Long before I started the blog, I helped “Fiona” edit her personal story of online romance in preparation for sharing it on a bulletin board-style discussion forum I was involved in at the time. When we started talking about what constitutes “infidelity” on the blog about 6 years ago, I remembered the story and asked Fiona if I could publish it again, along with the questions people asked in the BBS group at the time (and then a couple of new ones from readers of the blog). I’m pleased to say that she gave her permission again recently when I noted during this transition/archiving process that it was discussed during the Infidelity conversation on the old Salon blog — which I’ll be posting in its entirety shortly. Even though the heyday of live, scrolling chat rooms is long over, Fiona still believes, as I do, that her experience could be helpful to others. Thank you, Fiona.
Caution for those who care: there is a transcript of a lengthy IM exchange that can be fairly characterized as pornographic. As Fiona and I agreed at the time, it needs to be in there to fully demonstrate what she was experiencing in her relationship. But if that kind of thing is not your cuppa (and I was surprised to realize while working on this Page that I didn’t really want to read it again myself!), there is fair warning that it’s coming up, so you can skip that section. You won’t lose anything except a measure of understanding/immediacy.
I met Mark in an AOL chat room, and he was the King of One-Liners there. A really, really funny zinger-thrower. It was a writers’ chat, but we were all strictly amateurs. I don’t think anybody ever got published. There was a core group of people in that particular room, regulars, pretty smart and articulate as a group if not always individually, and we all admired Mark right off, the first day he came in.
It takes a special kind of talent to make yourself show up in chats, because you are limited to just so many words per line, there are about seven conversations going on at once, overlapping, interrupting, and moving fast. So it’s easy to be ignored. You have to read fast and type fast and react fast, and Mark would just crackle along. We used to tease him that there must actually be two people on two keyboards signed in as him because he could just zip that witty stuff out like pistol shots, one smart-ass thing after another.
I was pretty quick on my feet, too, and we got into this banter thing, these constant joking put-downs, and it got so we were like Abbot and Costello for this group. “No,” he said, “Burns and Allen,” but I didn’t like that, and told him in the room that I wasn’t doing a Bubble Head thing like Gracie Allen, so it didn’t really fit us. No, we were more give as good as you get, tit for tat — woo, once I used that expression, you can imagine what a field day he had with it. We became a kind of entertainment for the room.
But he was sweet, too. There were other guys there who were very funny too, but they were more mean than funny. You didn’t get the feeling that it was always a joke with them. There was no affection in it, no human background. But with Mark there was always that safety net underneath, so that you knew it was really just teasing. When some serious stuff happened in the group he would break down and be gentle. Still humorous, but he was careful to use that humor to make the person feel better. He wouldn’t get down into that “poor you” thing with people.
Some of the women in the room would be so gushy and overboard with their sympathy and “caring” stuff you wondered sometimes what they were up to. They were so fakey sweet and cutie pie it made your teeth hurt. They would also have a these big emotional crises every now and again to get the guys’ attention. There is something about men that likes to coddle and pet women who are broken up about something, and these women used that instinct all the time, looking for sympathy because it drew the guys to them.
We all liked the male-female thing. I don’t think there were any overt gays in that room, it was all apparently hetero. It wasn’t a room set up for sex, don’t get me wrong, but there was no getting away from the fact that we were aware of the “gender” of the person we were talking to, and most of us seemed to like talking to our opposites. I guess there could have been fakers of that, but I never knew of any, so I was fooled if there were. Some of the women got very chummy with other women, but I’ve never been real gung-ho about girlfriends even in my real life. I do have girlfriends, it’s just not something I glom onto when I meet other women. So I liked most of the guys better than most of the girls. And a lot of the guys liked me.
And okay, I’ll say it, some of the women were jealous when the men paid attention to anyone but them. It’s not something you can really put your finger on, like being able look at the transcript (you could record the chat and read it over later) and say, here’s where Sheila showed how jealous she was. It was more of a tone thing, and maybe I imagined it some of the time, but later on Mark said he had felt it too.
But if I’m really going to be honest I’ll say I was jealous too. I knew how those girls felt when a guy they were interested in was talking to someone else, joking around with her, trading remarks. I especially felt that way when Mark did it, because I was getting a real crush on him. The more I learned about him the more I liked him. He seemed more real and open than some of the other guys. Of course you can’t tell for sure if someone is being honest online, but sometimes you have a feeling that they are. Another thing you can’t prove with the words on the page. It could have been total bullshit, but somehow I knew it wasn’t. It held together too well, for one thing.
People in chat rooms will put on a lot. You can’t see them, so they pretend about themselves. They’ll say they’re rich or that they know a musician or something. But it seems like sooner or later when they’re lying a clue comes up, some little dumb detail that would bother me down deep for a while till I figured out that it didn’t fit. With Mark it never happened. Even the way he talked was real somehow, even though it was mostly jokey stuff.
I think the only thing he ever lied about was his relationship with his wife, and that wasn’t until later. I still believe that other than that he was exactly the guy he made himself out to be in the chat room.
I started to want to talk to Mark away from the chat room and the audience that we were sort of performing for, but there were a few problems with that.
One was that I knew he didn’t want people from the room emailing him because he shared his email account with his wife and she could read the mail and she had already gotten wrapped around the axle about a couple of women who had emailed him in the past. One of them was a blatantly sexy email that his wife (Rose) raised Cain about, and that was followed a couple days later by one from another woman which was a more innocent friendly note, but still one that showed the woman was “interested” in him. He’d even had to go off the Internet for a while to prove to Rose that he wasn’t having relationships with these women. So, since I had heard these stories the last thing I was going to do was write him an email.
That left the IM — Instant Messaging — function, where you could talk privately with someone in the background of a chat room even while you held the chat room screen open to keep participating there. I kept thinking about IMing him but held off because although I’m sure he knew I liked him, I didn’t want him to know how much. It was so lighthearted so much of the time, jokey, this is not serious, etc. that I think I was afraid of what would happen if we ever dropped the act. And I didn’t ever want him to think less of me.
A third problem was that he had already made kind of snide/funny remarks about women IMing him and “trying to get me in their pants” and had gone on some rants about how it was best to stay at arm’s length on the Internet because bad things could happen. He told stories about people he knew or heard of who had ruined their lives because of getting too involved with “fantasy friendships.” In other words he was making it clear to all the women in the room that they better back off and leave him alone because he wasn’t in the market, and so on.
So I respected his wishes. I wasn’t going to make him despise me by pursuing him. Come to find out, though, that one of the other girls and I are discussing people in the room via IM and she tells me how she and another woman are always IMing Mark and having a high old time with him behind our backs. Sheila laughed about him putting out that “don’t bother me” sign and told me he just says that to keep the wackos away, because of the one girl who sent him the sexy email. She says he’s a fanatic about picking and choosing who he talks to privately — this was of course by way of telling me that she is one of the “favored ones” and I am not.
Since Sheila pretty much seems like Marshmallow Midge in the room — not particularly interesting, no character, putting over a sweetness and light act with all these gushy enthusiasms for this or that (one of those Toothache Girls) — so I can’t figure it out. She doesn’t seem like the kind of woman I imagined Mark being attracted to. At all.
Of course, let’s be frank, I imagined that he was attracted to me but that he was fighting it because of his fear of online involvements, and that’s why he hadn’t dared to IM me. I’d tell myself that when I was feeling good about myself. When I was feeling bad I’d imagine that he thought I was too sharp or hard-boiled or “unladylike” for him. And of course now I hear from Sheila that he seemingly likes gooey, and I can’t do gooey.
And finally there was the whole thing of What Do You Talk About? Once you establish this jokey, standoffish public relationship, and when you wouldn’t dare bring up anything serious or deeply personal even in private — because you are afraid of it being used against you by someone who starts out nice and then becomes a stalker — what’s left? People talked in the chat room all the time about cyber-sex, jokes mostly, teasing, “are you doing it in IM right now?” and that. I couldn’t really see myself typing sex talk (boy was I wrong, but that came later). And I wasn’t sure I would want to have lofty conversations about Big Subjects either. What it came down to is that I thought I wouldn’t know how to act.
