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Calling long distance.

true romanticIs there such a thing as love at first hearing?

Is it possible that, like the “eyes across a crowded room” scenario, just the sound of someone’s voice can ignite that spark of affection, that chain reaction which leads the incomplete heart to recognise its other half?

Because I cannot think of any other explanation for the inability to breathe properly, the idiot grin spreading across my face, or the sudden urge to tell this woman everything about myself.

That first day, the first time we spoke with the knowledge that this wasn’t just any conversation but the beginning of something more, I honestly never suspected that it would turn into anything more than a deeper friendship. After all, She was thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, it hardly seemed likely that we’d ever get to meet, let alone fall in love.

It’s so nice to be wrong occasionally.

Sitting at the side of that quiet country road, talking to Her about nothing very much, just revelling in being with Her, I felt a connection that almost shocked me, a feeling that we had known each other for far longer than the two and a half years of virtual friendship that our relationship amounted to at that point. It really did feel like we’d simply been briefly separated for some reason and She’d just got back in touch after spending time away.

Shaking myself free of my enchanted daze, I finally got around to driving home, all the while listening to Her tell me things about Her life that I wouldn’t expect to hear from any but the most intimate friends. She told me about a childhood that had left Her cautious and unsure about forming meaningful relationships, about the powerful love She had for Her children and about Her work in the residential care of adults with developmental problems. The more I listened, the more extraordinary I found this bright, funny and yet at the same time, serene and quietly spoken woman, and when I thanked Her for trusting me with so much of Her personal life story She only confirmed what I had known since She had picked up the phone…

…that there was a connection here that we could both feel, one which seemed to make the mere social conventions of conversational inhibition a pointless and trivial thing, something reserved for those poor folks who weren’t already sure that they needed this other person to know everything about them as soon as possible.

By the time I got home I was completely hooked.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is the amount of free communication it allows and we took full advantage of that over the next few days, talking for hours via Facebook’s free phone call service and, better still, on Skype video call, when I would find myself gazing into Her eyes for what seemed like ages, before realising I hadn’t said anything for minutes at a time. Although since She seemed just as happy with this habit of ours of silently mooning over each other, I didn’t feel in the least bit awkward or embarrassed at having suddenly become a hopelessly mushy romantic.

Whenever the little chat icon appeared on my phone I would feel my heart skip a beat and my breath quicken, whenever She commented on a post I would instantly check to see what She’d said, knowing I would agree with whatever She said.

And if my phone actually rang, well that was the pinnacle, the joy of joys, the drop-everything-stop-what-you’re-doing-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-two-hundred-pounds emergency situation.

Yes, I had it bad.

But it wasn’t until after a couple of weeks of this virtual flirting and cyber courting had made it clear to me that this wasn’t the “just for fun” situation that either of us had envisaged that I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

A friend from South Africa, another blogger who I had known for a couple of years online, was having to listen to me telling her how wonderful She was for probably the tenth time when she suddenly asked me;

“So, do you love Her?”

What sort of question is that?

How should I know? I’ve never even met the woman for goodness sake!

You can’t fall in love on the internet, that’s just a movie cliché. Isn’t it..?

 But I knew. I’d known for a while.

“You know what, I think I do”

 

I was blind (but now I see).

true romanticOh my, those eyes… How on Earth had I not noticed Her eyes?

Here I was, gazing into the most incredible, piercing, luminous ice blue eyes I’d ever seen, whilst the whole time my treacherous subconscious was trying to reconcile words like “wholesome”, “homely” and “maternal” (terms that, had I thought about it, I would have probably used to describe Her up to this point in our friendship) with a woman who I could clearly, suddenly see, with something akin to a revelation, should be described as “pretty”, “striking”, “stunning”, or just plain “beautiful”.

You know those optical illusions that you stare at for ages, trying to see the two faces, or the vase between the two candlesticks, until it miraculously resolves itself, leaving you unable to ever again see it the way it was before? Well, it was like that. One minute I was looking at a photo of someone I’d seen dozens of pictures of on Facebook over the last couple of years or so, when all of a sudden it was as though I could see a totally different person, someone who seemed to be lit from within by a light which bordered on intense.

I actually found myself scrolling back through Her photo albums, searching for a sign that I was mistaken, that this was some sort of aberration, a trick of the light, something that would explain this extraordinary vision. But no, as I studied the pictures on the small screen before me, it may as well have been the very first time. 

“Now I know for sure that I’ve seen this picture before, but….She’s gorgeous, how did I not see that..?”

