Okay, kids. Story time. This is a tale from way back in the Days of Yore, when people were just getting their first cell phones (the brick-style Nokia kind) and nobody had high speed internet access. Everyone still had a landline phone and long distance calls were ‘a thing.’
I remember when I first moved out of my parents’ house and into my own apartment (I was 22), the first purchase I made was a desktop computer from Gateway (right?). And I paid my own phone bill, but I shared my parents’ internet access account with America Online (RIGHT?). I had to option out call waiting so that I could potentially browse the internet and still get a phone call at the same time (because that’s how dial-up internet worked, kids…it used a phone line…not only was it excruciatingly slow by today’s standards, but it took up a phone line…), and only one account within the America Online package could be signed on at once. So if one of my parents was using the internet, that meant, AOL wouldn’t let me on from my apartment. This was never a problem, because my parents have never really been technology/internet people, and my mom was a workaholic for all of her working years. Even if she liked going online, she was never home to do it, and if she was home, she was usually sleeping. Same with my dad, except, he only worked a <50 hour week. He just spent his off hours awake at a race track or watching sports on television. So basically, my parents paid for my AOL access for about a year. When I bought my first home 18 months later (when I was at the tail end of 24), I got my own AOL account, because my parents felt like that $19/month was too much to help me out with. I mean, that’s fair, but they bought my brother 2 new cars, and he’s been married since July and out of the house since last fall and he’s still on their phone plan and I’m sure uses all their streaming service passwords. I’m not complaining here about the cost of AOL or my parents paying or not paying for something for my brother or me, though. I’m not really even complaining about dial-up internet.
I’m just leading into telling a story about my early days with J.
In December of 2003, there was email, but it was only a slightly faster way to communicate than sending a letter or a telegram. Texting still required hitting multiple keys to get a letter on your Nokia brick-style (if you even had one) or flip phone (if you were super fancy! and probably rich!), so goodness forbid you had to send a message to someone that required a lot of S’s. So back then, I still called some people on the phone. My best friend at the time lived in Oregon…three time zones west. Long distance calls were cheaper at night (I know…damn…I can’t believe this was only 16 years ago…it sounds like I’m talking about an entirely different era of human history and development…which is true, but it feels like it should be farther removed than 16 years), so I called him at 9 p.m. my time (it was only 6 p.m. his time) and he was usually at work, where I could contact him on his company’s toll free number, which was nice. I did this often, not only because it saved us both money, living on our own in our early 20s, but because I was really lonely. He had friends in his new environment on his own (he’s one of those people that just instantly makes friends, it seems like effortlessly), and he had a happy, committed, albeit long distance relationship with his girlfriend (who is now his wife). I didn’t. I’d been at my job three years, and I was still living in the area I’d grown up in, and I still felt like a new kid in school. Calling my friend in Oregon was the highlight of most of my days for a while.
And then I met J.
J lived close enough to me for us to fairly easily date, but the way the phone system was structured 16 years ago, he lived in an area code that was a long distance phone call for me, and he didn’t want to wait until after 9 p.m. to talk to me every time he wanted to talk to me. So we did email a lot. I know this sounds weird, but that had a very romantic feel to it for me. It sort of felt like those old time Victorian romances where two people in love exchanged letters back and forth.
And I know ‘chat’ had been around for several years before 2003, but I’d never ventured into a chat room before, because Social Anxiety sort of blanket outlawed me talking to strangers. I’d only heard terrible things about them anyway. Gross predators just approach you to talk about sex and shit when they don’t even know you. No thanks. But I wanted to talk to J more in ‘real time’ and I was thrilled that he wanted to talk to ME more in ‘real time’ too. He didn’t have a toll free number to call like my best friend did. And he didn’t want either of us to stay up all night on the phone, either, waiting for long distance rates to be more reasonable, or to increase my phone bill in any way if he could help it. So…we began instant messaging.
I started telling my friend that I couldn’t call him tomorrow, because I’d be chatting with J. And he was cool with that.
I truly believe that the archaic technology of 2003 aided and abetted me falling in love with J, because I could write to him. We didn’t have any awkward or inconvenient phone calls. We could make our intentions and plans with each other explicitly clear in writing. We wrote each other love letters (just semi-modern ones). And there were no phone cameras to send nudes and dick pics (not that J nor I would ever do that anyway). Call me an old fashioned romantic if you want (I own that), and maybe even a luddite or a prude, but I still love the romance in our dial-up love story, all these years later, when about 1000 strangers read what I say on the internet, instantly.