Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

When I was 21, I worked two jobs with the goal of saving up enough cash to travel for a while. I also wanted to pick a new place to live, but I wasn’t sure where. My best friend and I packed up my car, converted most of our cash to traveler’s checks, borrowed my dad’s 6-person tent and took off. We stayed for a month on Mackinac Island to earn some more cash. After that, we cut across Canada and started at Niagara Falls and camped our way down the entire east coast. It was my first encounter with the ocean.

I almost set up residence in Hilton Head Island, but I kept seeing all of the hurricane evacuation signs and they freaked me out. As we looped back up and cut through Tennessee, I considered Nashville, but then I figured all of the country music would make me want to jump off a tall building. Later we cut back through Missouri and headed to the southwest, and I finally ran out of money in Albuquerque, so there I stayed. Within a short amount of time I landed two jobs and a place to live. My friend opted to go to the Everglades in Florida to live and work.

A year later, she made her way back to New Mexico, and I was happy to have a good friend so close after floundering for a year with trying to make friends. We decided to take on dating together. Back in 1996, the best way to meet the opposite sex besides getting tanked at a bar was either posting or answering personal ads published in newspapers. Let me take just a little time out and post an ad that I found, clipped and saved for these almost 20 years:

SPM, 31, seeking female amputee, age 18-99, for romance. Your beauty and grace astounds me. Box ID 23394.

Talk about a fetish!

My friend and I placed an ad saying something to the effect that we were looking for double dates. The ad was free, but to initiate a call to someone is where the fee kicked in. We got a couple of bites but they were from men who didn’t have single buddies. One was a guy I will call Bear; he had a really deep voice and was very articulate, so after talking to him we agreed on a date.

Bear was tall, 6’2, with glasses and a bookish manner – or if you prefer, he was geeky or nerdy in general. Our first date was right after Christmas that year. Immediately, we hit it off. We hardly spent any days apart and were on the phone constantly. I remember telling him one time that I couldn’t get close enough – I wished that I could crawl under his skin and live there.

A month after we started dating, we were at a restaurant eating dinner in the middle of some serious winter weather. We looked around the place and noted all of the kids having meltdowns and said, “I’m so glad we don’t have kids.” Bear then said, “Why don’t we go to Las Vegas?” We both had never been and Bear liked to play blackjack. He revealed that he had saved up a wad of cash (something like $600, which was a pretty good chunk in early 1997) and decided he wanted to use it to take a short trip with me. We ran to our respective places and quickly packed backpacks and called for tickets. We didn’t even take time to book a hotel.

When we arrived, we realized our mistake – it was the electronics convention, and EVERY hotel room was booked. However, our chain smoking cabby with the biggest, flashiest earrings told us that the Happi Inn was a sure thing – she always took people there for situations like these. Sure enough, they had a room. And what a room it was! Mirror on the ceiling, garish orange bedding with a bed sagging horribly in the middle, one TV station and cockroaches in the bathroom. We were also being price gouged because of the convention, $80 for the night. We did the best we could because we were flying out the next day.

It was a fun day. We played slots, and Bear got three blackjacks in a row, which was noticed by the pit boss, and we were rewarded with two tickets to the Ceaser’s Palace buffet. We took many pictures around the strip and visited M&M World. We even saw our first Cirque du Soleil show, “Mystere.” It was a fun little trip…or so we thought, until we tried to fly back. Because of snow storms all over the U.S., we couldn’t get a flight home until the next day at 1 p.m. I left a message on the work answering machine to tell everyone I was momentarily stranded and that I would be back to work Tuesday. The managers didn’t think to check the messages when I didn’t show up to work Monday morning, and they were in the process of calling the police to do a wellness check on me when I called in to make sure they got my message.

It didn’t take long for Bear and I to move in together. He was my first love (though he had had other loves before me). I loved him deeply. He was a patron of the arts. He wrote me love letters. He talked about the future.

However, there were problems at his workplace, and he decided to try to land a job closer to the Midwest or east coast. He almost took a job in Allentown, PA, but decided to take an offer in Cincinnati, OH instead. It was still early in our relationship and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I moved with him. I figured I would get a job after we relocated. We rented an apartment on a short lease without seeing it first on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.