So I was getting a deeper and deeper, more and more silly, ridiculous, unrequited, high school crush on Mark. I felt like I was seventeen again. Finding out he liked Sheila and was talking to her in the background kind of put a damper on my respect for him for a couple of days. But I was jealous, too, so that didn’t last long. Oh it was bad. And the thing is, I knew I was being absurd. But I was still biting my fingernails when I thought about him. With me that is always a bad sign.
Then, out of the blue one day, he IMs me! It was with a plain, ordinary question about something I’d said in the chat room, asking me if I was serious about an opinion of a famous writer we were talking about.
Well. I sat here and blushed about four shades of red I was so shocked — you know the kind of blush where you can feel the heat rising up your face until you’re practically steaming? Burning like a lamp. All I answered was, “Sure.” It was all I could manage at the time. I really didn’t know how to act! Should I be cool and intellectual or should I show that I was pleased? Was this conversation even going to be in a different mood from the jokey laughing in the room? I was dithering all over the map and meanwhile my face and head and neck are lit up like a bonfire and my hands were shaking. I was really glad he couldn’t see me.
It’s funny now, but at the time I could hardly get my breath I was so excited and worried about this little thing, this IM which really didn’t mean anything at all (I tried to tell myself), it was just a point of information, maybe just a minute’s curiosity.
Now you have to understand, I’m a grown woman, I’m married, I have kids and I am totally aware that this computer conversation thing is unreal in some kind of basic way, that this guy is more a product of my imagination than anything, and for me to get so excited about this IM was, hey, pretty lame, right? Stupid when you really think about it.
But there it is. My heart is pounding over this. He disagrees with me about my opinion, mildly. I disagree back, and we’re off and talking, and then joking a little, and the heat in my head goes down and I calm down a little, but I’m still on cloud nine over this silly meaningless conversation with a “someone” I don’t really know from Adam. But it was real in a way, and it was more real now that was “just us” talking. More real and a lot more scary. Rollercoaster going up the first big hill.
Mark and I started to talk by IM all the time in the background of the chat room. People started to notice that we were both signed in there but that we weren’t participating the way we used to, bantering with each other. Naturally they asked about it, and we made dumb excuses, and they caught on, and pretty soon they started teasing us about it.
Somebody would ask, what’s up with Fiona and Mark being so quiet in here today, and someone else would say, “oh, they’re in IM, they don’t care about the group anymore,” and someone else would say, “we should raise a chivaree and get them out of bed,” that kind of thing. It was assumed that we were having “cybersex” with each other in our background conversations.
Only we weren’t, not then. So it was kind of embarrassing and at the same time kind of titillating for people to talk about us as “couple,” especially that way. We were flirting and bantering in IM by then (while also talking about some serious things) and sometimes we’d say daring things to each other based on the idea that we were supposed to be having cybersex. We’d kind of circle around the idea that we might as well be taken for lions as for lambs, that if people were already thinking we were doing it, maybe we really should. We’d run up and hit the thought and scurry away again: “Just a joke” of course, and we’d back off with some wisecrack to tell each other that we weren’t really serious about wanting to do “that.”
We talked a lot about how we wouldn’t know how “that” was done via keyboards anyway, and about how silly we would probably feel, which was true. Even so, I was thinking about him a lot in an erotic way, and was beginning to think that I’d like to at least say how I wished I could kiss him, but I couldn’t say it for some reason. Didn’t dare.
We had gotten to know each other much better by talking privately. We talked about our lives, our marriages, our kids, our work, our reading, the fun we had when we were young. We talked a lot about our resepctive youths. That’s how we got closer to sex. He told me about his bachelor days in the late 60s and 70s and how wild he was was as bachelor in Southern California, living in a “Melrose Place” kind of singles complex with all his buddies and hundreds of willing girls. “Starlet wannabes,” he said, most of them, very beautiful, and very interested in Mark because at that time he was on the periphery of the film business and knew a number of people who were hip-deep in The Industry. He insisted that it wasn’t really that these women thought they could get into movies by dating him, it was that his inside track to some celebrities gave him extra cachet, more desirability. “On top of my magnificent good looks, of course,” he joked.
I said it sounded like he had practically swung from the balconies in those days, and he said, well, the next best thing, and proceeded to tell me about surreptitiously doing it to a girl from behind on the top balcony outside his apartment, looking down on the pool, while she talked (sort of) with their pals who were swimming. The girl had on a long beach sarong and was naked underneath. She was leaning forward over the rail of the balcony to talk to their friends, and it was fairly dark, so he lifted the skirt up from her bottom and played with her a little, and then slipped himself into her. They were above people’s heads, he was behind the girl, and everyone was “shitfaced” drunk, so he was pretty sure no one in the pool below really saw anything significant — although, he said, they probably did wonder a little at some of the noises that got inadvertently made toward the end.
I laughed and laughed at this, writing it out like this:
and he was tickled by the success of his story. So he told others, like the time his girlfriend went down on him as they were tooling around town in his convertible, while another couple was in the back seat. I asked about the couple in back, didn’t they notice? He said, “Nah, they were otherwise occupied themselves.” In fact, he had been watching a part of their action in the rear-view mirror while he was driving. So he got a little voyeuristic boost in addition to the “fantastic” fellatio the girl was giving him. He had to pull off the road to avoid wrecking the car when he was about to come.
So that’s kind of how we started talking directly about sex. I was turned on by these stories and he said later he was turned on by telling them. It’s a funny thing, this cyber “talking.” You are talking to another person and getting reactions from them, so that it can be almost like a real conversation. You can really start to feel that you know the person on the other end, that he’s really real, so you can have a genuine relationship in that sense.
But then on top of that you can imagine anything you want about how they look or sound, or the expression on their face, or what kind of room they’re sitting in. You can decide what kind of clothes they have on (or don’t have on) and what kind of life they lead. You can tailor that person to all your preferences and see them in a much sweeter and more golden light than you can in real life. It’s easy to fall in love under those circumstances. It’s a little like falling in love with an idealized fictional character (Dr. Doug! Conan!), but one who actually talks to you. Very seductive.
Now I want to say that I consider myself happily married. Really. It probably seems like I must not be, because here I am going all googly over this cyber-man, so obviously there must be something wrong with my primary relationship, something I’m not getting, some huge lack that I was desperately trying to fill.
I thought about that a lot, actually. My husband Grant and I have been married 17 years, and we have two kids, and things have been rough and they’ve been smooth, but overall its been great. And its not lack of sex or anything, either. He’s still good in bed and we still even have those great, surprising moments when its really good, when we look at each other afterward and kind of laugh and say, “where did that come from?” So, looked at all around, it’s a better marriage than I think a lot of people have at this point in their lives.
But…and this is hard for me to say…there is something missing in a long and happy relationship: newness. It?s not anything you can do anything about when you stay married a long time. Eventually you know this person so well that they pretty much can’t surprise you any more, and you can’t surprise them. You love them very, very much, but there is nothing different about the days, they’re all the same. There’s routine. The same pattern every day can be a deep comfort at the very same same time that it feels like you’re being smothered under a snowdrift. Sometimes you can’t help feeling the pull of life “outside” the cozy family group and the solid, trusting relationship, you can’t help feeling the wish for excitement. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the way things are.
So having another man suddenly become interested in you when you have been in this kind of comfy but somewhat dull little life-rut is quite an experience. It seemed to me that the cyber thing was a more or less “safe” way to get the “new relationship” thrill even while you continue in your old one. The best of both worlds. Extremely exciting but not really threatening to “the good life.”
But once when Grant was talking to me about the Internet — he had been reading one of those stories in the paper about how some woman ruined her life for a guy she met in chat — he said, sort of joking-and-not-joking, if you know what I mean, “I hope you don’t get yourself a cyber boyfriend like this woman.”
I laughed it off. I wouldn’t be as stupid as that, I said. Even if I did get a “boyfriend” I wouldn’t go meet him in real life, it would just be talking, after all, not a real relationship, not like really cheating. Just a sex fantasy like he probably had about the hot girls on TV.
Well, he got all bent out of shape when I said that. It wasn’t the same thing at all, he wasn’t talking and interacting with the hot girls on TV, saying sexy things and having them reply. Having the relationship, the interactive part with a real human being, and not just dreaming about a girl in a magazine, that was the most threatening part of it to him. That wasn’t just a fantasy, he said, it was really cheating.
