Sex + Love

What Would LaceWednesday Do?

I could barely talk to boys in real life, but I was a femme fatale online.

Collage by Beth.

Collage by Beth.

Like pretty much every single person I know, I had a hard time interacting with crushes and potential crushes when I was a teenager. I was attracted to boys, repulsed by boys, and incredibly uncomfortable in their presence—unless I was online. This was way back in the mid-’90s, when modems were slow and beepy, connections were interrupted by your mom trying to use the phone, and the internet barely existed. Not yet old enough to come and go as I pleased, I was constantly bored, so my newfound typing skills were put to use on the bulletin boards of a thing called Prodigy.

Prodigy was one of those old-style internet services like AOL that seem unbelievably goony now, but it was actually the first online service provider to offer email and chat capabilities. But whatever, all you need to know for this story is that they had a bulletin-board system. BBSes were kinda like a proto-Reddit: a bunch of discussions organized into broad topics like music, movies, TV, and sports. A budding music snob, I mostly hung out on music bulletin boards (BBs), trading information about my favorite bands (the Lemonheads, the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, the Posies, Pavement—’cause I was ~cool~ like that). Since BBSes were basically all the internet was (at least to me) back then, there was no other way to find out about lyrics or tours or even what bands looked like.

(The best tidbit I got from the boards was the “real reason” that Trent Reznor was so depressed. Apparently his beloved golden retriever had fallen from the balcony of a venue he was performing at during a rehearsal. This left me with so many questions: Why would Trent Reznor have a golden retriever? Did his dog commit suicide? Why was the dog at the show? But I digress.)

All the music debating on the boards was really just a front, though—my real goal was to attract Board Boyfriends. Even though I could barely talk to boys face-to-face, much less flirt with them, online I was a regular femme fatale. (There’s no better way to improve your typing skills than to make them a tool for teenage seduction.)

I should interrupt my own story here to acknowledge that despite my general hopelessness around guys, I actually did have an IRL boyfriend at the time. I’m using boyfriend SO loosely, though—this was a guy I had been friends with for a while, a guy I used to re-enact Kids in the Hall sketches with, and one day out of nowhere he asked me to “go with” him and I said yes, and henceforth I couldn’t even talk to him. Instead I walked down school halls with him in total silence, sometimes holding sweaty hands. It was like I had split personalities, with no overlap between crushed-out me and regular me.

But, getting back to my story, for some reason when I wasn’t in the actual, dizzyingly physical presence of someone I had smoochy feelings for, regular me could interact with dudes I was interested in just fine. I could be funny, smart, opinionated, comfortable, free—even with people who seemed to like-like me. (I’m sure my comfort level was largely based on the fact that there was no possibility of these people and me ever touching.) In an online conversation you always have a few extra seconds to figure out what to say, and that made me incredibly witty (if I had the power to stop time like that in reality, I would have been a social butterfly). I flirted shamelessly and juggled multiple Board Boyfriends at a time.

It didn’t occur to me until many years later that you could sex-chat with these dudes. What I did was way more boring—I relationship-chatted. These relationships had several phases:

Phase 1: Witty banter and sharing your life.

Here’s a snapshot of what Phase 1 looked like, as I remember it:

AlltheHalos* I fully believe Nirvana would have been nothing without Kurt Cobain playing percussion part-time for the Melvins.
LaceWednesday [That's me.] You are completely right. He did his best work on Houdini.
AlltheHalos Wanna chat?

Then the two of you would move into a private chatroom. This is where the real magic happened. We’d start out talking about where we lived, what bands we’d seen live, what movies we’d watched, and how many pairs of Doc Martens we owned. There were no pictures with profiles back then, so all you had to go on was witty banter and wild exaggerations of how cool your life was. I had a rich fictional life, filled with concerts in graveyards, horror-movie marathons in old hotels, vintage stores stocked with 1940s gas masks. (Gas masks were the de facto totem of weird kids in my hometown—listen, I have no idea.) My real life, meanwhile, was filled with flimsy knockoffs of these things (we used to play CDs on a portable CD player in a graveyard, and I had seen some gas masks at the Army-Navy surplus store). But in those days you didn’t have to back anything up with pictures. I am sure most of the guys I talked to were lying to me constantly, because their reported lives were pretty amazing too. If all of our lives were so action-packed, what were we doing chatting online with one another? Everyone was catfishing to some extent.

LaceWednesday was in Phase 1 with probably 30 dudes at least. I wasn’t too picky with this stage of seduction—if you knew good music and had a sense of humor, I’d chat with you. These guys were older than me, younger than me, and spread all over the country.

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23 Comments

  • healthyobsessions August 8th, 2013 7:50 PM

    Catfish: 1996 edition

  • KatGirl August 8th, 2013 8:12 PM

    When I was younger, I was on a site called New Moon Girls which had message board-y things and I remember wanting so much to be like the older girls on it (I really liked these girls Kado, Kara/Isis, Alyssa, and Maddie) and I did almost anything to be like them XD
    http://www.kawaiiunicornsandsparkleponies.wordpress.com

  • Sophie ❤ August 8th, 2013 8:18 PM

    This is really good writing! Love it!

    http://theneonpapaya.com

  • Ponyroux August 8th, 2013 8:27 PM

    This reminds me so much of a guy I met on Gaia (remember that) that turned out to be like a 30 year old cage fighter or something. I was fine talking to him until he sent me a picture of his face and then I just got freaked out and blocked him. I wasn’t even confident online hahaha You’re a brave/careless girl!

