I only met my wife eight times, in person, before we got married.
It all began on a late evening in Toronto when a woman from Los Angeles messaged me on OkCupid to say she liked my look, and that it was a shame about the distance. As I’d said to a friend earlier that day, “If she’s not already in my bed, it’s too far to go.”
Emotional distance has always gotten the better of me, so my friend, a couples’ therapist, suggested I try online dating. The safety of not having to meet a person in real life, she said, might lead me to speak more honestly about myself. Did I know, she asked, what I was looking for in a romantic relationship?
I’d come out of a break-up with a woman who had a young child. It had taken months just to bring myself to delete her girl’s birthday alert on my calendar. So, when I set to crafting my dating profile, I announced upfront that I wanted a family. Taking a cue from “Los Angeles,” I scanned profiles and landed on a woman in San Diego who looked a bit different in each photo. I could see myself with each version of this woman. She had two teenaged sons. I’d never so much as lived with a male of any age.
I opened a chat window—“Like your look. Shame about the distance”—and immediately logged off. Across the room, my phone buzzed. I took the phone to my bedroom and read the reply.
“Distance? What are you talking about? You’re just 2,000 miles and up the road!”
“San Diego” was online. I came to call her B, the first initial of her name, and within 24 hours we’d agreed to meet in Toronto three weeks later. We knew it would be difficult. After the end of an 18-year relationship with the boys’ other mother, we’d be foolish to think I could simply join a family. B and I traveled back and forth eight times, and, two years later, we got married.
It was a start.
* * *
Two weeks after our wedding, I threw my ring—over what, I don’t remember, likely something to do with how careless we’d been, in the case of the children, inconsiderate. Months earlier, in Toronto, as we were about to part again, we’d gone in search for our rings. The shopkeeper pointed to a row of brightly enameled copper bands. The one that fit B was green—the color of my eyes—and the one that fit me was blue—the color of hers.
When I pitched my ring, it deflected against a mirror and shattered the enamel. Yet, over time, as people asked to see the ring, they assumed the design was intentional. I began to wonder if it doesn’t take a marriage to fix a marriage. Shouldn’t we make grand leaps of faith for the people we love? Any problems we had were not the direct product of two strangers acting solely on their impulses. By this point, we were doing the work of any blended family. It was always going to be hard. And in speaking more directly about what I'd wanted in a relationship from the onset—candor enabled by technological circumstance—my relationship had given me a safe rate of introduction to the family I needed. Progress, indeed.
B and I originally met online, and it was the online world that kept us connected. We used all the free text and call applications available, and to sustain intimacy, we Skyped. When the three-hour time difference got too much, we began to leave video greetings in a shared Dropbox folder. B encouraged a tradition of reporting what had been the best part of our day; I encouraged a tradition that leaves me hoping Dropbox employees don’t download user’s videos for personal profit.
The greetings eventually became more domestic; birthday wishes to mutual friends, washing the dogs, an occasional (and reluctant) greeting from one of the boys. Sometimes, I just fired up the webcam and ate cereal, about as domestic as it gets.
* * *
Upon first deciding to meet in person, B and I agreed we wouldn’t have sex for 24 hours. When we did, my grand reveal was a pair of anxiously sweaty armpits. Hers was a reminder of who was waiting at home for the woman I’d seduced via Wi-Fi—faint traces of two C-sections and the soft folds that, to my eye, resembled the outer shell of Batman’s suit. My nickname for B had been “Hot Mom.” Now she was a superhero. From a distance, sex was an exercise in humility, creative lighting, and an appetite for patience, particularly when the wireless dropped signal and we were left with a frozen image and a proceeding soundtrack. Upon reunion, we often retreated into shyness, thwarting the time spent learning each other’s limitations and which we could be trusted to encroach upon.