So naturally I couldn’t tell him about Mark, and I had to pretend like everything I was doing on the net was perfectly ordinary and above board. At that point, Mark and I really were just talking, trading stories, and so on. Some of the stories, like the one about his balcony encounter, were sexual in content, but not necessarily directed at an erotic goal. It’s a fine distinction, maybe, but an important one. What we were telling each other still could be considered merely risqué, eyebrow-raising, wink-wink conversation, the kind that small groups of people can sometimes get into while sitting around a table in a bar. But I was already getting the feeling that I might like to venture into a more personal and deliberate experiment with Mark. I couldn’t quite imagine how it would go, what we would do, what I was really contemplating, but the feeling of wanting to do “more” was there.
So Grant’s condemnation of Internet “relationships” bothered me, not because I felt like I was really doing anything wrong, but because he couldn’t trust me and because he thought that our marriage could be genuinely threatened by a fantasy relationship on the side. On the other hand, I could already see how it might actually improve my relationship with Grant, by giving me an outlet for my romantic longings and at the same time turning me on, so that I wanted to make love with him more often. He always gets so mellow when we have a lot of sex, and behaves more affectionately and forgivingly with the kids and me when he’s getting more of that kind of love. It relaxes him. So all in all I really couldn’t see anything wrong with my secret fantasy fling, especially since I hadn’t really, in my mind, “done” anything yet.
But now that Grant had made his feelings plain, it meant that our marriage really could be threatened if I continued talking to Mark and Grant found out about it. I was irritated about this. Grant had suddenly made it a problem, and I felt defiance rise up, because I thought he was being unreasonable. I resented that he would be so hung-up, so untrusting, so jealous, when he didn’t need to be. It was his attitude that would cause trouble, not my relationship itself.
In contrast, Mark seemed loose and accepting and reasonable, so Grant kind of hurt himself in my eyes right then, by being such a crank. I got over that resentment eventually. He can’t help what he feels any more than I can help what I feel. But at that time Grant’s attitude actually increased my affection for Mark and my growing desire to “do something” with him.
So I came to discover something about having a “secret life”: what Grant didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him — and so far it hasn’t. He had no idea where my increased sexual energy was coming from, but it was welcome. It smoothed out our lives, softened us to each other, and made us love each other more, because we became closer than ever physically. Not only was Grant not hurt, he benefited.
Mark was telling me about his wild bachelor days, so I filled him in a little on my wild bachelorette days, which were pretty mild in comparison. But I had some good stories to tell, even so, like the time that I and two girlfriends of mine got high with about a half dozen guy friends of ours after a local softball game, and we all went skinny dipping in a water hazard on the local golf course. There was no sex, we weren’t any of us dating each other at the time, although one of my girlfriends was very interested in one of the guys, and that is why I and my other girlfriend had gone to the game with her.
That night was when I truly realized the power in my beauty and the thrill of exhibitionism. I loved the feeling of being desired by all the guys, although we were all elaborately pretending that it was just casual fun, no big deal, and so on.
I told Mark about making love with my first huge crush in a Honda Civic parked next to the orchard where we had just picked apples. I can still see the sun dappled across my bare legs and belly while he brought me off with his fingers. Then the awkwardness of trying to find the right position to actually have intercourse. Being outdoors, the (remote) possibility of being discovered, and the furtive, desperate physical speed when things got very hot…it was great.
And then I told him about my romantic disappointments, being used and dumped by guys and dumping guys in my turn. I told him about drunken days at college and sleeping, in succession through the four years, with each of four guys who shared a dorm suite. I started dating one in my freshman year and he dumped me for a girlfriend of mine, who was at that time doing her cool, virtuous Madonna bit. She was “pure,” you see, and he had to initiate her into the wonders of sex. He loved that idea. He never knew that she regularly went down on both her boyfriends in high school, and that she got cunni and finger orgasms galore in return. She had bragged to me about it. But she was still technically a virgin when this guy finally got into her pants, so he was satisfied that she was “innocent.” Then he thought that he had corrupted her and now had to protect her and cherish her. It was sickening.
After that I dated another one of the guys in the suite and dumped him myself because he was a mean drunk, and got violent with me sexually twice before I wised up. Then I dated another one of the guys and stuck with that one for a while til he left school a year ahead of the rest of us, and finally I ended up with the last one, who had moved out to an apartment off campus during our senior year. I cooked and cleaned and did his laundry for him like a good little housewife, and I helped with the rent and groceries, too, but he ended up dumping me in the end, probably because he thought of me as a slut in his secret heart. I can see now that it was a very, very good thing that he did, but at the time it was devastating.
All these guys stayed super good friends with each other throughout all these years. It seemed strange to me when I thought about it. Women would have made instant enemies. Wow, I said to Mark, the conversations those guys might have had… . Mark said they probably didn’t talk about it much, being guys.
My confessions prompted him to tell me about how his wife and another girl competed like mad for him for a while and when he finally gave the other girl the heave-ho, his wife started to act hard to get, and how it drove him crazy.
He said it was nuts because she had been one of the most persistent of all the girls and the hottest in bed (did I tell you she was the one who went down on him in the convertible?) and one of the most beautiful, so once he finally decided she was for him he expected they would ride off into the sunset together no problem, because he considered himself such a catch (which he undoubtedly was at that time).
But it seems that his slowness in coming to this conclusion had convinced Rose to look elsewhere. They’d had a major breakup fight, which he confesses he started to get loose of her “demands” and her persistence, and then after she was gone he realized how much he missed her and even maybe loved her (those were the days guys hardly admitted that, he says).
He couldn’t bring himself to do anything about it though, because he knew she would expect exclusivity if she was going to come back, and he still wasn’t ready for that. He was still having too much fun, and there was a stubbornness there, too. He wasn’t going to “give in.”
So he just partied harder for a while, about three or four weeks, and meanwhile Rose started going out with someone else. He hated this, because it was another guy from the apartment complex, and he saw them together all the time. This was the point at which he did the girl on the balcony. Rose was in the pool below with her new date, and wearing her tiniest bikini. Mark was angry with her for not begging him to come back, and it drove him insane to imagine the other guy (who was also something of a professional rival to him at the time) making love to her. So, he said, drunk as he was, he really enjoyed having sex with another woman in front of Rose, even if Rose didn’t really see it or realize it. He said, “I felt like I was thumbing my dick at her.”
But during the hangover the next day he knew that he was losing it. He played tapes in his head of Rose taking off her bikini for the other guy, of them having sex, of Rose opening her legs for the other guy, of her coming for the other guy. It should have made him even more angry, he said, and that was what he was probably trying to do to himself with all these vivid imaginings, but the hangover blues were what really took over. That was when he decided Rose was definitely the girl for him, but it took another two months to recapture the prize. He had seldom felt like that before, desperate over a woman, and certainly not since he became a hotshot lawyer stud with a fancy apartment. (He laughed when he said this.) So you see that he had struggled hard for the girl he married, and he valued her because of that.
When I was telling how Mark and I related so much of our pasts to each other, I realized how much this had to do with how relationships get formed. Unless you are willing to tell how you came to be who and what you are, people can’t know you.
At first I had to urge him to it, I had to ask and ask about his past. He seemed to not want to be anything for me but what he was at that moment in time: light, witty, intellectual, able to be serious and thoughtful when talking of others’ feelings and histories, but not about his own. When I asked him, at first, to tell me more about himself, he held off, saying things like, “it’s all in the past, it doesn’t matter.”
He would tell me basic facts about his life as it was that very day: what he did last night, why he wasn’t going to be online tomorrow, the party his wife was preparing for, how his father-in-law was in the hospital, the trouble he had with his clients, what the dog was doing, when the electrician was coming, what his house looked like. All that sort of thing he was very open and breezy and forthcoming about. What he resisted — and at first he really resisted — was the inquiries about his life before that point.
But eventually he told me some things. Most of it was his romantic history, mostly his sexual romantic history, as I told you about earlier, but we did get into a running discussion of his religious background, too. He’d been brought up in a household of women, as a Christian fundamentalist, amidst “a bunch of female hellfire fanatics.” In adulthood he had gone through a succession of more and more “easy” churches and then finally became an atheist in law school.
