Normally I am not a liar. I'm the person who fills out the customs declaration for two postcards and a duty-free candy bar. Security guards know my life story, and cops know if they pull me over I'll confess that, yes, I was speeding.
Then I met a guy online -- a great guy. And for a long time, neither of us could bring ourselves to tell the truth about it. Now, during this week of hearts and flowers, it's time to come out of the closet.
I was a 24-year-old writer living in Spokane, Wash. My future husband, Ray, was a 29-year-old engineering technologist living 700 miles north in Prince George, British Columbia, hereafter known as Frostbite Falls.
Our separate, unconnected lives were fairly normal. We spent our daylight hours at work and found social lives wherever we could. In blue-collar Spokane, where drinking is the main occupation, that usually meant hanging out in bars. In Frostbite Falls it meant hanging out in bars and watching hockey on TV.
Though we're both computer- literate, neither of us had ever done any digital dating -- it was too geeky for normal people like us. So when by chance we connected on the Internet, we had the same thought: I can't really be one of those people -- the digitally desperate, the socially stunted.
We certainly couldn't let the world know.
Nor were we alone in these misgivings at the time, or in our newfound willingness to come out of the closet.
In a recent survey of 1,100 of its members, Match.com found that 81 percent feel more comfortable telling the world they've found love online today than they did just a few years ago.
Match.com is the Web's largest online dating service, with more than 5 million profiles. But when it started in 1995, even its satisfied customers didn't want to talk about it, according to Trish McDermott, the company's Vice President of Romance. (Job titles like hers may be one reason so many people feel embarrassed.)
"It wasn't just meeting people online. There was a vast sense of [Internet] insecurity," McDermott said. "People didn't even want to give their credit card numbers online. They asked things like `What kind of people would I meet?' What you imagined was a thoroughly unsuccessful person or someone unscrupulous."
Ray and I considered ourselves successful. We held responsible professional jobs, owned cars, had savings accounts. Romantically, we were no worse off than most singles. We had both dated and tried the bar scene, with unspectacular results.
I was, however, getting tired of fending guys off by saying things like, "No, I don't like tattooed heads." And Ray was tired of telling prospects, "I'm allergic to cats, and 20 in the same house would make me break out in hives."
We were only unscrupulous if you counted the fact that we lied to everybody about how we met.
It was April, 1998. An old friend from Memphis suggested that we save on phone bills by keeping in touch with an instant messaging program from the now-defunct Tribal Voice PowWow.
In the first few hours, I received an avalanche of chat requests from people with handles like "I'mTooSexy" and "HottieXXX." In the list of things I don't like in a guy, handles like this rank right up there with vanity license plates and body piercings : If you have them, I'm not having you.
I certainly wasn't going to create a cute little handle that spells out something like "GR8TGRRL." So I based mine on my own name, "AngieG." It was not only insipid, but like a clove of garlic, it helped ward off the chat room creeps.
A chance encounter
One night, however, Ray spotted AngieG on the roster of available users and clicked on my name. Other than my gender and place at the top of the alphabetical list, it meant nothing to him. He had just installed PowWow software to keep in touch with his sister, and he wanted to test it.
For some reason, I answered the page. At first our chat was small talk about mutual interests -- hiking, canoeing and traveling the Northwest. Inevitably the questions turned personal.
"What do you do for living?" he asked. "Are you married?"
This is where I had to make my first big decision: go or no-go.
"How do I know you're not some psycho-killer-pedophile-stalker? I've heard of your kind," I said.
"Well," he replied. "I'm Canadian."
Okay, he was from a country that prides itself on being pathologically nice. I decided to test him further:
"I will tell you," I said, "but only if you give me your Social Security number, driver's license number, date of birth and your mother's maiden name."
And he did. But it's called a "Social Insurance number" in Canada, he said. Was this guy for real?
And then he "Googled" me, a term for scoping out prospective dates by looking for their name on the Google search engine. He discovered I was a reporter for a local paper. So he was smart, industrious and quick on his feet. I liked that.