A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
~John A. Shedd
At sixty-two I didn’t expect to find love. But on New Year’s Eve, 1998, when online dating still was considered more risky than routine, I resolved to try Socialnet.com. Long divorced and just returned from a decade overseas with the Peace Corps, I worked in Little Rock, far from my California origins. Dateless for eons, I pictured casual Saturday outings to view Renoirs at the Arts Center or to share fried chicken and a hike at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Love was for others. I’d settle for companionship.
So masquerading as “Dumpling,” I posted my online bio and personal preferences, and prepared to review my matches. My inbox promptly began to fill with a list of potential dates’ screen names and the distance they lived from my Arkansas home. To learn more, I’d have to click on the profile. Sometimes I sighed at the quirkiness of the computer matchmaker. One match, Bettor, I left unopened… the man lived two thousand miles away. Not a good bet for Saturdays in the park.
Those nearby didn’t always prove to be good bets, either. A Kentucky widower wrote that if I helped him raise his four teenage sons he’d provide me with a new washing machine. I passed. A Wichita Falls adventurer invited me on a rafting excursion on the notoriously challenging Cossatot River. We’d have to wait, though, until he convinced his wife that he deserved a weekend away. I declined. An Oklahoman declared he loved my moniker, Dumpling. He bet that I was one enticing fat mama. I didn’t respond.
I finally agreed to meet one local widower for supper at Cajun’s Wharf. The riverside setting, though, reminded him of the seafood dishes his late wife had prepared. Soon he was sobbing into his devilled crab as he recounted her prowess with halibut, trout and flounder. By the time he began to wail about her bouillabaisse, I’d finished with my barbecued shrimp… and our date.
Then one day at work my administrative assistant, Bev, asked how Social.net worked. I pulled up my list, which for months had been headed by Bettor’s unopened profile.
I ran my cursor over his name. “I’ve never written this guy because he’s too far away,” I explained. “And with a name like Bettor, I suspect he’s a gambler. But let’s peek.”
I clicked on his profile and quickly scanned it. Hmmm. Like me, he appreciated jazz, art, books, dogs, cooking, and travel. What’s more… he sounded sane.
I glanced up at Bev. “I’ve been to the ends of the earth with the Peace Corps, so what’s two thousand miles?” I pounded out a quick paragraph introducing myself.
Bev eyed me. “What if he turns out to be The One?”
The next morning I had a response in my inbox.
“My name’s Ken and I think I’m in love,” I read. “I value a coherent message. Bettor is my Nissan’s vanity plate, which amuses friends here in Reno. I deal poker at Circus Circus, but don’t gamble myself, as my three boys will attest.” He added a link to his domain page, dubbed Sunflower.
I hesitated before clicking on it. I didn’t want any kinky surprises. So I was delighted to find that he’d filled his webpage with photos of his three grown sons and assorted grandkids.
“You and your sons each are more handsome than the other,” I wrote back.
We corresponded with caution, gradually building trust, and then shared our private e-mail addresses. Eventually we traded phone numbers. Friends warned about axe murderers, but I believed in Ken’s sincerity. “I don’t even own a tiny hatchet,” he’d assured me.
Sunday mornings, home from his graveyard shift, Ken would phone. He e-mailed jokes to start my day, and sent gifts, a wooden car, a casino chip, framed photos. Then one day I opened a small box to find a ring with a diamond sunflower. It had belonged to his mother, he wrote.
In turn, I mailed cards with sunflower motifs and a motion-activated potted sunflower that played “You Are My Sunshine,” one of the only songs he claimed he knew the words to. We debated how and where we could meet in person, beginning to realize we were falling in love. “I’ve never had a doubt,” Ken swore.
I decided to attend my high school reunion in California and then visit my father’s widow in Napa. Ken drove from Reno to her place to meet me, and we toured the nearby wineries. When we paused for supper that first evening, the waiters all buzzed around after we described our long Internet romance. They produced a bottle of Chardonnay on the house, gazing at us with sappy smiles. We billed and cooed like aging lovebirds.
Weeks later I flew back to Reno for his son’s annual mystery party. I sported a feather boa and toted a stuffed wirehaired terrier, and Ken looked dapper in his rented tuxedo, as we impersonated detectives Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man movies.
I returned for the holidays, suitcase stuffed with Christmas gifts and decorations, and Ken provided a little tree. His son joined us for Christmas dinner and presented us with a mouse pad that featured us in our Thin Man costumes.
On New Year’s Eve afternoon Ken taught me some poker basics so that I could accompany him to work that night. Because of the Y2K fright, though, the card room crowd was sparser than anticipated so he got a phone call from the manager offering him the night off. We rushed out to rent videos, grabbed a bottle of champagne and ordered a pizza.
At midnight we toasted the millennium and made a joint resolution to marry. On July 1, 2000, we wed at his son’s home in Reno. Socialnet.com sent us a Waterford crystal photo frame. It holds a picture of us cutting our cake and sits today on the top shelf of a china cabinet in the living room.
Together Ken and I cruised the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Alaska Inner Passage. We hoisted steins in Munich at Oktoberfest. We searched for Nessie in Inverness, and pub-crawled in Dublin. We gardened, played a running gin game, watched Jeopardy! and spoiled our two dogs and three cats. I never quite mastered Texas Hold ’Em. For nine years Ken e-mailed me those daily jokes. We survived surgeries, spats, falls and fractures. We wandered those art galleries and picnicked on fried chicken, just as I had envisioned. I confess that Ken sauntered, rather than hiked.
After a lingering illness, my sweet Bettor died last spring. But opening his profile proved to be my best bet ever. He indeed turned out to be The One, my sunshine, my love. He’s left me with a myriad of precious memories.
You can bet that I adore technology. Who knew that it would lead me to companionship… and to love?
— Terri Elders —