One of our early arguments happened when I told him he was still a religious fanatic, only now he was in the anti-God camp. He didn’t think this was funny. I’m not particularly religious myself, pro or con, I’m sort of a laid back semi-Christian, I guess, and the only thing that bothers me about religion is how hot people get about it. And Mark got hot about it. He not only insisted that there wasn’t anything you could call God (even by my vague, metaphorical definitions) but that people who believed in any kind of God were totally deluded fools (well, not in so many words, but enough so that I felt insulted by what he was saying). He said that belief in God was the one thing that had destroyed civilizations from time immemorial.
He was pretty obsessed and angry, actually. It seemed to me that the level of energy he was using to resist God was not proportionate to the threat He posed. I also resented his preachy, cranky, superior tone on the subject, and the way he tried to evangelize me over to atheism. So we eventually had to agree to drop the discussion. But we didn’t, at least in one respect. After a while, when we had cooled down some, we started to tease each other about it, and it became a part of our affectionate banter. He’d call me St. Fiona and I’d call him a devil. That kind of thing.
Now this is going to sound strange, maybe, but that kind of spiritual conflict, that bubbling disagreement, and the joking we did about how I was supposed to be Miss Religious and he was supposed to be Mr. Secular Evil, became part of our sexual attraction to each other, I think. We reveled in these pretended roles in some secret, unspoken way. I was supposedly, underneath it all, the angelic nun who was being seduced, he was the demon, the ruthless sexual conqueror. It wasn’t real, it wasn’t how we really thought of ourselves and our relationship, but there was something to it, even so. Some addition to the tension.
One of the things that will probably surprise you is that he didn’t give me a line about how his wife didn’t understand him. From everything he said about her she was close to perfect, except for the little petty irritations everybody has when they are living together. Rose was supposedly still gorgeous and blonde and had a great figure. His buddies were envious of him, he said, because she was such a knockout. They had great sex all the time, he was perfectly satisfied with that part of it, and so on and so on.
Now it might seem strange that I didn’t believe him on this one thing, especially since I had a good marriage myself and knew that it was possible, so to speak — I’m surprised how many people actually think good marriages are impossible, that even the ones that look good are just shams! But somehow I didn’t believe Mark’s wife was anything near so perfect as he made her out to be. There was something false about the whole thing. I believed the story of their courtship, but somehow his words about the relationship now did not ring as true as other things. (He probably didn’t believe me about Grant being such a good husband either, but at least I didn’t try to pretend that Grant was still some gorgeous, flat-abbed, hunky type that my girlfriends swooned over.)
Before I decided that maybe Mark’s description of Rose was an exaggeration, though, a crisis occurred between us that was partly about this gorgeous, perfect wife of his. The question of physical appearances suddenly became terribly important.
The strangest thing about an online relationship is that you can’t see each other when you’re talking. But you still, somehow, weirdly, begin to have a physical attraction to that body on the other end. It was the first time I really understood that the force of personality had that power. You hear it a lot, that idea that a glowing “inner beauty” could overcome any external ugliness, but it was fairy tale stuff. Beauty and the Beast. Have you ever thought about the fact that that story wouldn’t work if it was the woman who was the Beast?
I was becoming, in this odd way, very physically attracted to Mark. But how could I really say that? I didn’t even know what he looked like. He told me he was 51 years old (older than I expected, I’m only 40) and that his friends said he looked something like Dom Capers. Well, at first I didn’t know who Dom Capers was, and had to be told he was a football coach (wonder why I didn’t know that? Ha!), so then I went looking on the internet for pictures. Capers is an attractive man, very nice-looking. You could almost say hunky.
But that was pretty much all I got out of Mark about his appearance, except that he was 5′ 11″ and 180 pounds, and that his hair was a little thin at the edges but he still had most of it. In other words, he was in better shape than a lot of guys his age, but still pretty ordinary.
I, on the other hand, had been even less forthcoming about what I looked like. When he asked for a picture I sent him the only digitized one I had, which happened to be a high school graduation picture a girlfriend of mine had sent me when she was working on a reunion project that involved scanning from our old yearbook. I was lovely when I was young. I didn’t realize it at the time — all I could concentrate on was my flaws in those days — but I was beautiful. I was glad, later, that I had not sent Mark a more honest, more recent shot. It was better that he thought of me as just a little older version of that gorgeous teenager.
One day, while we were talking about women on television or something, Mark said that a certain female news announcer had gotten fat. I said, “Fat? She can’t be even a size 12, she looks just normal size to me.” He said she was getting to be a “linebacker” as far as he was concerned, and if she kept it up she’d be “Mama Cass” in no time. Then he went on a riff about otherwise attractive women “packing on the pounds,” letting themselves go, and so on. And so on. He brought up Monica Lewinsky and ridiculed her unmercifully for her weight.
This about killed me. I’m a size 16 (size 12 in expensive clothes), probably about Monica’s size. So… you can imagine how I felt about Mark’s comments on how unattractive “blobs and gobs” were on a woman, and about how he had to “get after” Rose every once in a while when she strayed from her size 6. SIZE SIX!!! Are there really women who are size six? In expensive stuff, maybe, but in real sizes? Mark’s wife was a size six! I was at least twice her size.
I was devastated. Knocked flat, like a bulldozer had gone over me.
It was a good thing right then that he couldn’t see me, because naturally I started crying. I acted perfectly normal in the words I typed back and forth with him, and even (oh, I hate to admit this) agreeing with him about how hideous fat women were, but I was going through the Kleenexes meanwhile. He did seem to notice something, hard as I was trying to be ordinary, because I probably wasn’t as sprightly and funny as usual. I can hardly remember it, except for how upset I was. I made some excuse about having to go and we cut it short, I do remember that.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept playing the conversation over and over in my mind, obsessing and distressing, working myself up into a real mess. I kept repeating the knowledge of Rose being size 6 to myself (size six, size six, size six!) and imagining the horror there would be on Mark’s face if he ever saw me.
I stayed offline the next day and it was terrible, horrible, disgusting. I hated myself and I hated Mark. I told myself that the whole relationship was unreal anyway, and that I didn’t need such a shitty person, a man who would let appearances be so important to him, or who could be so cruel and unfeeling and unforgiving toward women he didn’t even know just because of the way they looked.
I cried off and on. I didn’t let Grant see, but I think he knew there was something wrong. It did help to make love with him that night and look at him, into his eyes, and know that he didn’t mind. That was comforting. But of course after we turned the light off and I was lying there awake, I started wondering if maybe Grant secretly did mind as much as Mark did, but was just not saying anything. Crazy, right?
This is the problem with an online relationship. Even though it should be like an entertainment, and shouldn’t have any effect on your real life, when something like this happens, a slap in the face, it makes you feel so awful. And a big part of the awfulness is knowing that you are all upset about something that is not real, and that you shouldn’t be bothering with in the first place! You’re ashamed of taking it so seriously, being so angry or so hurt. Why should it matter so much? You should just drop the whole mess like a hot potato and be done with it. So not only do you feel hurt, you’re guilty and mad at yourself about being such a fool as to feel hurt.
By that time Mark and I were used to talking every day, from about 10 in the morning til noon (off and on with other things we were trying to do, of course, and we were also chatting some with other people in the chatroom). After Mark had made it clear that he found fat women repellent, I stayed offline for the better part of two days. I couldn’t face him.
Although I was hurt and angry, I knew it could have been worse. I was very, very glad at that point that I had not gone any farther with the relationship than we had. We still had not ventured into actual cybersex, although we had talked a lot about sex in general, which had kind of titillated and excited us, but we didn’t act on it. We talked about what turned us on, and what we had done with other people, that kind of thing, but we hadn’t actually tried to “do anything” together. I was still not sure how we would go about it, how it would work, and I was sure I would feel stupid and ridiculous doing it.
I had wanted to tell him seriously that I’d been dreaming of kissing him (well, dreaming of a lot more than that really), but I hadn’t even done that yet. Neither of us had confessed that we were sexually interested in each other. We joked a little, flirted along those lines, but it was understood between us that it wasn’t serious, just banter, pulling each other’s legs the way friends do. It was just too weird, I think, to make it easy to go to that next stage, where you went beyond talking about how hot you got when so-and-so did something in the past, to typing out that you were doing that thing right then. So it was a good thing that things were still pretty much platonic between us.
