Once I fell in love on the internet.
It was the year 2004, and the world wide web was just starting to get steamy. I was living in Italy at the time, where the men love their mothers and dance awkwardly - like they are perpetually going through puberty and don't know how their limbs work yet- and I needed a lover who wasn't using hand gestures all the time. Since I was in Italy and not getting amore from the Italians, this lover would have to be a virtual one.
My online romance was harmless at first. It started as a few light emails here and there from a boy I had kissed at a party in San Francisco a few years back. The emails were friendly hello's, how are you's, bad attempts at Italian salutations (Ciao, bella, Buona notte, etc.), and other lame stabs at e-flirting. Emails were just little cyber notes with bad abbreviations and uncapitalized names and places -- they couldn't get serious, right? Or could they?
Around Christmas time (because everyone needs some coziness, even if its virtual, around the holidays) my e-mail love affair went from cyber to serious. The emails with OB (Online Boyfriend) were coming more frequently, almost daily now, and they were getting more and more intense. We started saying things like: "Today I thought about you when I walked on the cobblestones" and "I love Death Cab For Cutie, too!" (give me a break, it was 2004) and "I really love the mornings..." Thats right, it was going in THAT direction.
These emails continued for months. My hotmail inbox became a hotbed for sweet internet nothings and darling descriptions of my daily activities. We were writing stories and family histories and dreams and fantasies, constructing personal prose and anticipating the other's reply; OB and I were falling in love with each other's words. We were falling in love over the internet.
At first I was skeptical. I felt like one of those helpless teens in an AOL chat room, clinging to their internet romance with JoeySurf99 and waiting impatiently for the next DING! which would reveal Joey's e-love for them, despite the fact that they had never actually met. I felt like someone who uses Match.com or JDate and has a profile with their age/sex/marital status highlighted for all the other creepy web browsers/lost souls to survey. I felt like someone had caught me downloading porn or google searching "hot singles in the Bay Area" or something equally as taboo.
Plus, I had so many questions. How would this relationship manifest without the physical comforts that are so important to the connection between two humans? How would I know it I could trust OB's sense of fashion or sense of self when I had never really seen him interact with the world or with his wardrobe? How would I know what the sheets on his bed were like? Would my friends approve of him? There were so many variables. Cyber space was endless, anything could happen there, all of the miscommunications in the world.
But as Springtime was smeared on Italy like frosting on a cupcake and my lusty letters continued to enhance rather than inhibit my life abroad, I began to see the amazing things about online dating. In emails, unedited and uninhibited spurts of random thought, I was the most honest I had ever been. I would freely share stories about a clumsy fall I had taken on my bike, the terrible haircut I had gotten in 10th grade, how I secretly liked camping because you got to shit in the woods. My emails highlighted my insecurities rather than hiding them. OB confessed his secret love for Mazzy Star and first told me he loved me in an email.
Email format also allowed us to hyperbolize this shit out of our stories. (Did you know that 20 percent of online daters frequently use deception as a way to get dates?!) A hike up a hill became an "excursion into the Italian alps" and an early night in a dive bar turned into "staying out all night and drinking whiskey." My bike accident became a terrible tragedy and shitting in the woods made me the most rugged camper of the female sex. We loved to out-do each other via email. Like, my profile is better than yours.
As all romances do, my virtual one faded into the Abyss of Lost Romances. (Sometimes I wonder if the Abyss of Lost Romances resembles cyber space in any way- a vast sea of information and communications that are whirring around somewhere invisible, waiting to be accessed again). OB and I were too, how do you say it, competitive. We loved to out-do each other, virtually and otherwise. It was a sad day for all of us E-lovers, that first time my inbox was empty. I felt as if I had let down my community of 50 million online daters that were counting on me to make it thorough. It was a failure that embodied the collapse of all modern communication.
66 per cent of internet users think of online dating as a "dangerous activity." I can't say I don't agree. Not only do three quarters of online dates lead to unsuccessful partnerships, but those that do spark may result in broken hearts (as described above). And then what about all of the identity fraud? And the creeps that lurk in those dark chat rooms, sipping Jim Beam and pretending to be sixteen years younger than they are? And the biggest danger of all: THE EMPTY INBOX. Oh that aching void that is the empty inbox...this has since become one of my greatest fears.
I have matured a bit, entered my mid twenties (eek), and have been dating people in the non-virtual world for some time now. I quite enjoy the face to face and lip to lip contact that the real life date provides. I like hearing someone's voice. I like giving gifts in person. I even enjoy the glitches in physical relationships, the pimples and scars and clumsiness that happen when you engage yourself in dealings with another human being.
