the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

My First Online Chat


In some families, the father brings home the bacon. When I was child, my father brought home the mail. In our apartment building, each family was only given one key to their mailbox slot in the lobby, so my father would bring up the mail as he came home from work. It was always an exciting moment when we heard the jiggle of his key at the front door. We would gather around my father, not to greet him, but to see the mail he brought in.  My father would even play a game with us, hiding the mail behind his back, and sneaking into the bedroom, making us follow and beg.

I’m not sure why the mail was such a big deal in those days. It wasn’t like we were in the Army, waiting to hear from loved ones.  Perhaps mail was more special in the days before email and IM.  Now, having a “pen pal” in Belgium is as easy as emailing V-Grrrl.  Years ago, it was a thrill to get a letter from abroad.  Despite the internet, I still love getting “real” mail.  I was so excited when some bloggers sent me Christmas cards. You can’t hold an email in your hand, but with a greeting card – you know the other person once physically held the same piece of paper.

In my youth, the mail represented the outside world. My father was a bit of an “accidental tourist.” Although he didn’t travel that much, he subscribed to five travel magazines.  I loved to rifle through the pages of the travel magazines he would get in the mail, looking at all the exotic photos.  Once, for my birthday, he got me a subscription to National Geographic, but that magazine was dull compared to the glamorous travel photos in Conde Nast’s Traveler magazine.  I had little interest in seeing ferocious tigers in Africa.  I dreamed more of being in the exclusive African RESORT with the models and fine cuisine.  

Email is clearly today’s “mail.” I love getting emails! In fact, I’ve gotten to know some of you better through reading your emails than reading your blogs. Feel free to email me whenever you want to scold me for making fun of therapists and therapy!

I’m not as keen on IM.  I’m uncomfortable chatting with someone I can’t see or hear.   The pace of IM is always too fast, and I hate writing “u” for “you.”  I also have no skill in having two IM conversations at the same time.  Once, I sent the wrong message to the wrong person.  About a month ago, Charming but Single taught me that I can be “hidden” while on IM.    I’m just saying.   As a little hint.

The first time I chatted online was several years back, when I was still on dial-up. My dial-up service was a small (and cheap) local ISP called LA Freenet. They only covered the LA area. It had so few customers that they listed everyone who was on at the same time; it was usually about twenty people. There wasn’t much to do online in those days. I did nerdy things like read Usenet forums. LA Freenet had a primitive text-based chat system, but I never used it. I didn’t have much interest in interacting with anyone online. It seemed a little creepy to talk to a stranger.

One night, I was reading some boring forum about “movie gossip,” when I got a ping from some other LA Freenet user named ag704, inviting me to chat.

“Hello” said ag704.

“Hello.” I typed. I paused, unsure if I actually sent a message over the internet.

“Did you see what I just wrote?” I asked.


“OK.  Just checking. I never did this before.”

“You did fine. Just write in that little box and press enter. I just learned how to do it myself.”


Being an avoidant personality even back then, I felt nervous. Who the hell was this person?

“Are you also on LA Freenet?” I asked.

“Of course I am.  I was just chatting with some other members, but all they talked about was Star Trek.  Are you into Star Trek?”

I was a fan of “The Next Generation,” but decided not to say anything about it.

“I’m not a crazy fan or anything.” I wrote.  “I don’t go to conventions.”


Was this person a man or woman? I wanted to ask, but thought it was rude.

“How did you know I was on here?” I asked instead.

“They list everyone who is on LA Freenet. I was looking for someone who didn’t talk about Star Trek to try out this chat thing.”

“So, you found me.”

“It’s Passover tomorrow, so I figured I’ll talk to someone with a Jewish name.”

“Neil Kramer is not necessarily a Jewish name.”

“Are you Jewish?”

“Uh… yes…”

“I thought Neil Kramer sounded Jewish.”

Now I was getting nervous.

“And who are you? What is your name?”

“My name is Sophia. Sophia Lansky”

This was the start of my first online chat.  We never chatted again, but we sent emails to each other for the next two months.  So, maybe my fear of IM has something to do with the fact that I end up marrying the women I chat with.

A Year Ago On Citizen of the Month: Ms. Neilochka


  1. laurie

    And yet you think I’m weird for not leaving my house. Crazy man.

  2. TherapyDoc

    SO romantic.

  3. Spinning Girl

    I hate the intrusiveness of IM, and the surprise element. But maybe it’s what’s missing in my romatic life!

  4. schmutzie

    I don’t IM, because I always feel like I’m stuck in one of those awkward conversations in which I have to search wildly for something, anything, to say, and I end up saying things like “So, how about that weather!”

  5. Not Faint Hearted

    I find Instant Messages completely underwhelming. The only time I’ve found a use for them is with people I already know quite well and for conversations that have no weight or consequence whatsoever.