When I told this story to someone later, they asked me why it was such a big deal. Most men didn’t like fat women. Mark wasn’t unusual. He couldn’t help how he felt, and besides, couldn’t I have just decided to lose weight? I did think about that. Many people think it’s no big deal to “drop a few pounds,” but I have discovered over the years that there is a lot more to this dieting business than a lot of people realize.
The thing is, dieting is not like getting off booze or cigarettes. You can’t just quit eating. You have to eat something every day, and eating is a natural pleasure. Wanting to eat is no more controllable than sexual desire, but unlike sex, you can’t live without doing at least a little bit of it. The level of natural appetite varies from person to person, just like the level of libido does. Some people can be celibate without only minor difficulty, and in this culture they are allowed to feel superior to people who find celibacy a continual torture. It’s the same way with dieting. Some people don’t have much trouble eating “normally,” and they can’t see why the rest of us have an urge to “overeat.” They think it must be because we’re sick in the head, of course, the equivalent of nymphomaniacs in the food world. But the way I see it, for people who really get a lot of pleasure out of eating, dieting is a little like getting daily foreplay without ever reaching orgasm.
So the first thing you have to do is decide that you are willing to live with a persistent feeling of deprivation on a daily basis, forever. Then you have to pay attention to every morsel that passes your lips. It demands thinking about what you will eat — and what you won’t eat — virtually every minute of the day. Yes, I could have done it. But would it have been worth that daily irritation and distraction and deprivation — given that other aspects of my life would suffer as a result — just to make myself sexually appealing to a man who put such a premium on physical appearances? There was something wrong with that picture.
Mark acted like he was frantic when I got online after being off for a couple of days. “Where were you?” he said, “I was so worried,” and so on. I had calmed down a little by then, and decided I was going to be honest and let the chips fall where they may. I said something along the lines that I had some thinking to do since we talked the last time, that I’d been disappointed to hear him say those mean things about Monica being worthless as a woman because of her weight, and that it had made me look at him in a whole different light. Anybody who could be that nasty about appearances was not as good a human being as I originally thought he was. I had taken some time off, I said, to figure out if I wanted to talk to him anymore.
He didn’t answer for about a minute (which is a long time in IM conversations) and then he said, “I was just joking.”
I said, “It might have been joking, but it was pretty mean and thoughtless joking, and it says things about you.”
Another big pause, and then he asked “What does it say?”
Before I could answer he sent another message, “And why do you take it so seriously?” I knew he suspected why. It was time to tell him or start lying. I had been lying in a way by agreeing with his cruel attitude a couple nights ago, but now I had to decide if I was going to come clean about the real reason I was so upset.
I typed the words out in the response box, but I didn’t send them. I wrote, “I’m fat too. I’m Monica’s size. I’m twice as big as your wife.” I looked at them for a while, the words in the white square, the cursor blinking at the end, and I thought some more.
I knew this would probably ruin it. It would ruin his image of me. Things would change. Oh, he might pretend out loud and maybe even think proudly to himself (for a while) that it didn’t matter, but I was sure it would still poison his picture of me, and that unconsciously it would turn him off more and more, the more he thought about it. When you try to put something out of your mind or ignore it, most of the time it just gets stronger. This would be one of those things.
I sat there with my hand poised over the SEND button for a long time.
Then I hit it.
The message was there on his screen now:
I'm fat too. I'm Monica's size. I'm twice as big as your wife.
I tried to imagine what was going on with him, what his expression was when he saw that. One of the advantages of the IM conversation is that you can take a little time to consider your answers and you can hide your face. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before, but right then I realized that the only polite thing for him to do was pretend it didn’t matter, so I wasn’t really going to know, was I?
I had a good hold on myself and I knew what to expect. I was feeling very strong and sensible and down-to-earth. I would take this nicely and be a good pal and that would be that. No more sexy “special friendship” stuff. We would back off from each other now. It would be okay, I’d be fine, no problem. So I sat there and waited for him to say, “Oh that doesn’t matter.”
Instead he said, “Will you ever forgive me?”
It wasn’t quite what I had prepared for, but the the kind of brave offhand reaction I was trying to have would still work. I typed, “Sure, no problem. Let’s forget it.”
“You can’t, can you?” he says.
I told him I was fine, that I had just wanted to tell him how I felt, and that now we should probably just go back in the chat room and take up where we left off there, no big deal, no hard feelings, we were getting too tied up with each other anyway.
“No IMs?” he says.
I sat there and told myself I was giving him an out, but I also realized that I would not have to face how he imagined me if I didn’t have to talk to him anymore. Because now it wasn’t just him who was turned off by my new ugly image in his eyes, it was me, too. I had liked being imagined as slim and desirable. I had been seeing myself through his imagination. Now he knew that I wasn’t thin and beautiful. I hadn’t counted on that being a problem for me. But it was. I didn’t think I could ever recover the picture of me that I thought he had.
Anyway, understand that I’m trying to let him go gracefully, let the whole thing drop, because I’m embarrassed and I feel ugly (and he can’t even see me! See how strange this is?). So I told him we could IM, sure, but I said again that maybe we had been getting too involved and it was probably time to cool it.
He says, “Okay if that’s what you want. But it’s not what I want.”
Again I’m sitting here thinking, practically screwing my face into knots trying to figure it out. I tell myself that he’s had his chance. He could have run. And hope is trying to get through to me, but I’m still trying to be smart and sensible. I know very well that this is probably just guilt talking. Then I realize I’m crying again. I’m still making myself miserable over this guy, and this is nuts, totally nuts.
I can’t answer. I just sit there like a lump. Finally he says, “Are you still there?”
I say, “Yeah,” and send that. Then I say, quickly, “So what do you want?”
He says, “Do we have something here or not?”
Stumped again. Finally I write, “I thought so up to a couple days ago.”
“So you hate me now? Because of what I said about Monica Lewinsky?” (I could practically hear the unbelieving tone of his voice!)
I decided to tell him the truth: “I don’t hate you, but after that I know that I can never be beautiful in your eyes again.”
He types, “Oh yes you can,” but I’m gone getting Kleenex and I don’t see this until I’m back and standing there behind my chair, mopping my face and looking at these words on the screen, not able to make myself believe them.
I guess he figured I was not going to answer because after a minute or so he said, “This is the only place in life where we can really say that looks don’t matter, right?” I thought I understood what he was saying. It’s a different kind of relationship in cyberspace. We could go on imagining ourselves the way we wanted to imagine ourselves. Reality didn’t have to intrude on it.
But down in my heart I was convinced that the only way you could really pretend the person on the other end was perfect was when you didn’t know what their imperfections were. As soon as you found out some ugliness for sure, as soon as you had it presented to you straight, so you couldn’t ignore it, it would have to put a damper on your imagination, right? And since the relationship was based on your imagination, knowing the truth was sure to hurt the way you felt.
He said (again), “Are you there?”
And I gave up. I didn’t care. I was going to take a chance. So I told him yes, I was here, and that I understood about using our imaginations. I said that in my mind he was going to be a middle-aged Mark Antony type, so I was going to have to be Cleopatra…and then I wrote
After that things were fine. You probably don’t really understand why I forgave him for being a jerk. But that was how it came out. I knew how he felt about fat women, and I had confessed my fatness, and somehow, even so, it almost didn’t matter, not then, because of the fact that we couldn’t see each other and could still use our imaginations.
It seemed like after that little crisis we got closer than ever and started talking much more seriously. We had finally acknowledged that we were actually having a real live romantic relationship. I told him about a week later that I had dreamed about having sex with him and he said he had dreamed the same about me.
I didn’t ask if I was fat in his dream.
So let me tell you now about how we got around to the sex. We started talking about this girl Sheila, from the chat room, the one who told me that she was one of the “favored ones” talking to him via IM. She had been involved in a real-life sexual incident with one of the guys in the room, and, yes, I wanted to gossip with Mark about it. I asked him if he and Sheila still talked a lot.
And he says, I quote, “Sheila the Gila Monster? She’s been hounding me, but I’m not saying much to her, just being polite.” And I could see the image of one of those huge lizards, walking slowly, one foot in front of the other, her tail twitching slowly back and forth with each step…and I’m laughing out loud in front of the computer. I’m thrilled, too, of course, because Mark says he doesn’t like her.
