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Stalk.com

By Angela Tung

Essay

I was dating Mouse Man for six months when I began stalking him. Not stalking in a rifling-through-his-garbage, claiming-that-I-was-Mrs.-Mouse-Man kind of way, but invisibly, remotely. Online.

I started with MySpace. “Mouse Man” I typed, narrowing my search to five miles outside my Upper East Side zip code. After a few clicks, I found him.

Here for, he wrote. Friendship, Networking, Dating, Serious Relationships.

Dating. Serious relationships.

I began to freak out.

I was recently divorced after a long relationship that began in the ‘90s and ended with my husband cheating on me. I was angry, sad, and finally relieved when I left him. After several months of recovery, I was ready to get match-dot-com’d.

I was new to a dating world that orbited in cyberspace, where people hid behind picture-less profiles, fudged heights and weights, and despite my fluently written profile and fully clothed photo, mistook me for an English-language-challenged mama san who’d love them long time. In comparison Mouse Man was a catch.

Tall and good-looking with bright blue eyes, he, like me, was a writer who loved to travel. He had just moved back to New York from Japan, where he’d been teaching English and I had recently visited. After a couple of inbox exchanges, he asked me for my number and a date.

Our first few encounters were lovely – a sushi dinner followed by a long walk in my ‘hood, a stroll on a gorgeous April day through Central Park, and an inedible vegan meal (you say wheat gluten, I say balls of snot) followed by an incomprehensible French film. However, after we “interfaced,” some bugs started to show in the system.

Outside of our once a week sex-and-dinner dates, I discovered that Mouse Man’s preferred form of communication was virtual. Instead of calling or crossing Central Park from his Upper West Side apartment to mine, he’d email me ten times in a day. Once that May we spent an entire Sunday trading messages till finally I asked him if he wanted to get together.

No thanks, he wrote back. I’ll be staying in. That was the last I heard from him that weekend.

He seemed to have an aversion towards affection in general. No hugs or kisses beyond the bedroom, no pet names. On our first date he told me I was “much cuter in person” than in my ad, but that was the last of his compliments.

Still my feelings grew. I wanted to be in a relationship; I missed being married. Everything about him became endearing – his enthusiastic drumming to songs only he heard, the back of his sweet neck, his left-handedness.

His propensity for languages. Fluent in Spanish and Japanese, he liked picking up bits of French, Korean, and Mandarin. To impress him, I memorized a bit from a song I liked: Qu’est ce que tu me fait, cherie? Lying in bed one hot summer night, I said it twice before he responded in French goobledygook.

I stalked him because even after half a year, I didn’t know him. Why did he mutter in Japanese after a particularly rambunctious roll in the hay? Why didn’t he marry his girlfriend in Japan? Why did he say he didn’t know where he’d be next year?

Now at my laptop, my heart pounded. Did I have another philanderer on my hands? I went to the dating site where we had met, and where, after we started sleeping together, I had hidden my ad. He hadn’t, and in fact, had logged in a few days before.

My head whirled. Should I email him? Text him? Send him an IM? No. I went 20th century on his ass and picked up the phone.

“Are you dating anyone else?” I asked.

He wasn’t, he claimed. He had simply forgotten to change his MySpace. Hiding his personal ad had slipped his mind as well, and he went in because sometimes people wrote him.

Why people were still writing him, I didn’t ask, nor if he wrote back.  I needed to believe him, the way I trusted that my credit card numbers wouldn’t get into the hands of cyber pirates when I downloaded from iTunes, and even if it happened, in the worst possible way, I wouldn’t be afraid to browse the playlists again.

“Okay,” I breathed. “Just checking.”

“You could have just talked to me,” he said.

I knew that, but confronting him IRL about my status was too difficult.

“We should talk about that,” he said. He had trouble, you see, letting loose with his feelings. He could date a girl for a year and not be in love with her. He hadn’t fallen for anyone in a very long time, and after six months, he hadn’t fallen for me.

We broke up after that. A couple of days later, at the Bandshell in Central Park, he returned to me my Seven Samuri DVD. I gave him back the umbrella he had forgotten at my apartment.

“It was fun while it lasted,” I said.

“We’ll keep in touch, right?” he said. For once he sounded worried. “You don’t have anything against email, do you?”

He had always maintained communication with his exes, or at least their Yahoo! and Gmail accounts. But I didn’t want to be just another contact.

I realized later that while Mouse Man’s lukewarmth had been obvious, it took seeing it on screen to make me believe it. I had been distracted by chiseled cheekbones, occasional laughs, and the security of a date every Friday night. If his e-personas hadn’t tattled on him, he might have gone on virtually dating me for who knows how long.