But there is something that I miss about those emails. There is something beautiful about a relationship run by a machine, something so inorganic that it becomes artful, as a chart or graph or skyline is artful. There is something charming about words floating in space, and love somehow finding its way into that space.
Add the internet to lists of things that are sexy that I have started below.
See you online tonight.
Recycling is sexy. Those of you who know me at all understand just how hot I get when I see someone tossing their empty Odwalla bottle in the right bin. You know the way I drool when someone has a reusable coffee cup. You know how I feel about boys in tee shirts with the recycling symbol on them. Those three little arrows, following each other around in a circle, holding onto each other's tails and looking so pleasantly involved in their ongoing cycle...
In fact, there is something hot about all forms of environmental consciousness. Someone buying a head of organic lettuce is automatically super fresh. Someone who rides a bike can really rattle my chain and get my wheels turning. A boy with a Buy Fresh Buy Local sticker on that bike...now there's someone who can stick around. Enough with these bad/amazingly hilarious puns.
Now this all might stem from the fact that I come from Santa Cruz, California and have parents who tend to worm boxes and attend farmer's markets. Or maybe I just love scruffy facial hair. Either way, someone who cares about their personal impact on this planet is alright with me.
Here's something that's NOT sexy. PLASTIC BAGS. Number one biggest turn off: a dude buying one solitary steak (what a loser, eating alone) that is prepackaged in one of those depressing styrofoam boats with the plastic stretched too tightly over it and the picture of the cartoon cow, laughing, glued to the plastic...and then the grocer hands him a PLASTIC BAG! And the boy with the solitary steak TAKES THE PLASTIC BAG! And the boy with the solitary steak DOESN'T EVEN THINK TWICE! Oh goodness, I think when I see this. This is not a marketable market boy.
You see, plastic is made of polyethylene (polyethylene=not sexy) which takes up to 1,000 years to decompose at the dump (dump=not sexy). Americans (not sexy) use 380 billion bags a year and only recycle .6% of them (.6 percent of anything=not sexy). Plastic bags are usually used for only 15 minutes (anything that lasts only 15 minutes=not sexy) before they are thrown into the trash or littered onto the street (litter=not sexy). Then they harm sea life (suffocated squid=not sexy) and strangle seagulls (dead seagulls=not sexy); there was even one sea creature, dissected by some darling Dutchmen, who had ingested 1,603 pieces of plastic in his short sea life: NOT SEXY!
Plastic bags, as I am proving to you, have NO SEX APPEAL.
People all over the world are starting to see what a turn off plastic bags can be. Australia (and you KNOW how hot Aussies are) are selling "green bags" at most stores (color-coded for each store) to discourage plastic bag use. Most European countries charge for plastic bags at markets, pushing people to BYOB (Bring Your Own Backpack). In Bhutan, king Jigme Singye Wangchuck has banned plastic bags completely (along with MTV and tobacco) on grounds that they lower the Gross National Happiness of the country (he made up this term and its fucking awesome). And we all know about San Francisco's infamous blow off of the plastic bag this last year...
This is all well and good. But Americans (not sexy) are still (alongside Europe) using and wasting over 80 percent of the world's plastic bags. (We apparently do not get sex appeal memos until a few years too late. I mean we JUST figured out that mullets were back like, a year ago.) So how do we, the twenty-somethings of the Green-Is-The-New-Black era do to fight off the cock block that is the plastic bag? How do we change our ways to look SEXY AT THE SUPERMARKET?!
I'll tell you what to do: use a reusable shopping bag. Use a BAGGU reusable shopping bag. Why? Because not only do I work for Baggu (I swear they did not pay me to write this) and use them every day myself, but I personally find them to be the sexiest of all shopping bags on the market. They are made of ripstop nylon. They come in radical colors. They fold up into a tiny pouch. They get you dates.
I'll fill your order...
New York is living up to everything.
I have been back in New York for two weeks and it is doing all the things it should do. New York is busy. New York is cold. New York is tons of energy. New York serves tons of cocktails. New York has millions of people in it. New York, New York.
New York is trying to break me. This is what New York does to people. New York breaks people. People come here in fits of idealism with knapsacks full of hope and eyes wide. People come here to "make it" and to "be in the thick of it" and to "try it out" and to "live the city life." People come here with black and white Woody Allen visions of taxi cabs and mahogany bars being wiped down by a gritty bar tender with a rag in his pocket and a chip on his shoulder. People come to New York with famous ideas.
