Ours is a '90s kind of friendship, begun with a few keystrokes from my computer in Baltimore to his in Los Angeles.
At first, we spoke as fellow community leaders on America Online, talking of ways to better help the members navigate the system. Then we began to tentatively reveal information about ourselves, discovering that we have similar views on religion and money and relationships. But there were enough differences -- politics and my inability to deal with electronic systems -- to keep things lively.
Thirty years ago, such a friendship would have been impossible. But technology has allowed millions of people around the world to forge relationships with people they never would have known otherwise. Online, the emphasis is less on how you look and more on who you are and what you think. Friendships -- sometimes even romances -- develop quickly.
Eventually, the computer just wasn't fast enough for the wide-ranging conversations with my new friend, so we began talking on the telephone.
From the start, we knew there was no chance for a romance. Though we found the pictures we exchanged pleasant, we felt the distance and seven-year age difference were too great. So we told each other everything as we navigated first dates with other people.
"When he said that, what did he mean?" I'd ask him in frustration when I went out with other men. When he complained about how hard it is to meet nice, single women, I told him some tricks for striking up conversations.
Before long, we were best buddies. His was the last voice I heard every night before I went to bed. He had LASIK eye surgery three days before I had mine, so he called to check on me after I was home for a couple of hours.
"Can you read the VCR?"
"Yes," I said.
"Well, silly, read it to me!"
"It says dash, dash, colon, dash, dash!" I said proudly.
Around that time, he began planning his yearly vacation. This one would be a journey down the East Coast. Would I mind if he stopped in Baltimore?
I was excited at the thought of meeting my friend after seven months of bonding long-distance.
"Sure, come on," I said. "I'll take a few days off work and show you the area."
One thing we hadn't counted on during his trip: a lack of contact. I'd become used to talking with him nightly, but while he was staying with family and friends, the contact ceased. Then after about two weeks, the phone rang and I heard his voice.
"I missed you!" I blurted out with a whine, surprised by how deeply I felt it.
He laughed and told me what he'd been doing on his vacation.
We arranged to meet at dinner with some other friends from online, several of whom we'd each met before. I arrived early to put our names on the waiting list at the restaurant, so I was sitting out front when a man walked up.
"Rick," I said, looking into the eyes I knew from pictures.
But something was different.
We hugged hello. My mind was spinning. I was attracted to my best friend. How was I going to hide this for five days while he stayed in my home?
Subtlety has never been my strong suit. During dinner, I used a crayon to write an upside-down message that he could read on the paper table covering: "You're adorable."
Rick blushed and grinned.
"I don't want to ruin our friendship," he said that night when we arrived at my house.
"We won't," I said. "I can't let that happen."
And then we kissed. Our lives would never be the same.
His visit was a blur of touring and talking. Because we knew each other so well long-distance, there was none of the typical getting-to-know-you posturing. We weren't on "best behavior" -- we felt free to be ourselves.
The last night he was at my house, we had a marathon talk. We prodded each other on touchy issues from previous relationships. All the bugaboo questions were asked and answered.
"Do you plan to hyphenate your name when you marry?" Rick asked.
"Nope. That's indecisive."
"So you'll keep your last name?"
"Nope. I think it's confusing to children if their parents have different names. I think the last name should be shared as a family unifier."
"So you would take my last name?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, noticing that he was also thinking in terms of a future for us.
"I don't want a long-distance relationship," I said.
"I don't either," he said. "I'll move."
Rick looked deep into my eyes.
"I always heard that when you find the right person, you know it. I never believed that -- until now."
We became frequent fliers, carving out a three-day weekend here and a weeklong visit there. We met family and friends -- I was thrilled to find that his friends were people I'd have chosen myself, if only they weren't on the other side of the country.
The day after I met his parents -- Jan. 3 -- Rick and I toured the town of Solvang, Calif. He wanted to see the Santa Ines Mission, so we entered and walked to the garden. Suddenly, he wanted to sit on the bench by the fountain. "That's weird," I thought. "We just got here. Why is he sitting down?"
I sat beside him and then he handed me a package. I opened it and saw a stuffed "Idea Box" toy from Best Buy -- because he likes that store and I loathe it. Inside the toy was a cylinder containing a platinum and diamond ring.
Rick slid onto one knee. "Jolene Rae Bremer, will you be my wife?"
He says now that I didn't wait for him to finish asking the question before I said yes. But I want the record to show that I was dignified and restrained. Well, as restrained as I could be when my dreams were coming true.
Why do I love Rick? How do I know that he is the one person who can make my life complete?
Rick is honest and loving and sentimental and silly. His values and goals are mine. I can be myself with Rick, and he loves me anyway. He takes care of me and lets me take care of him. He calls me Beautiful.
I get a lump in my throat when I think about the words that I will say tonight: I, Jolene, take you, Richard . . .
The best part will be looking in his eyes and knowing that my computer buddy will be by my side for the rest of my life.
Jo Bremer is The Sun's assistant national editor.
Pub Date: 10/10/99