Joe had flown off to North Carolina to visit his father and grandmother, and my wife was worried.
Jenny wasn’t really concerned about Joe going to Winston-Salem for a visit. He’s 19 years old and has been flying regularly all his life. When he was younger, he would wear one of those little badges that means you’re a child traveling alone, but for the last three years he would just get on the plane.
No, she was fretting about the girl (at least she hoped it was a girl) Joe had befriended while playing a game on the Internet. Over several weeks the game had progressed to chatting on Facebook and texting on the phone.
Eventually, Joe mentioned that she lived in Greensboro, about 30 minutes down the road from Winston-Salem, and that he hoped to meet her when he went to visit his relatives.
Uh, oh, I thought. This could be a problem.
“She could be a 55-year-old man,” Jenny said. “Who knows who’s on the other end of an Internet game?”
We insisted that he start having phone conversations with her so at least he would know if she was a she, and if she seemed about his age. He did, but as the time for the visit got nearer, we were still telling him we didn’t think meeting was a good idea. That’s when he dropped some family history on us.
“But you guys met this way,” he said. “You lived far apart and knew each other only by phone and agreed to meet and see if you liked each other in person.”
He had us there. When I became a widower in 1998, I thought I would be destined a live life alone. But 18 months later, Jenny, who a year earlier had found herself a single mom, called from Philadelphia to ask my advice about looking for a new job. It would have involved her and her son moving.
I had gotten to know her by phone 10 years earlier when she was a journalism personnel recruiter. She had helped place me in a new job.
We talked several times about possible candidates for other jobs, and our families began exchanging holiday cards, but we never met.
After that one call, though, we found we were really comfortable talking with each other by phone. We decided to exchange pictures and then drive one weekend to Washington, D.C., to meet in person.
We got married a few months later.
“But that was different; we were older and had talked by phone for years,” we told Joe.
Then he brought up my son Jon, who met Mary in an Internet chat room while they were in college, hundreds of miles apart. They dated mostly by Internet for three years before getting married when they graduated from college. Their 13th wedding anniversary will be in August.
We gave in.
Last Saturday night Joe and Jess (yes, she is a girl) had dinner at the Olive Garden in Greensboro. But before they left for dinner, Joe’s dad and the girl’s parents met. Her parents also were concerned about her meeting a guy from Mississippi she had found on the internet.
Joe said they had a good time and plan to get together again before he flies home.
Who knows? Maybe meeting on the Internet is the new normal.
T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.