no bar would allow a not-quite-nineteen-year-old, which proved very annoying. Our age difference was our first obstacle. We soon discovered that living together in his tiny house wasn't as fun or easy as we'd thought it would be. I got tired of hearing Greg's snoring, and I hated waking up with his smelly cat purring on my forehead or batting at my tangled hair.

Greg became distant, and when we celebrated my birthday at the end of August -- only two weeks after I arrived -- I knew the honeymoon phase was already over. I started to think the stupid cat loved me more than Greg did, and the feeling had become mutual. I moved out soon after, to work as a live-in nanny in a nearby town. It was nice to have my own bedroom again, my own space. Living with a family, even someone else's, soothed me; I was beyond homesick. Greg and I still talked every day and sometimes hung out, but as a couple, we were through. After being in California only two months, I was surprisingly ready to head back to Missouri with my tail between my legs and a lesson learned. But my lesson had just begun.

I woke up on October 4th needing to sprint for the bathroom. I barely made it. Half-digested lasagna rocketed out of my mouth, and I suddenly knew why. At least once in those passionate weeks with Greg, I'd forgotten to take my birth control pill, and we hadn't reliably used condoms. Hunched over and staring into the vomit-splattered toilet, I thought about that first night online in my college computer lab. Stupid Internet, I thought, tears dripping into my puke.

Six days and two home pregnancy tests later, Greg and I sat in a family planning clinic soberly filling out paperwork. Scared, ashamed, and heartbroken, I thought about how I was supposed to have been spreading my wings and falling in love and having an adventure. Instead, I was having an abortion. My online dating experience when the Internet was for nerds -- however antiquated that seems now -- had morphed from girlish fantasy to harsh reality. On October 12th, I swallowed a Vicodin and what little was left of my pride, and climbed onto a one-way Greyhound bound for St. Louis. I'd abandoned my car in California, along with my youth. And maybe my soul. I knew I would never be the same.

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