"I love you."
Men have said those words to me before, but none with as much heartfelt sincerity as Lucas.
"I mean it," he continued. "You're everything to me." Included with that text message was a snapshot of the "Full Lucas," a nude selfie that was, as he put it, taken to reiterate how much he trusted and cared for me. After all, our relationship had been on fire for three months, and it was time to take things to the next level.
"I love you, too," I said, attaching a close-up of my smiling face. I had never taken sexually suggestive photographs with my phone, so Lucas's fully extended, ahem, "enthusiasm" had to speak for both of us. Not to mention that I was tentative about saying the "L word;" it was a big step for me -- especially considering that Lucas and I had never actually met. In person, that is.
The Internet has, indeed, made the world a very small place; conversely, it has deepened the dating pool to the point that scuba gear might soon be required. Lucas hadn't applied any geographic parameters to his online dating search and, likewise, was sifting through potential mates across the entire United States -- even some of Europe and Asia.
"I think it's really hard to find love," he told me, when he first reached out with a flattering, gushing message on Match.com, "So I don't want to limit myself to men in only my city. Unlimited calling plans, texting and FaceTime have made it easier to meet 'The One.'"
This wasn't the first time that I'd been contacted by someone out of state or enjoyed flirty rapports with gentlemen in various parts of the world. There was Stephen in London, Derek in Salt Lake City and Tom in Columbus. But, we all tired of the novelty after a week or two -- except for Lucas in Denver. He was persistent and tenacious, and I was an easy mark.
At 40, I dream of having a solid, monogamous relationship with a mature, culturally literate man. In my one long-term relationship -- which lasted five years -- I didn't feel unconditionally loved or supported. Being new to romance at that time, I didn't really have an understanding of my needs and expectations. I was aware enough to know, however, that an emotional component was missing. After an amicable break up, I was desperate to find the comfort and security of a substantial lover, a man who was forthcoming with compliments and affection. I became the terminally single friend who whined to his inner circle about being alone; I was a gay Sex and the City episode without the Jimmy Choos.
It was no wonder, then, that I was so easily taken with Internet dating. Each "like," "wink," and message saw the potential for everything I wanted. My fantasy man was sitting out there somewhere behind the bright light of a 17", MacBook Pro computer screen, iPad or Kindle. So what if he was 1,000 miles away? I wanted so much to bond romantically with another human being that I undervalued the courtship process and eschewed traditional dating protocol for the promise of someone who decided I was worth loving without even having laid eyes on me.
I talked and texted with Lucas daily, discussing my work life in Los Angeles and his as a father to two foster children in Colorado. He would send me school pictures and updates about his family, and we would talk a number of times each week. We even found ways to satisfy each other sexually through phone calls and video chats, another way that the Worldwide Web has brought us all only eight inches apart. My overwhelming desire for a connection swept me into a cyber romance that I actually started to believe in. Lucas seemed to be a reliable, honorable man and I began to think that Denver might not be such a bad place to live.
"I assume that you're not seeing or sleeping with other men," Lucas announced one month after first reaching out to me online. I actually hadn't thought about making that declaration, but I also hadn't felt the desire to explore anyone else. "I think we should commit to this and see where it takes us," he said.
I was warmed and excited to hear how taken with me he was; this almost-stranger recognized my value from a distance, and my need for love and approval pushed me into the very arms I wouldn't be able to touch until one of us got on an airplane to see the other.
Two weeks after we exchanged "I love yous" -- just about four months since "meeting" -- I couldn't seem to get Lucas on the phone. His texts and e-mails trailed off, and I was enveloped in a dreary sense of loss that, looking back, seems misguided for a love affair that started, lived and ended on a smart phone. In a quick text, he finally admitted that he had met another man in Denver and had been seeing the gentleman for a month. Apparently, what I wished would be something real was merely a stop-gap for Lucas. Oddly, the dissolution of my relationship with him felt equally as profound as the end of my relationship with my previous, long-term partner.
Diana Ross was supreme enough to tell the world that "You can't hurry love; you just have to wait." She was right. So, instead of speeding along the information superhighway, looking for the latest home remedies AND love, I've decided to take the surface streets. No more of these online illusions and fantasies of dream men who are waiting for me in every city BUT Los Angeles. I want the real thing, with a real person with real motivation and genuine interest. And, for that, I may just have to stick close to home.