I once loved a man who lied. He lied constantly and ardently — professionally, even. His lies eased his access to third-world sweatshops where he’d document working conditions and then use this evidence to help human right organizations fight to improve the laborers’ cause. His lies made life unquestionably better for untold thousands of people around the world. I was not one of them.
I met — we’ll call him “Sam,” because that’s what he called himself — in 2001, on the internet. Yes, that sounds inevitable, but seeing as I met my now husband on the same site, some years later, I’ll skip blaming the medium and place it squarely on Sam. And myself.
Late that fall, I was bruised and hollowed following the end of a long, often deeply taxing relationship, the near loss of my father in a car wreck, and the emotional erosion borne of having two skyscrapers come crashing to the ground in sight of my rooftop. A sudden, then steady stream of artful, warm, playful prose from a stranger on a dating site was at first a lovely diversion, and soon became utterly essential to my existence. Prior to the advent of easy mobile email access and omnipresent Wi-Fi, it was necessary to tether one’s self to a computer. If I could have surgically attached my CPU to my person, I would have. I felt oddly cared for — which is more than I’d had in a very long time.
After two months of several times daily emails and a few marathon phone calls, he materialized. A tad older-looking than I’d expected, and a smidge shorter, but madly handsome, impressively muscled, sharply dressed, and possessed of a voice that did the most delicious things all up and down the length of my spine. I’d been hesitant to meet for fear that the me he’d imagined over the course of our correspondence would cast in-person, odd-looking, unpolished me into the harsh light of reality. That night, in an honest to goodness grown-up date at a restaurant (my previous beaus had majored in diners, dive bars, and my grabbing the tab), he fed me caviar-slathered blini and vintage Veuve Cliquot and told me that our communication was the only thing that had kept him going during the past two months of brutal international travel, and that I was beautiful.
We kissed in the cab and then more at my apartment. I fell hard.
Over the next three months, things both intensified and normalized. For the first time in my life, I felt thoroughly embraced and celebrated. At 29, I’d only ever dated directionless but mostly well-meaning boys, and here was a Man — one who wore suits and saved the world and appreciated schmancy restaurants, but still loved the same indie rock and cabeza tacos that I did. The sex was amazing too.
Yes, yes, I should have seen the signs. We never went to his apartment — I got it, he was messy and embarrassed about it. He had to go out of town for long stretches — because he was off saving the world, remember? He never used a credit card — he was fiscally sensible and preferred to pay in cash. All these things add up, but there’s nothing that will prepare you for the man you are beginning to love breaking up with you out of the blue, then showing up at your apartment a week later to say this:
“Everything I told you about how I felt about you is true. Please believe that. Other things are not. Like my name. And that I don’t live in Brooklyn; I live in Washington D.C. And that until a week ago, I had a wife.”
I listened, occasionally nodding, as he tumbled out a long story about how he’d been married only a short while, and never should have been in the first place, and how his wife had moved out west for work, and then September 11th had happened and he had placed an online personal ad so he’d have some sort of harmless diversion, and that he’d been too far into communication with me to suddenly say, “By the way, my name is NotSam,” and that he couldn’t just stop writing without coming to meet me and once he met me he had to kiss me and then things had just gone too far. He’d fly the shuttle or take the train several times a week, leaving his credit cards and ID in a locker at Penn Station in case I got curious.
He finished. He waited. I stared at him, opened my mouth and said, “Let’s go to dinner.” It was the only thing I knew how to do, because that couldn’t possibly be happening, and I needed some normalcy. He stayed over that night, and we remained together for another nine months until the distance was too much to overcome.
Why did I stay with him? Why would anyone put themselves through the humiliation of having to re-introduce someone to their friends under his real name, constantly wondering if he was really in Beijing or the Dominican Republic or maybe, just maybe off trying to work things out with his estranged wife, or worrying that he was playing the same game with another internet-borne love in another town? Why?
Because he made me feel gorgeous and loved and thoroughly understood, and no one had before. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t all real — it was more than I’d ever had.