  • Mollylou August 8th, 2013 9:05 PM

    Other people on message boards were always the coolest. I always wanted to be cool like them.

  • Roz G. August 8th, 2013 9:37 PM

    I loved this :)

  • ScarlettRed August 9th, 2013 12:27 AM

    In high school, I had a similar experience with MSN chat. Even though I knew and spoke to the guy around school (he was 2 years older), 90% of our relationship was conducted online chatting, where I was always more witty, flirtatious and emotionally upfront than in person. It wasn’t healthy because while we saw each other around and hugged in real life, we were closer online. I was completely nervous around him, and how we outwardly were did not match how we were in text. He also had a girlfriend, so it was like an emotional affair in a way, but I don’t think he saw it that way. My mistake was that while I had a crush on him in reality I made the move to get to know him online, and as scary as talking to crushes is, if you don’t get over the initial nerves and let things grow in person, that nervous feeling doesn’t really go away like it should. Bottom line- you have to let relationships grow naturally, in person, for them to be authentic. I personally feel from my experience that real human connections need to be lived in real life (not on Facebook or the internet) to be healthy.

  • jjjjj August 9th, 2013 1:15 AM

    great content but don’t forget to proofread!!! there’s a lot of unfinished words and sentences in here

    • Anaheed August 9th, 2013 2:04 AM

      I did proofread! I caught one incomplete sentence I had missed—thank you!—but I don’t see the unfinished words. Can you help me out—where are they?

  • Ayabagels August 9th, 2013 2:13 AM

    ‘Wy would Trent Reznor have a golden retriever?’ — Misspelled ‘why’. :)

  • Nimsi August 9th, 2013 3:37 AM

    First of all, I love the way it was written! It reminds me of how I think lol as a writter you are definately an insporation to me :)
    Second… I, shamefully, had the same problem throughout my first few years in High School. I was (still am) socially awkward. Specialy when it comes to guys! Once I remember being hit on by some guy as I was drawing and he said I should be an artist.. I responded by saying, “No because I’d have to die to become successful.” He walked away. Silently. And I just avoided him ever since then lol anyways I was on this one online website where you build avatars and talk with people and such. I was such a flirt with guys then! it just came so naturaly. It was easy and I was pretty damn good at it (not bragging or anything xD). I even had a couple boyfriends. And as I was reading this it so reminded me of those times! It was quite nostalgic but also emberrassing to think about(x
    The point is, great article. I simply loved it! Aaand please excuse my rant/ADD xP

  • decemberflower August 9th, 2013 3:51 AM

    This is so funny and poignant. I think most girls of our generation can relate to the notion of being more comfortable over text or IM than in real life. Sometimes I text with a guy so much that I start to wonder if I will be able to talk to him in real life anymore. Also, the thing about “figuring out what to do with your pubic hair” is SO accurate. A+ for you!

  • GallantRug August 9th, 2013 5:52 AM

    Oh, dude, that “pre-meeting an internet person” phase is so accurate.

    I met a guy after having him as my internet boyfran for two and a half years, and oh, the outfit planning.

    It went better for me than it did for you, though, Emily.

  • thenoisythinker August 9th, 2013 7:36 AM

    The writer’s style is outstanding. I loved reading this.

    thenoisythinker.blogspot.com

  • maxrey August 9th, 2013 2:34 PM

    It’s always nice to know others have made stupid life mistakes and been scorned by online lovers. Seriously. After a year and a half of OkCupid romances this is exactly what I needed to read!

  • billemiche August 10th, 2013 12:32 AM

    i met my best friend on a forum for south park fans when I was 11. we met IRL when we were twelve, five years went by and we kept in constant contact, calling each other every other day and what not. last week i met her for the second time ever and it was so much fun. having close internet friends is great but it really bums me out that we can’t see other more often. i hope someday we’ll live closer. great article :)

  • chawi August 10th, 2013 4:59 PM

    This is so so interesting, when I was about 11 or 12 I ended up talking to strangers online, how you managed to agree to meet them is beyond me!! (and really quite dumb haha)…So funny though!

    http://sunshines-and-blue-skies.blogspot.co.uk/

  • wongstea August 15th, 2013 3:41 PM

    It is so great to read a story and all the comments about this shared experience. I’ve been on online forums since I was 11/12 ish and I’ve met a handful of wonderful people who are still my friends to this day, despite those boards being shut down (thanks facebook!) I can totally relate to the weird feelings that you develop towards people you don’t really know, and how awkward it is to go about dealing with those emotions.

    Also, I don’t think meeting online friends is a terrible idea, especially if you do it in a public place, and even better with a third person.

    Great read, thanks for sharing :)

  • personne79 September 13th, 2013 10:14 PM

    Ok, where the heck do I begin??

    Fantastic fantastic article!! I totally feel you about your IRL bf. My ex (my first and only bf so far) and I were the most awkward pair in the whole school. We walked like a mile away from each other in the hallway, whenever we tried to kiss we almost fell over from losing our balance (not even the sexy “falling while kissing.” This is the “standing in the vacant section of the hallway trying to have a make out session and epically failing, almost falling over onto the cold hard floor” type of “falling while kissing.”), and we just could never make conversation in person. We could talk really well over text, but in person I never knew what to says I kept quiet and he never knew what to say so he would ramble on about random stuff and all in all it was just a pathetic excuse for a relationship. So I feel your pain.