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Dude, Where's Your Car?
Part 2 of the "We Met Online" series
When we left off last Wednesday, I’d just had a frustrating and exhilarating first date with a dude from the internet…and his friend. (No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter.)
Lots of you sent me DMs and texts and even left comments right here about that essay. (And about High Fidelity, which is now on my rewatch list because clearly I missed something the first time around.)
And, of course, the suitor had his thoughts to share. My favorite parts were where he called me “really fucking smart” and said I was “even more beautiful in person,” but we’ll get to those. Here are his reflections on how our courtship began:
I was an early adopter of the internet because I worked technical support at a local ISP as a teenager. Before the advent of real dating sites the only place you could meet girls online were chat rooms and AOL Instant Messenger. Once digital cameras became more common, sites like Hot or Not were created where you could actually see a picture of someone before you started talking to them. It may seem ridiculous now, but back then it was revolutionary. These sites didn’t even have built-in messaging, you’d just post a picture and your instant messaging handle where random internet people could contact you.
My friends and I would often stumble onto a new site, tell each other about it, and make a hobby of scrolling through looking for girls to chat up. The newest website for this was FTJ and the gimmick was you post a single picture and others rate you on a scale of 1 to 10. I didn’t even have a profile at the time, but I was scrolling through and a unique picture of a girl with her dog popped up. Her picture was tastefully done in black and white, unlike most other photos on the site, and man was she gorgeous. I looked up her AIM username and plotted my approach.
She was holding a dog in her picture, so I figured that was the best place to start. I had my mom take a picture of me with our dog, a chocolate lab puppy who we had gotten a few months earlier. I dressed in my best blue t-shirt, flat-front khakis, and some shiny Doc Martens for maximum handsomeness. This picture would surely make her fall madly in love with me.
After exchanging hellos the first thing I told her was how sad I was because I might have to get rid of my dog. The story was an exaggeration for sure. The dog was a bit too rambunctious for my parents, but I knew any talk of getting rid of her was an idle threat. We started talking more, and I quickly realized this girl was really fucking smart. A smart, beautiful blonde who likes dogs—what more could I want? I started laying on the charm pretty thick over the next few weeks.
Chatting online was naturally up my alley because it didn’t involve all those pesky in -person interactions and real-time responses. I found it much easier to be charming and witty over chat when I had a few extra seconds while typing to formulate what I was going to say.
Author’s note: he is plenty charming and witty in person, too. 😉 More from him next time.
Back then, typing messages to someone rather than picking up the phone and meeting in person was revolutionary. It opened up the world to people who weren’t in your direct sphere of influence, who you wouldn’t run into at school or work or the grocery store.
Did the internet end up making for too many choices, too much information, too many words coming at you all the time? Maybe. Probably. Definitely yes. But without it, the chances I’d have met this one were basically zero. So, for me, in that time and place, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Now, back to the story.
“Oh, no,” I said.
My heart was in my throat and my cheeks surely matched the red of the university building placards lining the street. We walked all the way up to where his car was parked, as if it had simply been covered in an invisibility cloak and he could remove it and be on his way. But by the time we got there I knew, and a look at the sign sticking up out of the sidewalk confirmed it. Though our date had started on Tuesday, it was now Wednesday. And Wednesday was street cleaning.
Every first and third Wednesday of the month, street cleaning happened between the hours of 12 midnight and 6:00 AM. Did they ever actually clean the streets? I didn’t know. But I was 1000% certain that when someone loses their car on the first date, there’s unlikely to be a second one.
I led the guys back to my house, muttering (and sometimes yelling) obscenities. What were you supposed to do when something like this happened? Was this guy going to get his car back? How were he and his friend going to get home? I probably sounded like a complete crackpot to these dudes and anyone else within earshot, but I was well and truly embarrassed and felt guilty for having inconvenienced them.
I was worried he would have to call his parents to come pick him up (so embarrassing and also far away and also very late), but one of my roommates happened to be home and he let me borrow his car. I have no idea how I figured out where to go, much less how I made it over there, because GPS didn’t exist back then and Mapquest printouts were a struggle to get right.
But perhaps the worst part happened when we arrived. The guy behind the counter, clearly nonplussed with—nay, reveling in—our situation, asked for something like $200. Two hundred dollars! To bring a car to a big parking lot and leave it there for a half-hour!
I was a nineteen-year-old college student working at CVS. $200 was a lot of money to me. But what I didn’t know, or maybe I did but hadn’t quite internalized it, was that this guy had been laid off from his job for months and there was a very real chance his checking account wouldn’t have enough in it to cover the debit. When the charge went through, he was relieved (he tells me in retrospect). But all I felt was disappointed and embarrassed. There was no way I’d ever see him again.
So, naturally, I set a very pouty away message on Instant Messenger. I can’t remember what it said, but it was mopey enough to compel him to IM me as soon as he got home. “Why are you sad?”
I bumbled through an explanation about feeling guilty about the car and the money, and do you know what he did?
At 3:00 in the morning, he offered to come back, evidence he wasn’t mad about the car, or the money, and that he really did want to see me again despite my certainty that this whole thing was over before it had even begun.
And, of course, I let him.
I never know where to end a story like this. Clearly, 20 years, 4 homes, 3 kids, and 2 dogs later, there’s more to it. But this seemed like a sweet ending point.
It feels important to say here that Friend was a groomsman at our wedding, and that we do at least 50% of our talking in person now, though we do revert back to our roots and talk online a good deal of the time.
Oh—and one more thing that didn’t make it into the essay itself: Meeting him back on my doorstep at whatever ungodly hour it was when he finally made it back, hugging him and breathing in his smell, was like coming home. And it still is.
This essay is the second of two response/reflections based on Alex Dobrenko`'s recent series of posts about how he and his wife came to be. You can read the first one here—and I hope you did, before reading this one!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Would you have peaced out after your car disappeared? Do you have any funny/romantic/weird date stories? Tell me true!