Chat histories have become the modern version of a cache of yellowed love letters, a record of relationships that endured or went awry. In Love in the Time of GChat, couples show us the online exchanges that punctuated their time together.
Erica liked flirting with Matthew. But she wasn’t sure that she wanted to date him. Erica hadn’t thought of herself as “popular” in high school but away at liberal arts college she was making friends easily and attractive upperclassmen were suddenly interested in her. Matthew was a freshman like her, and strangely sexy but sort of crude and small-townish. Still, they chatted a lot online.
Sometimes they chatted for hours a day, though Erica might not have admitted this to her friend circle at the time.
When Matthew got a girlfriend, Erica’s initial impulse was to flirt even more intensely. On several nights, they came close to kissing. But Erica wasn’t sure she actually even wanted to date Matthew. Then she started seriously dating a guy named Jeff, so Erica and Matthew remained just friends. On chat, Matthew would ask Erica for relationship advice.
Matthew told Erica about his problems and Erica listened. All the while, in the back of Erica’s head was the idea they would end up together. After graduation. At some point.
When they graduated, Erica taught for the summer then went home to St. Louis. Matthew bounced between a teaching job in Kentucky and living with his parents in Ohio. He filled Erica in on his post-grad angst.
Erica was living at home working a job at a travel company. On the Fourth of July, she met Matthew again at a cabin party. At one point they were standing on a dock when Matthew said, “It was a shame that we never got together,” then dove into the lake. Later that night they went up to the roof together to look the stars. Erica laid her head on Matthew’s chest. They were quiet and she kept thinking the words ‘‘cosmic buddy.” And then he kissed her.
They decided to try a long-distance relationship.
In lots of their chats, Erica would say “are you still there????” Or one of them would say “2 minutes” or “5 minutes” meaning they didn’t have long to talk. Matthew would call her drunk and profess his love but then wouldn’t answer his phone for days on end.
Sometimes Matthew would leave in the middle of their chats. Granted they were sometimes at work. But still.
She would visit and at first he would open doors for her her and buy her presents. But then they would fight. Matthew would say she was crazy and Erica would try to explain herself.
Six months into the relationship she came for the holidays and they talked about breaking up. Then they had a few nice days together. But on New Year’s Eve Matthew threw a party with old college friends and acted like they had broken up, refusing to kiss Erica at midnight when she asked him to. The next day she asked him to dig her car out of the snow so she could leave. She sent him a box of all of his stuff and a note: ‘‘P.S. We are over.”
About six or seven months after the break-up she and Matthew started chatting again, as friends. And he was again asking Erica for relationship advice.
Erica gave him advice here and there. Maybe there wasn’t just one girl out there for him but many, she would point out.
Erica started seeing someone else too. Sometimes Matthew still showed up in her dreams. In one he was wearing a neoprene vest explaining why he was buying a specific toaster.
Months later an envelope from Matthew landed in Erica’s mailbox. It was addressed to her and her new boyfriend. She opened it and saw what it was: a wedding invitation.
The wedding was outdoors and she and her boyfriend were seated next to a professor from Erica and Matthew’s school. Erica watched Matthew at the altar and thought that he looked at Alena in the same dazed way he had once looked at her. During a quiet part of the ceremony, Erica sighed audibly, both out of relief that their relationship was over and out of genuine happiness for Matthew and Alena. Erica realized that just because you love someone doesn’t mean they are a good partner.
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