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Focus

The Pantagraph

April 1999

 

A download to happiness

By Karen Strawn
Special to The Pantagraph

   In the hit movie You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, two people fall in love without ever meeting in person by writing letters to each other electronically through their computers.

   For three Central Illinois couples, this idea of a visionless courtship involving a long-anticipated meeting that results in a lifetime commitment is not just a made-up story line for a major motion picture. It's the real story of how they met their spouse.

   Twenty-something Darrin and Tiffany Acton of Bloomington, 50-something Ken and Lea Splane of Fairbury and 40-something Bruce and Cindy Wilson of Gridley have learned that the romance of letter writing combined with the wonders of modern technology can end up in a happily-ever-after movie ending.

   These couples depict the first generation of technology-based romances cyberspace pioneers, whose only common characteristics are they weren't looking for romance, but found it anyway over the Internet.

   I had no idea when I first met him we would end up marrying, says Lea Splane, whose complete Internet romance story, authored by her husband Ken on their personal Web page, includes links to their honeymoon spot at Starved Rock State Park and a bed and breakfast in Galena. It is always risky when you don't know the person, but risks are what life is all about. If you aren't willing to take risks, you are missing out on a lot of good things in life.

   For Ken, who is shy by nature and likes to write poetry, the Internet provided the perfect way to meet people. His first reply letter to Lea included a poem he penned titled The Last Rose of Summer, that can also be viewed on the couple's Web site.

   We both believe God put us together and led us to do what we did and that is why we fit together so well, says Lea. Meeting over the Internet is not for everyone, but it's a good alternative way to meet someone.

   Of the three couples featured here, Ken and Darrin are shy, Lea and Cyndi are not. Bruce, Cyndi and Ken have been married with children, Darrin sand Tiffany have not. Ken, Bruce, Darrin and Cyndi live on the Internet, Tiffany and Lea don't. Darrin and Tiffany, Ken and Lea met by accident through Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms while Bruce and Cyndi met through specific Internet dating databases. But, in order to find a good companion online, each couple agrees on two things: caution and honesty.

   If you are honest, this is the best way in the world to find somebody, says Bruce Wilson, who had five Internet romances in three years before meeting his wife Cyndi over the Internet in 1998. You don't want to come across as a Superman-type when you know yourself you are more of a Fred Flintstone-type.

   Lying about your marital status, gender, age, occupation and race are common in the chat rooms and dating databases of the Internet. This is one reason Internet dating hasn't been taken seriously.

   A lot of people thought we were crazy when we decided to marry, says Cyndi whose two-month engagement to Bruce included dates to flea markets, garage sales and a visit to her parents' home, My family was concerned we didn't know each other long enough or well enough. She said. My father's first reaction was, how do you know he isn't an ax-murderer?


    The ax-murderer extreme seems to be the most popular concern for well-meaning family members and close friends of those involved in an Internet romance.

    And justifiably so.

    Internet dating is not a quick fix for loneliness or a magic program designed to fulfill personal fantasies. There are all kinds of people out there in cyberspace and the chance of having an encounter with the right one is more than unlikely it's next to impossible.

   That's why general public opinion and acceptance of Internet romance is two-faced.

   During the courting process, couples may face a barrage of criticism, jokes and eye-rolling from friends and family. After the couple has a favorable meeting in person, however, the couple may experience a celebrity-like status among the same circles.

   The pastor who married us said she couldn't wait to enter our marriage into her journal because she could say she married someone who met over the Internet, says Cyndi.

   Once the ax-murderer or pathological liar theory has been dispelled, waiting to meet in person and the absence of physical touch are two of the biggest drawbacks to an Internet romance.

   You can't kiss your date good night, says Ken.

   It was hard waiting to meet, but also very exciting to know you were finally going to meet this person you were talking to all this time, adds Lea.

   Our relationship was built on communication and trust, says Tiffany Acton who met her husband Darrin during a conversation about cats while in a chat room. It was hard waiting to see each other but it gave us so much time to talk. We knew everything about each other by the time we got to meet face-to-face.

   Darrin lived in Canada at the time of their first conversation. But by the time they arrived a little over one year later, he visited Illinois twice, Tiffany visited Canada once, they experienced globalchat, a technological wonder using computer microphones to talk back and forth and they overcame compelling opposition about the difference and distance in countries.

   Now residing in Bloomington, they are in their second year of marriage, going through the immigration process for Darrin's permanent citizenship and planning to have children.

   We are both very happy, and I thank God that He allowed us the opportunity to meet even though we were so far apart, says Tiffany. He brought us together, I truly believe that.

   Although every Internet romance is different, comparing the stories of these three couples reveals four distinct stages that will serve as markers on the road of online dating.

   Each couple met in person about four months after they began exchanging letters; during the four months photos were exchanged, either online, snail-mail or both; each married within a year; and each experienced some kind of opposition or celebrity status as a result of how they met.

   Many people don't give the Internet a chance, says Bruce. I know there are many people not telling the truth about themselves. I think with some controlled questions and a sharp mind, you can weed out these people.

   So, after the marriage do the e-mail love letters stop?

   Bruce and I still e-mail each other and chat online, says Cyndi. We even plan evenings together, to meet on our deck, to cuddle and look at the stars.

   I got mail, she says.

 

 

 


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