I say that she led me to believe that she was close to him, that they had a special relationship, and he’s disgusted. He can’t believe I would think he’d have anything to do with her. She’s a moron. (Yes, I think. A sticky-poo moron.) Then he says, she was very hot to trot for cybersex. I say, oh, I know, and I tell him about the real life incident. Mark says he isn’t surprised, because Carl told him she’d been having cybersex with about every guy in the room.
I say, “But not with you?”
“Hell no,” he says.
I said, “How did you know she wanted to? What did she say?” I was consumed with curiosity about how people got internet sex started, and figured I could at least hear how one woman tried to get something going.
He said she asked him what his favorite thing in bed was. Since I just had been thinking of asking this myself, it felt like he had read my mind, and I blushed like mad. So I said, “Right out of the blue, she just asked you that?”
He said, “Right out of the blue.”
“And you said?”
I said, “You answered just for politeness? <laughing>”
He said, “Yeah, just for politeness.” (You can hear him smiling, can’t you?)
“She told me how she was supposedly doing it to me. I let her go on for a while. Free porn.”
I was boggled, and all I could say was, “Wow.” And I’m thinking, Damn, exactly what did she say? What words did she use? Most critical to me at that moment, what did she call his thing? Did she just say “I’m sucking your penis,” right out like that?
I realized I could say all kinds of other things, like using slang for some of the different sexual positions — I could come right out and say that Grant “did me from behind” or something, no problem — but I had trouble naming the actual pieces outright. All the words for the parts, even the proper scientific ones, made me uncomfortable. But this is the weirdest part: I was fine with it if I was reading it or someone else was saying it, I mean, after all, Mark had mentioned his dick sometimes in his sexual adventure stories, and there were even a couple of mentions of other womens’ “pussies” and “clits” and it hadn’t bothered me (except in a good way). It was only when I thought about writing it myself, to someone who would know that it was me saying it, that I would cringe. (Remembering all this is making me laugh at myself now.)
So while I’m wondering what the exact wording was Sheila used to say what she was supposedly doing, he said, “Then she wanted me to answer back about how I was enjoying it and what I was going to do to her for a thank you back. That’s when I said adios.”
I said, “You could have gone along with it. For politeness only.”
He says, “I thought about it for a second. For politeness only.”
I was laughing, and told him so, and said, “Then you could have reported to me all about it.”
And he says (…oooh….) “I’d rather do it with you than talk about having done it with the Gila.”
“Well if you did it,” I said. “I’d go along for politeness.” Aye-yi-yi! Heartbeat is going doubletime at this point.
He says, “You’d pass polite in a hurry. It would drive you out of your mind.” I’m thinking, I bet it would. The very thought of it is turning me on big time. I write, “Huh,” like I don’t believe it, still not sure whether he’s serious. I’m into that head-furnace thing again, bright red face, like a fire under my skin.
He says, “How do you want it?”
This is it, I realize. He wants to do something NOW. But I didn’t want to make any decisions. I wanted him to take charge.
I said, “I’ll do whatever you want.”
As I looked over the transcript of the conversation that followed, I wondered how much of it I should include in trying to tell this story. I could put the whole thing in with cut and paste like I’ve been doing so far, adding the “he saids” and what I was thinking, and so on. Just copying it in doesn’t tell you enough about it, because the conversation itself, the words, seem bald and dumb in retrospect. I think it’s like this with any kind of sex, though. Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t get over how icky it must be to put your tongue in someone else’s mouth? That EEEW factor. Sometimes when you think about it, without being involved in it, sex can be comical and awkward and even…boring.
It’s not so much that I am all that embarrassed about it myself, because I am using a pen name here, but it almost seems like overkill to get that specific. In a lot of ways it reads just like porn, plain and simple, and not very good porn either. Really bumbling, dumb, Urkel-style porn.
And yet in the last year I have come to realize that even as bad as it is, it is better than most. From some comments I’ve heard from other people, and one other transcript that I saw, it seems that Mark was a much better “cyberlover” than other men, because he was a fabulous writer (we met in a writers group, you remember), and he had tons of imagination, and — probably because he was older — he knew how to take his time.
Before I even met Mark one of my chat room acquaintances had complained to me in IM about how the man she was “cyberdating” always wanted to start on the intercourse part right away without any “foreplay.” Sounds familiar, huh? How much more realistic do you want cyberlove to be? Ha.
Okay, here’s the annotated transcript of what happened next. I notice that it turned from “what I would do” to “what I am doing” about halfway through. It gets pretty porn-awful (from the point of view of non-participants) toward the end. Brace yourselves.
Mark: What if I tell you what we’d do if we met in person?
Fiona: That would be interesting.
Mark: I’d take you to dinner.
Fiona: How exciting.
Mark: I’m serious. That’s how I’d get you going. Great food. So that you’re rolling your eyes and saying MMmmm. And lots of wine.
Fiona: The wine would probably do it. I can’t take much before I get pink and silly.
Mark: Yeah, pink and silly, that’s exactly how I want you. I’d pour you into my car and take you to my hotel. I’d be in [Your City] on business.
Fiona: Okay. How often does this happen?
(I was trying to hold it off a little bit, you see? Scared.)
Mark: Never mind. I’d be there and you would have agreed to dinner and I’d ask you up to my room and you’d just giggle and say okay.
Fiona: Doesn’t sound like what I’d do.
Mark: Shut up and enjoy this.
Fiona: Okay. <laughing>
Mark: No laughing.
Mark: Except I’d probably be trying my damnedest to make you laugh about this point. At least until I kissed you. Then we’d get serious.
Fiona: How would you kiss me?
Mark: Like you’ve never been kissed before. Soft at first and then harder, slipping my tongue into your mouth and snaking it around, and I’d listen to your breathing and nibble your lips and start tugging at your buttons. You’d be wearing a dress that buttoned down the front, right?
Mark: And a bra that opens in the front.
Mark: I’d kiss you down your neck to the tops of your breasts. What would you be doing?
Fiona: Running my fingers through your hair. Clutching at your head, probably.
Mark: I’d open your bra and look at your big beautiful breasts and then I’d touch your nipples and kiss and suck them till they were hard.
Fiona: That would drive me nuts.
(My nipples were practically standing on another planet already, just from the suggestion that they were being touched. I started touching them myself a little bit, just the tips, through my clothes, and it was buzzing me amazingly. Very, very pleasurable.)
Mark: You told me you liked that.
Fiona: I do.
Mark: Then I’d tell you to take off everything but your panties and I’d get undressed too.
Fiona: Everything but my panties?
Mark: I want to take those off myself.
(WHOA getting very intense here.)
Mark: Tell me how you’re feeling.
Fiona: Turned on. Nervous. Insane.
Mark: Me too.
Fiona: That’s the way I’d be in the hotel room, too. Scared to death but wanting you.
Mark: Okay, now let’s say that we’re lying down and and I’m kissing your neck and your breasts and your ribs and your belly and then I slide down farther and breathe on your pussy a little, through your panties.
Mark: Can’t you almost feel it?
Fiona: Yes. You’re definitely turning me on. Definitely.
Mark: You’re so wet it’s soaked through your panties already. I’m pulling them down and you’re letting me take them off. You smell so good. Your thighs are soft and beautiful, white pillows for my head. I kiss the inside of one and then the other.
Fiona: Oh God.
Mark: You open your legs farther. You want me to kiss your clit.
Fiona: Yes. Please.
Mark: But I’m not going to.
Mark: First I’m going to kiss the lips of your fuzzy little pussy and slide my tongue along the inside of them and into your vag a little, and suck up a little of that sweet stuff, but I’m not going to touch your clit until I’m done giving you a good tongue bath down there because you are so delicious. And then I’m going to slip and slide on your clit for a while, teasing you. And then I’ll buckle down and make you come. A good hard, sucking, licking come. You’re going to come a half dozen times tonight. This one is just the beginning. Ready?
(And oh I was, too. I had unzipped my jeans and was trying keep my fingers where they wanted to be and still type responses. It wasn’t going to be possible, it seemed. Very frustrating. But still thrilling in a tawdry, Bad Girl kind of way.)
Mark: I’m getting a pillow and putting it under your ass so I can really concentrate. You have a beautiful cushy ass. I take it in my hands and pull your pussy toward my face and touch my tongue to your clit and
(He stops here in midsentence like that for about thirty seconds.)
