The progression of a relationship in on-line dating predictably follows the same pattern, it’s only the pace that varies. In my state of mind, the pace I set for myself – or was it set for me by my subconscious mind? – was hectic. Carpe diem, time is of the essence, and running out fast.
My encounter with Carmen fit the pattern perfectly; even if she was half a world away, with more than distance between us, she seemed to be in a hurry too.
She made the first move, and it almost stopped me. ‘Hi,’ she said simply in a text, just as Emily had started every conversation we had. It took me a day to answer her, but after many re-reads of her profile, I decided to probe. It wasn’t just the generous cleavage that drew my attention, but the aggressive yet plaintive words: ‘Don’t bother texting me if you’re only interested in sex. I am looking for lifetime love to end my loneliness. I’ve been a widow for twenty years and have done everything I can for my family, now it is my time.’ Felt like an echo to me.
We texted back and forth for a week or ten days, with much time lost because of the 12 hour difference in time zones. Her answers to my questions were short, awkward sentences, simple and direct, but grammatically clumsy. English was clearly not her first language. At times it felt like I was still texting with Emily whose first language was not English either.
She must have sensed this gap in communications too because she quickly suggested we switch to voice rather than text. ‘Do you have a Skype account?’, she asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘but I haven’t used it for a few years and I’ll need to see if I can resurrect my account.’ ‘Here’s my handle,’ she said. Evidently she had experience with on-line voice systems. (I later learned this was true for almost the entire third world.)
Video Skyping is fairly high in media richness, and I learned a lot about Carmen in the ensuing weeks. I ‘met’ her sister, and her brother-in-law, and some of her ‘pamangkins’ (nieces); I could see the rooms she lived in, unpretentious, uncluttered. And I trusted what I saw.
‘Why don’t you come and see me in Philippines?,’ she asked innocently, or teasingly. ‘Okay,’ I said without a second thought. Really?
Two days later I sent her a copy of my air-line ticket reservations: Air Canada to Toronto, Toronto to Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific to Manila. Business Class. Really? During Marlene’s illness, when travelling was challenging, we flew business class for the security it gave her; I had gotten used to pampering myself and rationalized, if I was going to fly half way around the world, it wasn’t going to be crammed into economy class. Living with my Hair on Fire was about to burn a big hole in my pocket. Was it worth it? Obviously yes if Carmen turned out to be ‘the one’; if, not, an expensive experiment. But I figured I had been cautious and conscientious all my life; time to live on the edge, as there was very little time left.
My friends thought I was crazy. And maybe they were right. I had been crazy for the last six months and though I felt I was turning a corner in my mental health, that may not have been obvious to them.
What about safety? Are you aware of phishing and scammers? Do you realize Philippines is a very dangerous place, with kidnappings and murders and disease? It was suggested by more than a few people I should watch an episode or two of Ninety Day Fiancé. But I wasn’t interested in scare tactics, or reality tv. I was interested in my own reality. The fact that I felt a bit like James Bond or Ethan Hawk (Mission Impossible) was my own private fantasy. And when I was met by an Air Canada agent in Toronto and whisked around the airport in a black BMW 540 sedan to make my connecting flight to Hong Kong, my fantasy was pretty tangible. The fantasy continued with the approach into Hong Kong airport and then met by yet more Air Canada agents to make my connection to Cathay Pacific.
Four hours later I was in Manila, and that much closer to meeting Carmen. It was December 12, a mere month since we first connected on filipinocupid.com. I had started the day before, Tuesday, December 11 at about 7:00 am; now it 7:30 pm, Friday; I had been in transit for 25 hours but I had also lost 12 hours on the clock and a day on the calendar. I had barely slept and was looking forward to this adventure being over; but in reality, it was just beginning.