Shortly after we moved to yet another city where I didn’t know anyone else, Bear told me to make my own friends because he wasn’t going to be my entertainment. So I did. First I went out a few times and partied with a lady I met while working a temp job as a proofreader. Later I partied a lot with the people who worked with me at the large law firm. It seemed that his declaration was the turning point in our relationship, and nothing was ever the same after that.

Bear also became somewhat addicted to the internet. His nerd side was strong – his mind was blown with the potential the internet held at that point – and that meant that he was on it constantly. Part of the problem was that resources were available that never had been before, like being able to buy video games that weren’t always sold in the immediate vicinity. Oh, and the porn…

So the problem was that money that was supposed to go for rent was being used up by video games and porn. I was unhappy because there were a few times when Bear would blow his portion of the rent on games and I would have to pay for everything. He also spent money and time on porn instead of joining me. There were so many times I would beg him to come to bed, and he would refuse. I felt ugly and undesirable. Since I was living with a nerd, I was becoming more computer and internet savvy myself. I started to go to chat rooms, and then I began talking to men in private chat sessions.

My first trip to Europe was in May of 1999. I was visiting a university friend who lives in England for ten days. I had been saving and saving, knowing that even though I had a free place to stay, there would still be lots of expenses. A week before leaving, Bear revealed to me that he didn’t have the rent money again because he had purchased video games. I was absolutely furious. Like a true daughter of an alcoholic, my brain went into dissociation mode and I completely forgot what Bear’s face looked like. In fact, when he picked me up from the airport at the end of my trip with a fist full of flowers, I walked straight past him like he was a stranger – he had to call out my name and grab my arm.

A few weeks later I met up with one of the men from the chats while Bear was working. I was so eager that I failed to properly turn off the computer, so the message box was still there for Bear to see when he got home from work and the house was empty. Of course he read it, all of it. When I got home, he was sitting on the edge of our bed, looking absolutely crushed.

We broke up but continued to live in the same apartment and sleep in the same bed because we were still obligated to the lease we signed. Luckily it ran its course within two months and we could move on. We actually stayed friendly through the breakup – he helped me move into my new apartment, and he joined me at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving (my friend’s mom introduced us as, “This is Kiwi and this is Bear and they were dating and now they’re not, so I don’t know”).

Bear later went on to marry one of our mutual friends and have two sons – the two sons we used to discuss when we were a couple and talking about our future. He even named them the names he had picked out then.

Today I had a chance to trade messages with him and catch up. Bear is now divorced and in a relationship with another woman, and his sons have adjusted well to the major shift in the household. We exchanged information about our families and friends. I also sincerely apologized for cheating on him, acknowledging that I did not have the best tools at age 25-26 to deal with my anger and disappointment, and I hurt him deeply. He very graciously told me that it was forgiven and forgotten. I cried big, fat tears.

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The Broad Squad

CutBanana

The internet is a fantastic invention and I don’t know what I would do without it in my life at this point. I use it to search for rare health cases and symptoms like mine. I use it to communicate with my friends around the world. I watch movies and TV shows via four different streaming services while my laptop is propped over me at a tilt. I’m talking to you stranger dangers, for Pete’s sake.

One of the first ways the internet was initially used for “evil” was that producers and distributors suddenly realized how they could reach a much larger audience to pander their porn.

Another is that it is super, super easy to create a profile and an entire backstory for a person that is not at all based in truth.

Hulu has every episode for the show “Catfish: The TV Show,” produced and distributed by MTV. I was a fan of the movie, and now that I have loads of time on my hands, I am watching that show like I’m loading it up on an IV leading directly to my veins. The movie “Catfish” was made because a guy in his mid-20’s, Nev (pronounced “neev”) started an online romance with a woman long distance, and his brother and their friend taped the progress of his relationship. He is a good looking guy (dark hair and eyes, strong jaw, lovely constant 5 o’clock shadow), and the woman he thought he was talking to was gorgeous with caramel-colored hair and big turquoise eyes. Thought. Nev was crushed and confused when his journey that ended with him meeting this mystery person face-to-face. This is not how he imagined his fairy-tale story would end. Turns out the woman was a middle-aged housewife with special-needs kids who wanted to momentarily escape from her life.