    Although I think this story of how you and Sophia met is sweet.

  6. reese

    I like to chat with people for fun, when I have free time, BUT I do not like settling arguments or anything on line. You never know how to take things or if someone has tone or has just accidently made things in all caps. It gets silly. So if kept light, it’s fine. My husband and I met in RL but we got closer through email banter. IT started out silly, then got deep.

  7. Pearl

    Okay, Neil, I don’t mean to rain on your parade…but is this a true story? If not, your imagination is working full capacity; if yes, then your romance truly had interesting beginnings.

  8. Neil

    Pearl — True!

    Reese — I used to hide under the table when Sophia would tell people how we originally met because I still thought that meeting someone online was strange. This is before, etc. became really big. I rarely talked about it back then, because it made me sound like I was crawling the internet looking for women, which was the last thing on my mind. (ironically, it’s what I do NOW) Today, it doesn’t sound weird at all to say you “met online.” But longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that I’ve been writing this blog for a year and a half, and this is the first mention of this — so old habits die hard.

  9. Pearl

    …I’m glad it’s true. Neil, did you speak at your wedding — and tell this story?

  10. margaret

    aww, that’s so sweet how your first conversation started with you all neurotic about yor IM skilz

  11. Neil

    I think I read some of the emails we sent each other for the next two months, which I still have stored on an old computer. LA Freenet made a special announcement when we got engaged.

  12. Dagny

    That’s sweet. And I understand the embarrassment of saying how you met.

  13. better safe than sorry

    i had to learn how to use IM when my oldest went away to school, but i thought only people you know, that you have given your e-mail address to, can actually ping you? maybe it’s different in canada. i think it’s a sweet story, she pinged you first!

  14. Heather B.

    Awwww. If I married the first person I ‘chatted’ with then I’d be married to a guy named Jason. A guy who had braces for almost all of Middle and High School. A guy who wore his jeans halfway down his ass. Awesome.

    I’m notorious for quickly asking someone something via IM and then being like ‘ok, bye’ or you know, just signing off. The invisible thing is a bonus though.

  15. sandra

    First of all, so cute.

    And second — my favorite part of it: “Did you see what I just wrote?”

  16. Finn

    If I married the first person I chatted with, my wife would be named Shelli. And we’d be breaking several laws.

    How cool that you met Sophia online. You’re a pioneer!

  17. kristen

    That’s a cute story, how you and Sophia met. I met my best friend in an online forum and we always lied about how we met, even to family, because it did seem a little weird then.

    I’m a big fan of real mail and love the holidays because of it.

  18. Dating Dummy

    Wow Neil, did you realize then that you’d be setting a worldwide trend?

  19. It's Me... Maven

    I met my husband online, too:)

  20. Jenn

    Another post to make all the girls say ”
    Awwww!”. You should have saved this one for closer to Valentines!

  21. Non-Highlighted Heather

    Don’t worry, I have no intention of marrying you.

  22. Scarlet


  23. gorillabuns

    this story is quite sweet and romantic even though i hate IM’ing. it’s the telephone of the internet. i don’t like to use it.

    i’m also a crazy fool for the mail. i rush the mailman everyday and curse his name if is he later than his usual time.

  24. Tatyana

    Erm, sorry, but it’s the other way around, Neil: it’s Sophia who met you online; it’s Sophia who’s initiated the conversation (and persistently asked you questions while you were trying to run and hide back into your shell), so if you find the notion of “crawling the internet in search for a partner” a shameful one – you’re not the one who did.
    You can come out from under the table now.

  25. Karl

    Wow, a real online match before online matches were common. Maybe I should be IM’ing more. I rarely do.

  26. cruisin-mom

    wow, it took you this long to tell us this?

  27. fringes

    I agree with cruisin-mom. I can’t believe you’re just now telling us how you and Sophia met. Who asked for the first date, you or Sophia? I’m betting Sophia. Can you write about that next?

  28. Ash

    I met my husband online in a chat room. I second your fears about chatting online and marrying people.

  29. Jennifer

    What a neat way to meet someone!
    I hate IM too, but it’s because I type so much faster than everyone else. Also I have ADD (self diagnosed of course and did you see the SAG’s last night??) and I hate it when people can’t keep up with my astonishing mental processes.

  30. Eileen Dover

    That is the sweetest story.

    I love thinking about the bygone days of the Internet, when the sound of the modem connecting was soothing and the days of Usenet before trolls took over.

  31. Postmodern Sass

    Shut UP! You’re making that up!

  32. Churlita

    I think all men like to get letters from a broad.

    You and Sophia? So sweet.

