We all know stories about people who meet online, fall in love and get taken to the cleaners, or live happily ever after. We know about protecting our children from ‘stranger danger’ and chat room nasties. We’ve heard about scams emptying bank accounts, preying on good-hearted and soft-headed folk. On our blogs we are careful to protect our families, never divulging too much information, posting photos of ourselves (generally) or giving our telephone numbers out. We know all these things, don’t we?
The other side to these warnings is – does the virtual world exist? I read your blog, but do you actually write it, or are you all some bizarre construct of my over-heated imagination? Hmm, might put that idea to the side for now.
I started reading Elisabeth’s blog, Sixth in Line, months ago. She writes incisive autobiography, always with a probing twist, often confronting, always compelling. Elisabeth has many devoted followers who respond generously or argumentatively to her blog. I read her in awe, for a long time not commenting because I felt inadequate and shy.
Gradually, I began to recognise some of the places her writing touched on – not only the emotional places, but physical locations too. There was a parking ticket, a pet grooming shop and other markers. I realised Elisabeth might live close to my parents. I took my courage onto my keyboard and began to leave comments. I had this wild idea that maybe one day we would meet.
What did I think a physical meeting would achieve? Would it convince me that you, on the other side of the Wall, really exist? Curiosity? Or perhaps I was motivated by my perverse and trouble-making nature? I don’t really know.
We met last Saturday, at a local coffee shop. Weeks before our date, I was terrified at the prospect and wished I’d never suggested it. I thought it will ruin everything and I’ll have to stop writing (not one to catastrophise, me). I gave Elisabeth plenty of opportunities to bow out gracefully, worrying that I would waste her time, bore her or generally be a nuisance, but she did not withdraw, and neither did I.
In the last week before we met, I grew quite excited by the prospect, genuinely looking forward to it. I’d reasoned away any risks (white slavers would not be interested in me) and yes, even if the meeting was a social disaster, I would still be able to write. It wasn’t a disaster.
We found we both had to convince our husbands that we would be safe and promised to ring to ‘check in’. I anticipated we would have coffee and chat for thirty minutes and that would be that. Have a nice life, see ya ...
I arrived first. I bought myself a coffee and sat by the front door, my large pink sun hat hanging on the back of the chair – the signal to Elisabeth. I waited. I wriggled in my seat and adjusted my posture. I heard myself saying ‘try and look as much like a human being as possible’.
When she strode in, all long arms and legs and smiles, I recognised her immediately. She pointed to the hat and said ‘Isabel!’ I asked if she would have recognised me from my portrait and she said, yes probably.
We skipped the small talk. What a relief. Instead we plunged straight in to life, the universe, writing, family, careers ... we confessed our earlier nervousness and the concerns of our husbands. We spoke about blogs and books and family history. We discovered many things we had in common as well as the differences in our lives.
For various reasons, it is important that we preserve our privacy, so I did not take a photo of us together; however I wanted to have some commemoration of the moment:
I said that I would like to write about our encounter. Elisabeth looked horrified. I reassured her, not the personal details we’d shared, but the experience. She agreed. We decided we would both write about our meeting and try to co-ordinate the time of our posts.
We chatted for two and a half hours, ignoring phones and the interruptions of my family. Eventually we decided we had better step back through the wall to our separate blogs.
It was an interesting experiment, meeting a fellow blogger, a successful experiment and a pleasure that I had not anticipated. I am sure not all such encounters would be as satisfying. Out there, in the real world, I often meet people I hope to become friends with and for one reason or another, the chemistry does not work: we find we have nothing to say after the first burst, or we discover different outlooks which prevent a true meeting of minds.
So – stranger danger? Yes, be wary, of course, and careful. If you do have the opportunity to cross that boundary, you may find someone special. I know I did.