One of the guys who never made it past Phase 1 was a dude named Stacy who always chatted in all caps and claimed that he was Satan. Like, actual Satan. I met him on a Cure BB, where he was insisting that Faith was the best Cure album of all time, and that he would “roast the innards” of anyone who felt otherwise. This was so over-the-top that it cracked me up. Stacy felt like a fun project—getting Satan to love you would be quite a feat—but after we’d been chatting for a few days off and on, he started threatening me for not paying him enough attention. He once chatted me something very close to this (I’m paraphrasing):

If you don’t chat with me tonight, I will take your grandfather’s corpse, hollow it out, and then cook you inside of him, basting you with the rendered fat of your entire slaughtered family.

My grandfather had just passed away. I decided to cut Stacy off rather than move him into Phase 2.

Phase 2: We’re totally dating.

Once you find yourself talking to someone every day, you start developing feelings for them, even if they’re invisible. The feelings are real, even if nothing else is.

In this phase of the relationship, you tell each other that you’re exclusive, you show up on public boards at the same time, you make ridiculous promises to each other, and you have disgustingly flowery exchanges. A big feature of this phase is talking about running away together (or at least meeting somewhere between your two cities).

One of my Phase 2 guys, MustardGas, chatted me once about how we would soon meet in a hotel, where we would “spend all night talking—whatever happens, happens—and when you wake up the next morning, there will just be a long-stemmed rose and an engagement ring on the pillow.” I DIED. I actually printed that chat out. I thought this was the height of romance. (Again, I was 16.)

Another guy I chatted with was (supposedly) an Israeli guy who was training to be an EMT. (If that was true, he had to have been at least 22, and had no idea I was 16. I told him I was 20ish.) His plan was for us to meet in London, where he had to go for a conference. I told him I’d booked flights and everything, because I thought we were both lying, but when he sent me the address of his flat, I panicked and stopped talking to him immediately.

Phase 3: Exchanging home addresses.

A quick note: Don’t do this. At all. Never do this.

This may seem like a terrifying idea, but again, this was the mid-’90s, and nothing on the internet felt very real. The town where I lived in North Carolina was so small that I felt like no one from the outside world could ever find me there. So it didn’t feel dangerous at all to give these Phase 3 guys (who had passed Phases 1 and 2) my home address. (Yes, I realize that it was in fact very dangerous, and that I was being very stupid.)

The biggest reason to give out your address was so that you could exchange photos and more band stuff. Finally, I’d get to see what these guys looked like! (The technology may have existed to upload photos back then, but I certainly didn’t have access to it, and neither did the people I was talking to on BBSes.) Most of my Phase 3 guys were pleasant to look at, but they didn’t seem like “my type” at first glance—their baseball hats, jean shorts, and crew cuts didn’t scream “I’m really into industrial music.” They looked like guys I would have ignored in my own high school. (My silent and ignored IRL boyfriend had dreadlocks and dressed like a pirate. This was a good lesson in not judging a book by its cover.) I exchanged photos with probably six or so guys (none of them dirty).

Packages would often include mixtapes filled with shoegazer music, rare Helmet B-sides, band stickers, fliers from shows in DC, comic books, or Magic the Gathering cards. I still have some of this stuff, and I hold it all close to my heart.

Phase Four: Meeting IRL.

I only ever met one of my Board Boyfriends in real life. It was Ryan,** aka MustardGas, the rose-and-engagement-ring-on-the-pillow guy. He was a comic book artist and musician, only a few years older than me. He was brooding and cute and had long hair and wore big boots, and I stared into his eyes in his pictures for hours on end. Despite the fact that in my mind we were practically engaged, I never told anyone about him—mainly because of the existence of my actual boyfriend, but also because I kept my BBS life very separate from the rest of my life.

Ryan provided evidence that his real life matched the one he’d told me about on the boards—he actually sent me the indie comic book he’d told me he was been working on—and that impressed me. He knew real stuff about me too—I had told him that I was in high school and in drama club, neither of which I’d told anyone else online. We genuinely clicked. We talked about how we were definitely meant for each other. It felt mature. It felt real.

Ryan lived in Ohio, and one day he mentioned that he was going to be driving down to Florida in a few weeks, and could he stop in my town so we could actually meet? My heart took off in a permanent gallop.

I had so much work to do in the weeks leading up to our star-crossed tryst. I had to get an outfit that wouldn’t show how much I would be nervously sweating, I had to touch up my purple dye job and figure out what to do with my pubic hair (even though I was a virgin)—you know, work. As the depilatory fizzled between my legs, I called my boyfriend and told him that I needed some space.