The auther and his wife-to-be posing next to one of the computers that made it all possible (Photo by Tim Arwine)

Modem Romance

Ric Getter
Published in the San Jose Mercury News, Dec. 26, 1996

It would have been so much easier if I could just say that I bumped into her at the produce counter and it was love at first sight. But, the love of my life and future wife was sitting quietly in front of her computer when we first met.

And I was in front of mine.

It was in one of the older neighborhoods of the Internet where we found each other, a place called "Usenet." I was scanning through some Japanese news groups (it is a country and culture that has always fascinated me) and discovered one relating to e-mail pen pals. I decided to try posting a message.

A few days later, a response arrived...

This is my first letter for you.
Let me introduce myself.
My name is Shigemi Odai, 32 years old, female.
I live in Kyoto, Japan.
I am a medical secretary.
I just found your message on the news group.
I am not good at English but I will do my best to write in English.
Please write to me in easy English if you like.
I am Looking forward to hearing from you.
Thank you.

We began exchanging mail on a daily basis and sometimes even more often. The basic conversational skills that always eluded me when I met someone interesting in person, started flowing gracefully though my fingers onto the screen. At first, we talked about ourselves and our work. But after awhile, a certain trust began to grow and our letters turned to our thoughts and ideas. The theme of our letters widened to include our thoughts on love and relationships, God and religion and our goals in life, both personal and professional. We discovered that we had a great deal in common, both superficial and substantial. After a while, the friendship grew into real affection. Little by little, Kazz was becoming an important part of life.

Even though I was able to send my picture to her electronically, I had to wait for what seemed like forever for her photo to appear in the mail. Holding the unopened letter, I realized that I was frightened. I was about to confront the dark pit of hypocrisy where the emotional meets the physical. I tried to convince myself that I had grown fond enough of her to be attracted to her no matter what she looked like. But I knew that, whether I liked it or not, someone's outward appearance was an element of the chemistry that either brings two people together or keeps them apart.

I opened the envelope. The first few prints were of a beautiful garden by one of the many shrines near her home in Kyoto. Then I came to a picture of a young woman in front of a field of pink tulips. She was looking at the camera a little nervously, her hands clasped loosely in front of her. She wore a pale, conservative raincoat with a dark handbag slung casually over her shoulder. Behind the nervousness were her soft, warm eyes and a gentle, quietly friendly smile.

I don't know how long I sat there looking at the picture. All I could think of is that if I saw her in a crowded room, she would be the one I was most drawn to--not because of her beauty (even though I felt she was quite beautiful), but because she would be the one I would feel the most comfortable with. It is really an undefinable and very personal quality. And for me, she had it in abundance. As I sat there, I fell completely in love with my pen pal.

In mid-July, she wrote that she wanted to meet me and asked if she could visit during her vacation at the beginning of September. By that time, we had begun to openly confess our fondness for each other and were discovering that we each naturally wanted to give the kind of love that the other most wanted to receive. I began to realize that I had a certainty about my feelings for her that I never felt with anyone before. I planned have an engagement ring waiting for her when she arrived.

After an August that seemed to last forever, September 5th finally came.

We were both trembling when we embraced for the first time. Like a scene from an old movie, the commotion at the arrival gate at SFO blurred and faded into the background and it was if we were alone in each other's arms. She was far more beautiful than any of her pictures revealed. From that first moment, it was obvious that the chemistry between us was as powerful as chemistry can be. "Okaeri Nasai," I said to her. Welcome home.

Later that day, when I asked, "Watashi to kekon shi te kure masu ka?" Will you be my wife? she answered "Yes!"

Even now, as a couple who are formally engaged, I still can see people wonder how it is possible for love to grow in a sterile medium of packet-switched, data transfers. But a surprising number of people I confided in told me about other couples they had heard of who met in the same way. For those of us who always think of the right thing to say immediately after blurting out something completely wrong, having a "delete key" available when you first meet someone can make all the difference in the world.

It occurred to me that, here is a technology that some people are accusing of being a source of growing isolation that can bring people together in the most human way imaginable. What I discovered is that, whether you meet that "special someone" in a supermarket or in cyberspace, you will somehow know that it was meant to be.