Picture after picture, the same amazed, almost visceral reaction. Disbelief, mixed with a slightly nervous feeling of “something is happening here”.

Me – You have the most extraordinary eyes.

Her – Thank you, I’m glad you think so. I always wanted brown eyes, blue is so ordinary.

Me – Brown? Are you mad?! Your eyes are absolutely beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like them.

Her – I’ve always thought you have beautiful eyes.

There it was.

A definite trip in my heartbeat.

A certain sudden dryness to the mouth.

I realised I should probably start breathing again.

A sensation of…what? Excitement? Anticipation? Dare I say Attraction?

We continued to chat. I continued to experience this…thrill, that is the only word for it, that shivered through me each time that little message icon appeared, and then She said something that I’m sure I will never, ever forget;

“I’ve been crushing on you for a while.”

Wait,..what?

That can’t be right, she didn’t just say she fancied me, not just the very second I’ve realised how gorgeous she is?

Me – Really? I don’t know what to say, I’m flattered.

Her – I wouldn’t have said anything before, because you were with somebody else.

……Long Pause…..

Me – I don’t suppose (gulp)  that you fancy having an online boyfriend do you?  (then, hurriedly) You know, just for fun….

Her – That would be wonderful! And what would having an online boyfriend entail exactly..?

As simple as that.

The rest of the afternoon we spent chatting on messenger. I felt like a teenager again, like I was walking on air, having to repress an idiot grin that kept threatening to make the top of my head fall off and cause me to burst into spontaneous, delighted laughter, all at the same time. Then I had a flash of inspiration.

After all, we’d chatted on Skype already hadn’t we, back when we were just friends?

Quickly working out the time difference between us, I suggested we have an actual, real verbal conversation after I finished work for the day. She agreed straight away and suddenly, I had a date.

Five o’clock couldn’t come quickly enough after that. In fact I didn’t even bother to drive home, instead parking in a quiet lay-by on a side road and, with trembling fingers, (I kid you not, I felt like a fifteen year old schoolboy, about to knock on the door of a prom queen) I opened the Skype application on my phone, breathed deeply and tried to compose myself.

The metallic, tinny sound of the ringtone chimed half a dozen times and then;

“Hello”

I drew in another none-too-steady deep breath and took the first real step into an uncertain but deliciously exciting future;

“Hi there, it’s really good to finally hear your voice again…”

In the beginning: The Universe, random thumbs and being inappropriate.

true romanticIt isn’t as if I went looking for love…

Sometimes we have no control over what the Universe decides we deserve, and in my case I was very lucky indeed that the Universe was paying such close attention.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the Universe’s role in all this, but more about that later, let’s start with some background;

I had just ended a long term relationship and gone through the difficult and somewhat fraught process of moving out and restarting my life as a single man, not an altogether unpleasant prospect, but still one that required a certain amount of adjustment.

I should say right at the start that I never had the slightest thought of beginning another relationship, preferring instead to relax into my new lifestyle and see what the future sent my way. After all, I hadn’t been single for over fifteen years and the idea of having extra free time and an increased social life was quite an attractive prospect for a late-forty-something, young at heart bloke with few possessions and – bar some lingering debts – little in the way of expenses.

So it would never have occurred to me that there was someone out there, someone I’d been getting to know for nearly three years, (but maybe not as well as I thought) who had secretly been holding a torch for me all this time, when I had only been aware of a growing friendship and a fondness at the edge of consciousness that, if you’d asked me at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate, even to myself.

As for the rest, well,..I was going to try and keep this intro as short as I could but as it’s the first post I’m probably going to get a bit carried away, so bear with me, ok?

Social media is something that I’d only come to very casually, (and very late) purely to keep in contact with old friends who I’d left behind after moving to Devon in the ’90s, but I took to it like the proverbial duck to water.

Facebook in particular caught my imagination and I soon began making “friends” all over the place, most notably in America, a place I’d never been especially interested in visiting, but nonetheless the cultural influences we all absorb from across the pond make it somewhere that one can’t help be drawn to, even if the temptation to bait various elements of their society can sometimes be too much to bear.

Although many of those early “discussions” that I had with apoplectically furious right wing gun nuts and crazy tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists were great fun, it’s the real friendships I made on Fb that I most enjoyed, most notably with a slightly crazy lady called Mandy who loves English swearing and will now call people “wanker” for absolutely no reason at all, usually following it up with her trademark “Ahahahaha!”

