Flashback to May 2005, the school semester was starting to wrap up and final projects were coming due. A day or so before my final project was due, I was adding some finishing details and getting ready to print it when suddenly, tragedy struck; or, rather, Smitfraud malware struck. Uh oh. I worked my tail off all semester and I wasn’t about to let a computer virus determine my final grade! I like to consider myself fairly tech-savvy so I sought out some DIY/self help forums and bounced around the web before landing at GeekstoGo.com. I poked around the site for a few and ultimately ended up registering so I could post about my issue on the forum; hoping that a kind soul could save this desperate damsel in distress and her computer from a certain doom! Fortunately, the teacher I had at the time was very understanding and he gave me an extension that saved my final grade from crumbling. I guess you could say I was his favorite student.
After a few bites on my post, I started to feel encouraged. The [volunteer] helpers were very kind and eager to help, redirecting me to the Live Chat so we could troubleshoot in real time. Soon I realized we weren’t just dealing with your old run of the mill computer virus; nope, I was infected with Smitfraud, a brand new and sophisticated virus that imitated anti-virus software, misleading the user into thinking they are fixing things when in reality they are unknowingly sabotaging their own computer. Since it was a brand new type of infection, the anti-virus community had to act quickly to familiarize themselves with this new, rapidly-spreading infection that virus removal software was essentially useless against. Fun stuff. After we exhausted every possible option, it was clear that my only choice was to reformat.
It was around this time that the user “JeffBT” decided to grace us with his insight regarding my unique predicament.
We chatted back and forth for a bit before moving to private message since we started to clog the chat with conversation. I wasn’t actively looking for a relationship at the time but sometimes life has a way of surprising you when you least expect it. I enjoyed our conversations and the butterflies grew in my stomach as the days went on and he worked his charm. He continued to woo me with his smarts and silliness before his priceless pickup line became reality and he officially became the geek I needed in my life on May 25, 2005.
This was the beginning of a crazy journey and we had no idea where it would lead us.
The evolution of technology coincided with the evolution of our relationship
It was also an exciting time for the tech industry, Wi-Fi was becoming a household norm, the popularity of blogging exploded into an outbreak of information, and society was just starting to build the foundation for the technologies we know and love today. Although we met on the cusp of Web 2.0 and smartphone boom, we were still limited in terms of communication options—but that would soon change.
Before our parents knew of our “forbidden love” we had to be careful not to exceed our mobile minutes (remember those?) or SMS messages so we wouldn’t raise any red flags/suspicions when our parents would review the bill and see several, hour long phone calls between New York and Florida. Thankfully, cell phones were evolving into more practical, portable and functional mini personal computers, right in the nick of time. I had one of those fancy phones where the screen slides up to reveal a “full” keyboard and (though it could only take a 2 megapixel photo) it was an absolute game-changer after having a Motorola Razr for so long.
Fun fact: Wi-Fi became so mainstream that the term "Wi-Fi" and its definition were included in the new 2005 copyright of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.
Faced with hurdle after hurdle, we always found a way to stay connected. Back when Google still practiced the motto, “don’t be evil,” the company went through a period of rapid growth, launching apps like Google Talk (now Google Hangouts, but not really), one of many products that would make up the ever-changing Google ecosystem. Google Talk (aka GTalk) was a super lightweight yet practical communication tool that eventually became a necessity for our relationship. We relied heavily on the functionality and reliability of Google Talk every day. In fact, Google held a contest encouraging users to record a brief video explaining how they use Google Talk. Of course we had to submit our story!
With the cards stacked against us since the beginning, the unique challenges we faced together made us stronger along the way.
Keep in mind we were only 15 and 16 respectively. Although Match.com and eHarmony were gaining acceptance with their widespread advertising campaign, online dating was still quite taboo and often looked at like a "last resort" to the rest of the offline world—and it was absolutely unheard of for a couple of kids like us. Prior to our whirlwind digital puppy love, we had been constantly warned of the dangers that lurk on the internet, especially the very real threat of “cat-fishing.” Growing up in the era of AOL, we had unrestricted access to the World Wide Web and all its infamy. Forums, online communities, and chatrooms for kids, teens, and adults were all the rage back in the day. Despite our parents warnings of online “stranger danger,” it wasn’t uncommon for kids our age to spend the day online making new friends and chatting with others from around the globe. For a socially awkward introvert, AOL chatrooms were a perfect refuge for someone like me to be myself and not worry about the judgment of my peers. I felt accepted for once, and so the internet became my home.
Long distance dating is difficult for anyone, how could two kids manage a relationship, solely over the internet? Surrounded by doubt and statistics of failure, we were determined to prove everyone wrong. Sick of the constant doubt and judgment, we decided it would be easier if we kept our relationship a secret, essentially hiding a huge part of ourselves to prevent judgment from friends, family, everyone. Holding onto this dirty little secret, unable to share exciting news with friends for fear of rejection/exclusion, we went about our lives as usual, quietly carrying the heavy feeling of loneliness until someone would understand. Seeing other couples together was a painful reminder that it would be a very long wait before we would be together too. Jealousy also plays a big role in teenage relationships whether they be in real life or online and ours was no exception. Not being able to spend time with your significant other is hard enough, but seeing them go out to a party with friends and others unfamiliar to you, it was admittedly difficult to keep jealousy at bay. We had our fair share of squabbles and fights like most couples, but considering the circumstances and how far we had come, we knew what we had was special and it was worth fighting for no matter how hard things got, always coming out stronger together in the end.
The birth of social media was underway and Myspace was at the forefront of the game. Not long after, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and after that moment our lives were changed—and the change kept coming. Facebook slid into the picture, eventually pushing Myspace into oblivion, …..and all of a sudden the internet was mainstream. The rest of the world was finally getting online. Social media came along with its positives and negatives; Being able to share and connect with friends in a whole new way was an exciting development for the previously lonely internet. Facebook and Myspace made it easier to communicate with friends and family while keeping tabs on others, whether they were friends or not. Naturally, Facebook stalking became the ultimate snooping tool for users to view their friends and friends’ friends to learn more about them and decide if they are a “threat” to one's relationship. Just like Facebook had some hiccups back in its early days, we also experienced our own growing pains, sometimes simultaneously.
Weeks passed, months would turn into years…
In the mornings we spent our time on Google Talk, getting ready for the day ahead and wishing each other a happy day as our respective households buzzed with activity. We would try to text each other in between classes or during lunch, often sneaking away from friends unnoticed to find a quiet place to sit and fire off a few quick love notes before regrouping with classmates before the next class started. After school, we would race home trying to be the first one home. We would immediately hop on Google Talk to debrief, share funny stories from our days and work on homework together, often helping each other with assignments and note taking. During holidays or breaks we would schedule fun trips or visit each other for as long as possible (even entire summers); usually I would fly to visit him in New York unless we decided to take a family trip to Disney or Universal.
We adopted this routine for 5 years – as you can imagine, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. We had literally all the cards stacked against us, from being so young, the distance, the outside judgement, but we stuck together and now feel that ultimately our relationship is better off because of the experience. Our bond grew stronger through our determination to prove everyone wrong and beat the odds – it became a shared goal that we both worked towards every day.
We were insanely lucky to be living in a time when you can find love anywhere in the world thanks to the internet. People don’t need “settle” for partners who only live nearby anymore and nor should they. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone starting a long distance relationship it would be to set the intention to meet very early on in the relationship. The longer it takes to meet in person, the more difficult the relationship will become to maintain. The other piece of advice would be – and frankly this applies to everyday life, not just relationships – to try not to be as rigid in your thinking, leave more room for exploration and new ideas, and to embrace change more freely.