Since then, expressiveness is a required field for me. Tell me how you feel – in fact, spam me with it. Give me emotions, not emoticons. I want real hugs and kisses, not punctuation marks.

As for me, I now know I need to go to the person for answers, not the persona. I have to stop Googling for love in all the wrong places. And while I’d date online again (and again, and again), I’d be ISO someone who’d want to spend a Sunday afternoon with me, not my email.

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Angela Tung A long-time New Yorker, ANGELA TUNG is a writer in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in CNN Living, The Frisky, Dark Sky Magazine, Matador Life, The New York Press and elsewhere. Her Young Adult novel, Song of the Stranger, was published by Roxbury Park Books.

Her latest book, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl, chronicles the failed marriage between a Chinese woman and Korean man, both American-born but still bound by old world traditions. Black Fish was short-listed for Graywolf Press' 2010 Nonfiction Prize.

In addition, she's a writer/editor at Wordnik.com, an online word source, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. Visit her at angelatung.com.

16 Responses to “Stalk.com”

  1. Nice post. It’s hard to write about online dating and its pitfalls, but I think you nailed it so well because you did so specifically, in this particular situation. I think that one of the biggest difficulties in making an other virtual relationship real comes in the sudden change in method of communication–that is, from text to actual verbal, complete with inflections and expressions and gestures. It’s so much different, which, of course, is why it can fail so badly. Especially since one other difficulty is that, whenever we are reading, whatever we are reading, we are doing part of the work in our heads.

    Good novels take good advantage of this, but I wonder if it hurts realspace meeting.

  2. Angela Tung says:

    Thanks Will! I agree that moving from virtual to real life relationships can be a crapshoot, and actually a great criterion in determining good relationship material. (I shoulda figured it out sooner with this guy, that’s for sure.)

  3. I’ve never become embroiled in the world of online dating. Not due to any particular aversion, it’s just never really come up.

    But yes, that whole communication thing. It’s so strange, how things can suddenly be so very different moving from the inbox to real life. The real thing is better, I think, but it’s also nice to have the paper trail of a budding romance to go back and look at.

    Ah, that damn lukewarm warmth! Such a goddamn sumbitch.

    • I heard that you tried to get into online dating, but that the video you made of yourself dressed as a chicken and playing music on the street failed to garner any female attention…

    • I wonder if we’re of a generation that actually considers online dating its own thing. I was a member of the Well (sorta like an all-text Facebook, in a way), in the late-90s, and I’ve never really differentiated; meeting people online is just another way to do so. I think the “it’s never really come up” is important; sometimes online is just how you meet someone.

      Of course, I say this as someone who flew to Berlin to meet a gal I began corresponding with via Hot or Not, so maybe I’m not exactly the person to comment, here.

    • Angela Tung says:

      Lukewarmth is totally worse than hate! At least with hate you know where you stand.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    I love “match-dot-com’d” as a verb. Brilliant.

    Also, it speaks well of Mouse Man that he returned your DVD. In my (thankfully long over) experience with these matters, stuff you lend to online flings tends not to find its way back to your apartment.

    • It makes a great verb. I love that so many internet or computer-related nouns are just becoming verbs these days thanks to a liberal use of “ed” or “‘d”.

      Believe it or not, the same applies in Korean, and it’s just as easy.

    • Angela Tung says:

      Yes, in that way he was considerate. But of course at the time I interpreted it as he couldn’t wait to get rid of all remnants of me fast enough. (I’m a girl, I think this way sometimes.)

  5. Simone says:

    Angela, I loved this. I can identify with most of what you wrote. I was in a long distance relationship with a guy in another country. (long story)

    My favourite line:
    No. I went 20th century on his ass and picked up the phone.

    I agree with Will, sometimes meeting someone online is just another way to meet someone new. The possiblities for that relationship could be endless – A new friend, lover, teacher, stalker, wanker… Where it goes is essentially your choice.

    • Angela Tung says:

      Thanks Simone!

      The internet is great for meeting people, especially after you’re done with school, whether for dates, meet ups, friends, and also for maintaining long distance relationships. I guess Mouse Man considered Amsterdam Ave to 3rd Ave to be long distance.

  6. Marni Grossman says:

    My mother is obsessed with the idea of me JDating. But I have worries. Mostly because I would never describe myself as “fun-loving.”

    This is not to say that I hate fun. But still. Fun-loving? No. And I have the sense that one cannot online date without “being” “fun-loving.”

    Loved this.

  7. Angela Tung says:

    Thanks Marni.

    Haha, I’m with you on “fun-loving.” For a while I had several requirements, including “the words ‘the great outdoors’ don’t appear anywhere in your ad, you’re not looking for ‘a partner in crime,’ and ‘working out’ is not one of your hobbies.” I figured that was one way to seek out the other cynics.

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