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I was twenty-seven and riding my bicycle coast to coast across the United States. Along the way I was trying to live simply and “make the journey the destination.”
I’d taken a three-day break at a hostel in Missoula, Montana, when I met Dan, who pulled in on a beautiful light-green Bianchi, not a scratch on it. He was riding cross-country as well. Our personalities clicked, and we decided to ride together, despite the fact that we had different approaches to travel: I’d brought a cheap tent, a couple of pairs of riding shorts, a change of clothes, and little else. Dan had bright spandex outfits, shades with interchangeable lenses for varying degrees of sunlight, and a specially engineered rack to tow all of his belongings. He also had a cellular phone — an expensive rarity in 1997. For fun we used it to order pizza from a campground.
After a few weeks of riding, we pulled into Iowa City. Dan said he needed to check his “electronic mail.” I followed him into the University of Iowa computer lab, and he explained how he’d set up a mail account on the Internet and could now send and receive messages from any online computer. I could do it too. For free.
I was skeptical.
“Don’t live in the Dark Ages!” Dan joked.
I followed his instructions to get my own account, then prepared to send a test message to his address. Dan showed me where to type the subject and the body of the message, then leaned over my shoulder. “OK, now watch this,” he said, fingers poised to click send. “This is going to change your life.”
The Internet is my omnipresent conduit to infinite distraction. It is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. In between, my smartphone ensures that I am never very far from my next Google-Facebook-YouTube-Craigslist-Amazon fix. I have been in rooms full of people, each glued to a hand-held device and completely oblivious to the others.
What began for me as a thing of wonder is now merely my drug of choice. I miss my friends — the very ones whose hourly Facebook posts keep me up to date on their every move. I miss sitting on the front porch of my row house on a warm summer evening and talking to the neighbors who walk by. My nervous system spent the past two hundred thousand years evolving in an environment of human interaction, and now that’s disappeared almost overnight.
Grass Valley, California
Dear Dave, or whatever your name really is,
Yes, I knew you were married when I chatted with you on that dating site. You dropped lots of clues: You were skittish. You cut off conversations quickly (as if someone had walked into the room). You gave a lame excuse for not posting a photo of yourself.
So why did I agree to meet you? Did I really think so little of myself that I was willing to meet a married man at Starbucks?
I told myself that I understood why a man would cheat on his wife. I remembered how unhappy my own marriage had been, and how alone I’d felt. I thought that connecting with someone else even for a few hours would feel so good. And I was really attracted to you.
When we met, I told you that I’m more shy in person than I am online. You said the same. But neither of us was shy when we were kissing in my car. We went to my apartment. You kissed my lips, my face, my neck, my breasts. Then you took a deep breath and said you were sorry, but that was as far as you could go that day.
“You’re married,” I said, and you said yes, but that you hadn’t been intimate with your wife in a long time.
I told you I was disappointed, but that I didn’t want you to do something you’d regret. You said you would regret leaving. It took you ten minutes to finally go.
I remember how you stroked my face and looked at me as if I were the most important person in the world. Has anyone else ever looked at me that way? Did my ex-husband ever look at me that way? Do you look at your wife that way? Did you ever?
Don’t you think it’s sad that kissing, the simplest form of affection, is one of the first things to go in a marriage? Couples on dates spend hours making out, but after they’re married, most get by with a quick peck on their way out the door. Finding time for intimacy becomes a chore, an obligation.
Thank you for making me feel like the center of your world for a little while.
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