Fiona (one-handed): and…
Mark: Are you into this? Are you excited?
Fiona (one-handed, peck peck peck): God yes.
Mark: Enough to participate?
(Damn, I’m going to have to use both hands.)
Fiona: I don’t know what to say. I think I’m too strung out to think straight. Maybe I’m too turned on.
Mark: Just tell me what you’re doing when I put my tongue to you.
Fiona: I’m making little gasping noises and pushing my pussy toward your mouth.
Mark: You want more? Tell me what you want, I’ll give it to you.
Fiona: I want you to suck and lick me and make me come. I want you to play with my nipples too.
Mark: Or you could play with your own. Make yourself feel good.
(Well, duh. Guess what I’m doing in lieu of the more tricky maneuver now?)
Mark: Meanwhile I’ve got your pussy by the tail and I’ve got a rhythm going on your clit and your thighs are shaking and you are going to come like gangbusters. Tell me how it is.
(I decided that I needed to use both hands to type, so I push my bra back into place and sit up. I was a little embarrassed at myself and I decided I could enjoy turning him on with words just like he did me. I decided to do my best.)
Fiona: By now your tongue is practically vibrating and I am too. When I come I practically scream. And you take me over the top edge of that wave, backing off at just the right second, softening it out at the crash, and making it laaaaast.
Mark: Oh yeah. And then I pull out the pillow from under you and fall onto you and slam my cock into you, up to your belly button, and you are hot, baby. Hot and tight and your tits are huge and gorgeous and I hold them in my hands and fuck you hard and fast. I love you. Tell me how it feels.
Fiona: I’m out of my mind. I’m making animal noises. Give it to me.
Mark: I’m huge and I’m hammering, and I’m getting the angle to your clit and oh yeah, you’re coming again, aren’t you?
Fiona: Oh yes. My head’s flung back yelling again through my clenched teeth.
Mark: Look out because now I’m going to come and it is going to be a firehose of a come, baby. I’m going to FILL you up. Going to paint the goddam tunnel. Yesssss. Oh you are beautiful. I’m blasting you open with this one. WHAM!
Fiona: Do it.
(He didn’t answer for a minute.)
Mark: AAAaaaah that was good. Thank you so much. I adore you. Kiss me.
Fiona: Kiss. Kiss. I’m running my hands down your back. We need to pull up the sheet and cuddle. I’m sweaty and it’s a little chilly in here.
Mark: Ah, finally you got into it. Very good. Took you long enough. Ha ha.
Fiona: You were gone there for a minute.
Mark: I was getting off on it, doll. Didn’t you?
Fiona: I had to type too much. It was strange.
Mark: Next time I’ll do it all and you can just read and get yourself a good one.
Fiona: No, next time I’ll be the leader. I’ll show you how it’s done.
Mark: Oh you will, will you?
Fiona: Damn straight.
We teased each other a little and got back into funny mode, and just before he signed off that night he said again that he loved me. He didn’t wait for an answer. That was good, because I wasn’t sure that I could say it back.
Our encounter really did read like bad porn, didn’t it? It doesn’t do the experience justice. When you read through it, all in a rush like that, it doesn’t convey what it was actually like. For example, there were pauses between the messages, because it takes time to type. I’m a good typist and I already pointed out how fast Mark seemed to be on the keyboard, but even so there were “silent” moments.
Mark also had a habit of typing one sentence and sending it, and then another, and then another, before I could answer. I put those all together as if they were just a single message. So it’s probably hard for you to understand the pace of the thing. It took longer than it seems to when you just read it through. There was much more time to get excited and think about what we were doing and saying. It was a very erotic experience.
There are basically three ways people “do” cybersex, which are often combined. Like real sex there are infinite combinations. One way is to say to each other what you would do, sexually, if you ever met. This kind of “holds off” a little bit, it’s a slightly removed way of doing it. But it can be pretty stimulating, even so.
Another way (and I think the most common) is to create a fantasy situation (“We’re in a tent on the desert” or “We’re in a hotel in Florida”) and then talk about what you are doing in that fantasy, as if you were really doing it.
The last way is to talk about what you are doing or want the other one to do for real, right now, in front of the computer in the real room at the other end of the connection. This involves mostly talking about how you are taking off your clothes, touching yourself, masturbating. Not for the faint of heart.
Mark and I used all these methods at one time or another. You notice that he started out the first one as a “if we were together I would…” kind of thing. I imagine that’s typical because it has that kind of “backed off” feeling to it that I mentioned. The tentative, conditional tense makes it seem less real and less outrageous, which is important when you’re just embarking on something so strange.
The sexual aura of our relationship, once it had become overt, started to have an impact on my real life. I felt more awake. I felt more attractive. I felt soft and giving and sensual and slinky. Sex was on my mind more, and sometimes I thought it was on other people’s minds, too. I’d go out on the street and feel other men looking at me. They probably weren’t, you understand, but I was so alive inside my skin that I felt like they were.
It was similar to how I felt when I read a lot of erotica. Grant used to joke about that, and whenever things got temporarily dull with us, which they did from time to time, he’d say that he should probably pick up some hot books for me. The imagination is a wonderful thing when it comes to sex, and even a fictional scenario, from someone else’s imagination, could rev me up with almost embarrassing ease. But the relationship with Mark was an order of magnitude more stimulating, because it had an active component, a necessity for me to apply my own imagination to the “stories” we spun for each other. It was very hot, and very consuming mentally. I thought about him and our “scenes” together constantly.
You are probably wondering where Grant fit in with all of this. You might think that I was just fantasizing about Mark when I was with Grant, so that in one way I wasn’t really “with” him, but that wasn’t it. Sometimes I did imagine Mark, yes, but the fantasy moments couldn’t be sustained very long. Grant was the one who was there with me, so it would have been hard not to acknowledge his presence! But there were other things going on, too. I will be very honest here (being anonymous is very liberating!): there was also sometimes the little shiver of being “bad,” a sense of “if you only knew what I was up to with Mark,” mixed in with guilt about that same thing.
Most of the time it was just Grant, though, making love just to him, and it was deeper because I was a little guilty and trying to make it up to him. And sometimes even the guilt was gone, because I was into my body and unhooked from my brain, and overwhelmed by Grant (those occasional wow! nights we were having anyway kept happening). The only thing in those encounters that probably came from my relationship with Mark was the general feeling of sexiness that made me live in my body more, made me more “up” for sex.
I don’t know if it occurred to you, but even that first time Mark was talking to me about my “pillow thighs” and “cushy ass” and “huge breasts.” I started to think that the idea that I was big and soft was not exactly a turn-off to him. He didn’t seem to be ignoring my size and saying things like “I’m running my hand over your flat stomach” or anything. I felt he accepted my “cushiness,” at least on theory, and had adapted it into his fantasy.
As time went on he seemed to get more and more easy with the idea that I was fat, affectionately calling me his “dumpling” and so on. Even so I was sure he wouldn’t really have been able to accept it in real life, if he had to actually see it and deal with it. It was okay when he could adapt it in his mind to just those parts that he wanted to see and handle and just imagine their texture and feel and appearance. But I knew a man who had been used to a little slender, taut body in bed would recoil the minute he got a real feel of my squishy soft self. The contrast would be too much. He’d probably feel like he was putting his hand on a pillow of dough and having it “give” up to about the elbow.
I’m ashamed to say that it was fear that he would feel contemptuous of me physically and not any unwavering loyalty to my marriage vows that was the main reason I didn’t want to see him in person.
I’m not a total bitch. I was concerned about what would surely happen if we got together. I didn’t want to become an unfaithful wife, and I knew I would if I met him and he could overlook my fatness. If he didn’t mind, we would end up in bed. But still I considered that pretty unlikely. A person just can’t help how their sexual interest works. They can’t just force themselves to find something repulsive attractive. He was a good guy. He’d try hard to not mind, but I knew he would.
The thing I really feared was Mark seeing me and being disgusted. He would be a gentleman about it, of course. The man did have class. But he would return to his skinny little wife and would not be able to get the reality of me out of his head during our online sessions, so that would effectively be over, too. I could see it so clearly: he’d have less enthusiasm, he’d just go through the motions, because he wouldn’t be able to get over his knowledge of my true appearance. So what it came down to was that I couldn’t risk either my marriage or our online relationship by meeting him.