Now Nev’s mission is to help others facing the same dilemma. People write to him because they have been carrying on long distance internet romances with someone who they aren’t sure is being truthful about their appearance, their job, their marital status, their gender, their location, their offspring, their names…you get the idea. “Catfish” is no longer a subject – it’s also a verb.

So, have you been catfished?

Internet dating sucks. I’ve said it many times and I’m sure I will again. At the very least, people don’t like to post their recent pictures, usually because their weight has changed from when they were 17. I get it – I would rather people see me at my best too. I actually haven’t taken any pictures of myself for the past few years because bed rest has not been kind. But I have never lied about my marital or relationship status, the city where I live, my age, my name, my gender, or any other item you can dream up. I don’t tell men up front that I’m bald, but those same men also don’t tell me if they have a 4″ dick that is bent at a right angle.

A good friend I’ll call Svetlana is still braving internet dating, and I am presenting you with just one of her stories with her permission. She had closed down a profile after feeling disgusted and defeated by the men who approached her, but she stayed in touch with a few, including one I’ll call Fernando. Up to this point she has not met him. Fernando had finally asked her out on a date, but Svetlana hadn’t had a chance to accept or decline; instead, she received this message:

Hello Svetlana, I am the girlfriend of Fernando and I don’t think you know anything about it. Since July I live in Germany. 10 days ago I came to his sister’s home in Skokie to visit him for a week, just yesterday I came home. I had seen in his phone and the text messages that he sent to you (unfortunately you are not the only one with who he communicate, at the same day another woman probably from Brasil because it was in Portugese language got from him a love message the same words that he said to me words that he said to me a lot of time, I know that because my friend translated it)…so sad because at that time I was with him, what he would do is ruthless,phony and disrespect. He used me just for his advantage and benefits, he needs european passport to stay legally in Europe and after that study in Amsterdam. He asked me to marry him, now I understand that he wanted just passport and then just cold bloody leave me for another woman. Now I know that he is just liar and cheater, he promised me never to hurt me because my ex boyfriend did it and he knew whats happened in the past to me. I am very angry, disappointed and upset what he did to me, everybody helped and like him cause he looks as innocent and lyal person but he is not like that…unfortunately not! I release my self from him. Why I send you this message? because I want to warn you, no woman deserves this pain. He promised me not to dating you when we stay together but I don’t want to share my life with somebody like him. So enjoy his company.”

First and foremost, Svetlana felt like this took a lot of courage for this woman to reach out to her and warn her. Svetlana has done the same thing when she has discovered men who have been lying and cheating, but sadly, she has had vitriol thrown back at her – other women calling her a slut, whore, desperate, and any other derogatory name you can think of. Second, she responded to the woman and thanked her for warning her, because she wanted nothing to do with men who conduct themselves in this manner. Third, she felt immense relief because this woman did not treat her badly, especially since she had not knowingly become one of many other women he was working on.

How would you react if someone contacted you to warn you that the person with whom you were conversing with or in a relationship with was being duplicitous or dishonest? Would you listen to them rationally, or would you call them names and try to shame them for telling the truth?

Svetlana suggested that she could send a message to Fernando saying, “You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” But really, I thought it would leave much less room for him to wiggle out of if she asked him when he’s planning on moving and who he is going to marry in order to get the proper passport. She did and then blocked him.

My wish is that women would stop buying into this theory and practice that we should compete against each other for the attention of men. Every woman Svetlana warned should have thanked her and cut off all ties to the liars rather than turn against her. I would love to start up a Broad Squad, where we take the time to research things like marital status, number of offspring, jobs, cities, etc., using our favorite tool, the internet (because I can’t very well drive around in disguise and take pictures). Then we warn each other. Then we believe what the other women are saying with proof to back it up. Look, I know we don’t want to think the man who is sticking his dick in us and saying very pretty words could possibly be saying the same to other women, but it’s time for the women to stop hating other women for the lying that men do. And it’s time for men to change their internal recordings from “that bitch messed up my plan, now I have to find new victims” to “I’m sorry, and I will never be a shit again.” Really, wouldn’t we all be happier if we were trying to be our best selves?