When I first moved to New York I had all of these grand thoughts. I came with a suitcase and I had lots of wonderful ideas about making the city my own. I went right to work: on my first day in the city, post red-eye flight from California, I painted my loft bedroom room with three coats of Scotch yellow paint, got a date for Saturday night with a boy I met on the street, landed a job at the coffee shop on the corner, and fallen in love with Brooklyn: all before 10 am. I was going to rock this place, tackle it, move unfazed through its dramatic seasons and long nights. I would embody the essence of New York. I would transform into an unstoppable urbanite. I would wear black.
This must be how everyone feels upon arriving in the big city of dreams. All those kids from the Midwest who come here to play guitar. The Southern Californian girls who intern at Versace and wear heeled ankle boots. Those divorcees from Georgia who want a mid-life change of pace. The art kids who think they are the first one to find Pearl Paint in Chinatown and send in drawing after drawing to the New Yorker hoping that THIS is their lucky week...
It always starts this way. During my first New York months I was convinced at various junctures that I was going to write a book (about WHAT I have no recollection), be the lead singer in an indy rock band involving harmonicas and tambourines (the only two instruments I can fathom playing), have my works of artistic genius displayed at a high profile (I would have settled for low profile) art gallery, get married to one of the beautiful boys that took me out for Pan Asian Vegan Cuisine on Bedford Avenue (and have lots of their babies), change the world by starting recycling programs in my junkyard of a Brooklyn neighborhood...the list goes on. All of us transplants were thinking like this. New York was inspiring us to live HUGELY, to think GRANDLY, to move QUICKLY, to be ROWDY! New York was ANYTHING, ALL THINGS, GREAT THINGS!
And then the city turns on you. The subway never comes. The wind and rain come too hard and too often. The construction workers yell and the shop owners never smile. Other people's clothes are too good. Your clothes are too bad. The boy you ate seitan with the other night hasn't called you back for a week. The other boy you had soy lattes with the other morning sent you a text message that said bluntly: "I can't do this" and you had to pretend you didn't care by writing back "ME NEITHER." You've eaten sauteed spinach as a main course for the last four nights, and it was eaten sitting on the floor of the living room. You've been flaked on by each and every one of your friends (because in New York, flaking is not only accepted but EXPECTED). And your apartment is really dirty. And your job is pathetic, mundane, underpaid. Your mother is far away.
This is when New York has won. In the battle that you, idealistic youngster transplant, play out with the city on a daily basis, it has finally BEAT YOU. You become shrunken and sad. You develop permanent dark pouches under your eyes and you start wearing the same thing every day because you JUST CAN'T DEAL WITH IT. You start having more than two coffees a day, to keep your wits about you. You need a hug or a day off or a trip to the Cape. You need sunshine and you need your soul back. This place has stolen something from you.
Gradually, beautiful things start to happen again, and this is why people stay in New York. You are dancing in the street, for example, and an old woman in a mumu tells you you are a mighty fine dancer and what a great way to get exercise and she wishes she was young again. Or you meet for dinner with one of those people that can only be from New York because they are THAT interesting; you talk about things that people in other states won't talk about and use phrases like "four story walk up" and "up town" and "go for a cigarette." You might find a painting on the side of the street. You might catch a glimpse of the entire skyline from the window of a cab as you drive through Brooklyn. This is when you think: what a magnificent place to be.
Faith in the New York you have dreamed of is always restored.
Upon returning to New York after many months of travel, I once again felt the surge of energy and hope that comes with being a New York virgin. I arrived in Union Square at four in the morning, never went to sleep that night, and didn't stop moving and talking and dancing and laughing for a week straight. The city took its hold on me, sucked me in, held me on its shoulders, embraced me. What intelligence there was here! What vibrant life! What pulse and what fragrance! I suddenly wanted it all again. How I had missed swiping my subway card! How I longed for a four story walk up! It somehow seemed romantic again. It was 1940's, sexy, steamy, high-wasited dress New York. It was 1980's cocaine flash dance New York. It was 2004 when Williamsburg was still cool New York. I wanted in.
So now I'm in. And once you're in, you're in. You're chest deep in the dramatic affairs, the expensive dinners, the keeping on your toes and keeping with the trends. You're doing the daily battle thing again. You're losing.
Your face becomes pale again.
New York is living up to everything.