Even so I still had mad moments of wanting to throw caution to the winds. You never give up that tendency to dream the impossible dream. Mark got very involved in spinning ideas about how we could meet. He referenced that Alan Alda movie “Same Time Next Year” as an example of how people could sustain side relationships and good marriages. I knew that movie was a fancy fiction, full of dumb, hopeful hooey about people, but again I had those times when I thought, “Maybe it really could work, with the right two people.”
He said he could probably arrange to be in my city on business 3 or 4 times a year. It was a seductive idea, seductive in the extreme. I fantasized that a miracle would occur and he really wouldn’t mind about my size. I imagined a long lifetime of meeting him for exciting afternoon interludes every few months, deepening our relationship as time went on. If I’d been thin and beautiful I might have chanced it, but as it was there was just too much to lose.
This is probably a good thing. The fantasy was ridiculous and fraught with dangers and would never actually work in real life. When you’re crazy about someone you think anything is possible, but the natural “rules” of human life are not cancelled just because you fall in love. The universe cannot be suspended for your pleasure. It is so hard to accept this. It is the hardest thing in life to accept, I think.
If we haven’t succumbed to despair we always want what we don’t have. I think this is the way we are made, to want more: more excitement, more satisfaction, more novelty, more admiration. In new erotic relationships you get a second helping of all of the above. You naturally want it to last forever. But as a normal relationship lasts you lose the excitement and newness. You settle down into the routine of commitment. Valuable, important, necessary commitment, but with all the sharp and sparkly stuff worn off.
It seemed to me that the relationship in which you only meet periodically might be able to sustain the interestingness longer. I do sometimes think that there must be people who pull it off out there somewhere, but it is probably very, very rare. I mean, think about it, you can’t foresee everything. Suppose one or the other of you gets way too involved and wants to tell either their spouse or yours? What if the deliciousness of the secret relationship makes the dullness and normal stresses and strains of the primary relationship too much to bear in contrast? What if he eventually gets bored with the secret relationship and meets someone else he wants to have a secret relationship with? Too many potential crack lines.
He wanted to hear my voice. We talked a lot about how great it would be to be able to call each other and whisper our sweet nothings over the phone, but it was long distance and there would be the problem with the bills showing a series of lengthy phone calls to the out-of-town pal. I didn’t want to just chat with him for three or four minutes. Finally we decided we could risk one call. He said he’d tell Rose that it was a call to an old law school buddy that he was catching up with.
God it was exciting. I was surprised and at first a little put off by his voice. I had imagined him having this deep basso. It was only baritone, but really lovely in tone. He could have been a radio announcer except for an odd little moosh in it on soft “g” and “ch” and “z” sounds. That bothered me a little, just at first. I don’t know why. It was a very minor thing, but it told me that expectations could be powerful and that the intrusion of reality could be (temporarily) upsetting to the erotic image we had built up of each other. On the other hand, he told me that my voice was exactly what he had imagined, and he acted like he was just knocked out by it. I’m not sure I believed that.
It was funny. Once we were actually on the phone with one another we seemed to feel shy, maybe because it was so terrifyingly immediate and real. It took us a long time to venture into erotic territory. But once we did it was some powerful stuff to actually hear the voice, the reaction, not have to type. I was up in the bedroom on my bed and we told each other what we were doing for real and in our fantasies. Extremely hot stuff, and drawn out past all reason in terms of the phone bill. We listened to each other come, and — I know this will seem insane — afterwards it was almost like we had really made love. The feelings were the same. Incredible. But it could only happen once.
After the phone call Mark became more intent on meeting me for real. He would say things like, “If I came this weekend, could you get away? Tell me you’ll meet me at [Fancy Hotel] at one o’clock. Please.” The man was acting like a nut, but I wasn’t much more sane myself. I acknowledged that I loved the guy, as far as a person could love someone when they had never even really met. When you love a person you want to touch them and kiss them and make love. My need to actually hold this smart, funny, sexy, wonderful man in my arms and feel him in me was making me consider all kinds of foolishness. I still don’t know how I managed to keep him from getting on a plane. If I had had a weak moment at the wrong time, I would have been an adulteress for sure…or at least an intended adulteress.
But I kept thinking about that thing with his voice, how it had made me back off for a couple of minutes when I first heard it, the sense of stupid disappointment that it was not exactly what I had imagined. And I remembered that strange shyness, too, that fearfulness that came up when the relationship was suddenly more “real” than it had been up to that point. I imagined those little reactions increased ten times, as it might be when we met in the flesh.
Mark found this thing called Internet Phone, where you bought a program that allowed you to sign on to a site that would provide you with “voice chat” with other parties, either singly or in a “room.” Well, this seemed like it would be the answer to our prayers, but it wasn’t. It was frustrating to set up and terribly disappointing to use. The problem was that you couldn’t talk continuously with each other the way you could over the phone, on top of each other, so to speak. It advertised that it was “full duplex” calling, in other words, that you could both talk and listen at the same time, but we found that didn’t work. There was something about the way the internet communications work, sending “packets” of information when there was time and waiting to send another one if the line was tied up, that broke up whatever you tried to say, and if you started talking before the other was finished, you cut them off. We used it for a while to just chat, as a kind of reassurance that we were still the real people we had been with in that one epic and fantastic phone call, but it was just too annoying to continue.
It was about this time that Mark was also giving up on getting me to meet him. He couched the idea of meeting as a way that our relationship could grow and really mean something. If we couldn’t go on to the next phase and make it real, was it really worthwhile to just type to each other in Never-Never Land forever? Exchange writers’ chat gossip over coffee every morning and have cybersex a few times a week? Was that enough for me? Didn’t I care for him enough to want more? Was I just playing with him? And so on. It all came down to a question of whether I was brave enough or cared enough to meet him in person.
I cried many times over this problem, but I just couldn’t do it, for all the reasons I said up above. He was extremely upset with me, and I don’t blame him. He said that it seemed like I couldn’t trust him. When I thought about it, this was true. I couldn’t trust him not to reject me when he saw my body. Like a dummy I thought I would trust him enough to be honest and say this, and he was extremely hurt. I regretted saying it, but it was said. I think that was really the beginning of the end. He realized, he said at one point a little later, that I was not serious about how I felt about him — or not serious enough.
Meanwhile, he was actually neglecting his work (and I was, too). Since he had just landed a major client he really had to pay more attention to his business. And I started staying away from the chat room and initiated IMs less because I felt guilty about getting so intimately involved with him and then not being willing — not having the guts — to follow through.
He seemed to take this as a signal to disengage himself, and gradually we weren’t IMing but about once a week, and not having sex anymore, and then finally it just stopped. We still occasionally check in with each other, maybe once every couple of months, but its turned into one of those loud, cheerful, secretly nervous relationships you have with old boyfriends, very careful to pretend that you no longer care very much but you’re still nice enough to pretend human interest. It’s a strain to talk to him, but he claims he’s still “very fond” of me. Kiss of death, that.
It hurt like hell for a while, but I’m over it.
Another woman I talked to about this told me that in her online relationship the man was also the one who was more anxious to meet. I wonder how often that is the case rather than the other way around, the woman pressing for the meeting. I would have guessed that it would be women who would be more likely to be love-sick enough to want to take such horrible risks. In my case I was the one who was able (but just by my fingernails!) to hold onto my good sense and practicality, and Mark was the one who was willing to take the grand romantic chance.
He’s a wonderful man. I miss him. I wish life was different. I wish I was slim and young and gorgeous and that the crash and burn of even the most beautiful of these kinds of relationships wasn’t so damn inevitable.
I’m cured of online love forever, I expect. Innoculated. But there’s always going to be that hurt, yearning spot in me now for him. I’m always going to dream of him off and on and my heart is always going to give a thump when I see his name. When I’m being sensible I know I’m lucky it didn’t turn out truly badly. It could have destroyed my life. Instead it only scarred it a little.
But sometimes I don’t feel very sensible.
(To those who may still be interested in Fiona from the pre-blog and original blog days when she was working to become a “real” writer, I am proud to say that I did help her to become published eventually, but given her insistence on confidentiality regarding this story, of course I can’t reveal who she is/what she wrote. You can see from this early work, though, that she had the basic talent even before I started marking up her copy.)