Several years before I met my husband, Mike, a friend of mine forwarded me an essay she had stumbled across and enjoyed. That essay was written by a man named Ryan who was living in Afghanistan at the time.
“I turned thirty in Afghanistan,” Ryan’s essay began. “It was my second birthday here. Last year I was hit with a weird flu three days before and the fever finally broke as I entered the last year of my twenties. My friend, Halim, came into my room to my weak groans and cheerily offered me a bowl of rice and beans. He told me again that no doubt I had malaria. ‘Today check blood?’ he asked hopefully, just like every other day. Here everything is malaria. If you have a toothache they suspect malaria.”
It was a short essay, barely a thousand words long,but it inspired the first truly electric flicker of interest I’d felt in a long time. After I finished reading the piece, I forwarded it on to my parents with a brief and blithe, “Read this. It’s amazing. ”
After I’d pestered Ryan into agreeing to be my friend, he sent me the rest of the essays he’d written during his time in Afghanistan. I loved his wry but thoughtful writing style, and his take on life. As the weeks passed, Ryan left Afghanistan and returned to Canada. He and I began to exchange light, teasing emails more frequently, and I became completely infatuated.
There were only a couple of problems with this scenario. I had never even seen a photograph of Ryan. And Ryan had no idea of the depth of my interest.
I’m going to track him down and make him fall in love with me
Clearly, the answer to that question was to buy a plane ticket to Vancouver, pretend to Ryan (and my boyfriend) that I had a valid work reason for the trip, and fly up to Canada to check Ryan out. Clearly.
It sounds ridiculous now, not to mention more than a little morally dubious. But you know what? Going up to Canada to meet Ryan was one of the best decisions I made during that whole crazy period of my life. It put a sudden end to my fevered imaginings that Ryan and I were soul mates, and my daydreams about our wedding.
By this time I was actually already dating someone else (also long distance-a whole other story I won’t go into here)
You may not be able to meet online one weekend and in person the next, but even when you’re long distance you should still aim to meet in person as soon as you sensibly can. Lisa McKay
This lack of chemistry wasn’t even something I could put my finger on. Ryan turned out to be good looking-tall and blond, with blue eyes. I think it was more that Ryan seemed so differentin person to what I’d imagined. The Ryan of his letters was confident and saucy, pithy and witty, wise and articulate. The Ryan in person was quiet, reserved, guarded and diffident.
I had a good time hanging out with Ryan in Vancouver that weekend, but only as friends. There wasn’t even a hint that either of us could want something more in the long term.
I got back on the plane to LA with my questions about Ryan answered. My visions had not matched up to reality. I hadn’t been attracted to the reality. He hadn’t been attracted to me, either. If we had met in person earlier, before I’d invested scores of hours obsessing over my own visions and imaginings, I would have learned all of this earlier and saved myself some heartache and a great deal of time and energy.