Anyway, during a rather heated discussion on the pros and cons of posting a picture of “the falling man” from the World Trade Centre as some sort of tribute to 9/11 victims, one of Mandy’s friends took issue with me for (as she saw it) disrespecting Mandy in the comments thread we were on.

Mandy apparently messaged her friend and explained that she and I tended to discuss things in a fairly rough and ready way and that she shouldn’t worry, I was a nice guy and hadn’t been insulting her at all.

The result of this was that I received a message from somebody I’d previously only seen on Fb as a friend of a friend, apologising to me for getting the wrong end of the stick and berating me unnecessarily, to which I replied and, (to completely fail to cut a long story short) ended up sending her a friend request.

She turned out to be someone that I quickly grew to like, not just because She and I appeared to agree on so many different subjects; politics, music, art, movies and books being just some of the places we found common ground, but because there seemed to be a…. goodness about Her, a calmness, almost a serenity that I hadn’t come across before, but that even now I am at a loss to explain any better than I could have done then.

And She had children. Certainly not something that would usually attract me to a woman, even if two of Her kids were grown up. 

It was obvious to me that it was the deep bond She had with Her youngest daughter that made Her the person She was. The person She had become. It was almost as if they were one symbiotic entity, one dependant upon the other for nurture and support. I felt that very strongly, right back then, when we were only casual acquaintances who had begun cautiously circling around the pull of friendship like travellers who come upon each other at an unexpected campfire, drawn by the warmth but curious as to who started it.

Which isn’t to say that I had any romantic feelings for Her, because back then I honestly didn’t. I was in a long-term relationship which had yet to run to its sad conclusion, and even that had an intersection that seems strangely prescient with hindsight.

During my first year or so on Facebook, I tried to convince some of the more tolerant of my new American friends to post videos of themselves, introducing themselves to me and my English mates which some of them, to their credit, did with varying degrees of success, especially after I got the ball rolling with a daft parody of a newscast, (fronted by a newsreader called Max Bollocks, in honour of a bloke from Michigan called Max who loved that particular Anglo-Saxonism) which gently poked fun at the U.S.A.

And for anyone who had trouble uploading a video, I suggested that anyone who fancied giving it a go could video-call me on Skype, so I opened an account specially and waited for a response.

She was the first to reply.

So I set up a video chat for a hour that was convenient in both timezones (She is five hours behind the U.K.) and waited for the phone to ring.

It was an oddly relaxed call, not stilted or awkward in any way, myself and my then-partner on one end and Her on the other, chatting away while Her daughter clambered all over Her, cheerfully chattering away, oblivious to the adults talking around her. Residents of the home that She was manager of also occasionally wandered in and out of shot, waving at the camera and grinning cheerfully. She seemed very courteous, polite and decent and – the one thing I remember being consciously pleased about – She had a very pleasant voice, not grating on my English ears as some U.S.accents can.

All of which endeared her to me a little bit more, and yet not the slightest thought of romance had yet crossed my mind. But I think that call was probably when we both knew we were going to be friends. 

Over the next couple of years we regularly communicated on the open pages of Facebook and sometimes had longer conversations on its messenger platform, but as far as I was concerned it was all perfectly innocent and platonic and I had no reason to assume She felt any differently. I did, and in fact still do, write another blog under a different name (which I’m choosing to keep separate from this one for now) and She would always say nice things about my writing and share links for me, so maybe I could have spotted something earlier.

But as I said; It isn’t as if I went looking for love.

Which brings us back to the point at which we came in. The point at which (as I’m sure She would tell you) the Universe decided to give our two routes through the forest of reality a little pinch, just sufficient to push our respective paths close enough together that we could glimpse each other through the trees.

I was once again single.

I was still settling into my new place.

I sent Her an accidental random thumb. 

(For those of you who don’t know Facebook, their standard icon of agreement is a little blue thumb symbol, used to “like” posts and as shorthand for the far more difficult to type “Ok”)

Whilst fiddling with my phone, I somehow managed to open messenger on the last conversation I’d had and simultaneously hit the thumb icon, it just so happens that it was Her I’d spoken to last.

She naturally queried my agreeing with something She was yet to say and we continued chatting as I casually scrolled through my newsfeed.

Until I got to the new profile picture that She’d just uploaded. I found that I had to drag my gaze away, almost instantly being drawn back to…

{From Facebook messenger}

Me – Do you mind if I say something slightly inappropriate?

Her – Hahaha, I spend half my life being inappropriate.

Me – You have the most extraordinary eyes.