    I don’t instant message, because I have two teenage daughters and I’ve already nagged them about using text message speak and how it ruins their grammar skills. So, I can’t go do the same thing or else they’ll end up instant messaging me from their jail cells to let me know I’m the reason they’re in there.

  33. Lefty

    I met my wife online, too. And I hate it when she tells the story, too.

    So…uh…how’s the weather?

  34. Jazz

    I like IMing… passes the time at work and keeps me typing, so I look verrrrry busy.

  35. ms. sizzle

    why is it all i meet are pervs?! hmphf!

    i had no idea that’s how you two met. 🙂

  36. Alison

    That is so cute.

    I met Allan online. 🙂

  37. Edgy Mama

    Great story!

    I don’t like IM either. It feels forced and awkward to me. But I do love e-mail.

    Guess we’re just old-fashioned that way!

  38. mmariem3

    Beautiful. :D.

    I use IM at work all the time. IM works in the office. At home – I am not so sure. I still love getting emails and mail is even better.

  39. Sophia

    The story is true, but Neil got some of the facts wrong. I invited several people with Jewish names to chat, but Neil was the first one to show up.

    And LA Freenet didn’t congratulate us on our engagement. It’s even better than that. They used our engagement to get a grant when they wrote their next grant application as a non-profit organization.

  40. Paris Parfait

    Sophia’s comment answers the unanswered questions raised by your post – who doesn’t love receiving e-mail, especially when romance is involved?

  41. Elizabeth

    I met my husband in a chat room over 8 years ago. He instantly IMed me because my profile listed the same computer model as his. Yes, very geeky!

  42. psychotoddler

    So LA Freenet used your engagement to prove that they were a charity organization?

    The first person I ever chatted with was my wife, too. Although we had been married for 15 years by that point. I thought Yahoo Messenger would be a convenient way for us to keep in touch during the day.

    But now I use it mostly to send embarrassing messages to her computer like “What are you wearing now” while her boss is looking over her shoulder.

  43. Miriam

    Neil: I met my husband in New York City on the unemployment line. We tried for a long time to keep this story from our kids.

  44. wendy

    You met Sophia on LA Freenet…I met my husband on an LA Freeway,The Ventura freeway to be exact…..Almost no one knows…except, you (guys).

  45. Lisa

    This is a great story and it gives me hope that love can in fact be found on the Internet! I’ve been doing online dating intermittently. I get excited about someone, then it doesn’t work, I get demoralized, I take my profile down, then I feel like I’m not being proactive, so I put it back up…

  46. cruisin-mom

    Psychotoddler: ROTFLMAO

  47. Mist 1

    “I was looking for someone who didn’t talk about Star Trek to try out this chat thing.”

    Great line. I would have proposed too.

  48. Two Roads

    “So, maybe my fear of IM has something to do with the fact that I end up marrying the women I chat with.”

    umm, how many women would that be?????

  49. Heather B.

    I’m your blog crush of the day???

    (she says some 19 hours later)

    thank you!

  50. girlanddog

    I can’t believe people would get upset about your therapist posts…They were so funny! 🙂
    I plugged in my ex-husband’s most probable responses into this psychiatry test you found. Quite interesting results! Apparently, he’s a Paranoid Borderline Antisocial Histrionic.

    Where was this test when I needed it in court? Thanks for sharing!!

  51. Mo

    Am I the only person here that likes IM? Ah well. I’ll let you know, Neil, if anything ever happens to my hubby. You’ll be next up, apparently. The Gods of fate has spoken!

  52. ally

    i grew up using IM’s. i have mad typing skills (with typos). i have IMs to thank for that and the run-on sentences and incorrect tense usage, etc.

  53. V-Grrrl

    I still get excited about snail mail, even in the digital age. And E is the only one with easy access to our PO box so I shake him down for packages, letters, and magazines daily.

    And the holiday card I sent to you–I watercolored it by hand and made it myself. Go ahead, call me Martha. And consider yourself special–I sent factory-made cards to nearly everyone else!

    Your Belgian Pen Pal,

    Miss V

  54. Booda Baby

    There are 53 (FIFTY THREE!!) comments ahead of mine on your First Online Chat post, which sort of damps enthusiasm for adding one more, but since the whole point is to tell you how wonderful you are, 54 comments probably isn’t enough, is it?

    Everyone complains about the cute meet, until it happens in real life. I feel a little sorry for Web 2.0 nuts, though – now that there are a million ways to connect and a trillion people doing the connecting, the connections are suffering.

    I made that up. Anecdotal, at best. First stages of schadenfreude.

  55. littlepurplecow

    Great story. I luv IM. But I don’t text.

  56. Grace

    I taught my husband how to IM while he was in the study on the desktop and I was in the bedroom with the laptop. In his very first time using IM, he figured out its number one use! I won’t tell you whether he was successful.

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