After my divorce, I was as broken as a tree branch after a storm. Luckily, I found a female comrade — on Twitter of all places — who was healing from her own divorce. Our digital friendship blossomed into a long-distance digital romance. We sent corny notes to each other on instant messenger and kisses over Skype. After a few months of online communication, Cate (not her real name) suggested that we meet in real life. One caveat — she lived in New Zealand.
After much thought, I decided to seize the day and off I went to catch my Air New Zealand flight. The exterior of the plane was decorated with characters from The Lord of the Rings movie, which was filmed in New Zealand. Like Frodo Baggins, I was off on an adventure.
My trip to New Zealand has all the elements of a Harlequin romance: Cate was beautiful. New Zealand was stunning. The clouds were as white and fluffy as cotton; you wanted to grab a piece from the sky and feel it in the palm of your hand. In New York, it was January, cold and gloomy. In New Zealand, it was summer and the greenery was as over-saturated as a Technicolor film from 1956. Cate and I hit it off wonderfully and passionately. She took me to the beaches, the cities, the farms and the volcanoes. I learned about Maori culture and tried my first “flat white.” We took our clothes off and jumped into a natural hot spring. We kissed under the moonlight. I extended my stay.
As a personal blogger who has been writing since 2005, I was comfortable with the sharing of my life online, whether on my blog or Facebook. My online friends and readers were my support and community. They were there for me when my father passed away, when I went through my divorce and whenever I was feeling blue. It was only natural for me to share my happiness with them, to take them along on my exotic, life-affirming journey to the land of Kiwi.I was expected to move to New Zealand, hopefully running to the airport with only my iPhone and a change of underwear. By not acting my destined third act, I was a disappointment
I posted loving photos of Cate, posing her in front of impossibly beautiful landscapes. I wrote poetically about our travels. There was an unexpected side effect of all this sharing of my new-found romance: The traffic on my blog was going through the roof, especially from female readers hooked on the story. While I was not conscious of this at the time, I was bringing a third party — the readers, observers, Facebook friends or whatever we call those we share our personal lives with on the internet — into the relationship.
After six weeks in New Zealand, I returned to New York. We had not yet figured out our next step. This was problematic because, once home, it was difficult to return to the long-distance aspect of the relationship. Once you’ve eaten a meal together or held hands, staring at each other on Skype is a letdown. We tried to discuss things rationally and with a clear mind, something we avoided during the sweet glow of the New Zealand nights. She had an ex-husband and a son in school, which made it difficult for her to visit the States. I wasn’t sure if I could return to New Zealand until the spring. Besides, flights from New York to Auckland were over a thousand dollars roundtrip! We talked about me returning for several months, even renting my own place, but could I find work there if I wasn’t a citizen? Would we need to get married for me to get a work visa? Neither of us were ready to take that step.
Cate and I never fought. We were calm and loving, although increasingly frustrated. It was becoming apparent that there were too many obstacles to overcome. Our romance would have to remain a lovely summer/winter fling rather than a long-term relationship. There was sadness but no anger.
The same could not be said for some who followed the romance online and became invested in the story, much like you would a series on HBO. When I mentioned on Facebook that things were hitting a snag, my instant messenger burst on fire with advice. The audience had spoken, and no one wanted their favorite show to be canceled. I was expected to move to New Zealand, hopefully running to the airport with only my iPhone and a change of underwear. By not acting my destined third act, I was a disappointment. Someone even threatened to unfollow me from Twitter if I didn’t create the happy ending that was expected.
“What about Casablanca?” I wrote. “Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Not every romance has a happy ending.”
“You’re not Humphrey Bogart,” she replied.
A few readers even opened up to me about their own lives, as if my story had touched them in such a personal way that they couldn’t remain silent.
A mom blogger friend wrote me something like this:
“When I was in college, I spent my junior year in Sweden. And that’s where I met Sven. He was the first man I ever loved. He was also my first lover. When I turned off the light because I was self-conscious about my body, Sven turned the light back on. He adored me. As a woman. He was the most gentle and satisfying partner I’ve ever had. We would stay in bed for three days at a time making love, eating salted fish and drinking cheap wine. But then, when the year ended, I knew it was time to return to start my senior year at Barnard. It’s what my parents expected, so I came back to the States. It was the biggest mistake of my life. Sven and I corresponded a bit, and then we lost touch. Let me just tell you, I’m very happy now. I have a wonderful husband, and he’s given me three beautiful children. But every once in a while, I think of Sven and what would have happened if I stayed. DON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE THAT I DID!”
But I did. A few people actually unfollowed me. My blog traffic dropped back to normal as I started to write again about my boring single life in drab Flushing, Queens. Cate and I tried to remain friends, but we drifted apart. It has been three years since my trip to New Zealand to see her.
I have no regrets about my summer/weekend fling. It could have been more, but it just never happened. Maybe things don’t happen for a reason.
Currently, I am involved in another long-distance relationship with someone I met online. I guess I never learn. This woman lives much closer, in Atlanta, but it is still too far. We see each other every month, and, so far, things are great. But there is one aspect to this romance that I am handling differently: Neither of us have changed our relationship statuses on our Facebook pages. We don’t feel the obligation to turn our life into a story. Better to work out the kinks of the romance between us before inviting everyone into the room.