Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.

12Jun/147

A very modern love story

I've been thinking a lot lately about family mottoes. Not the heraldic type (mine is Clarior E Tenebris, "The brighter from previous obscurity", which I have handily tattooed onto my arm lest I ever forget it) but the type taught over and over again throughout childhood and passed down through generations without any thought.

Some (most?) parents teach their children not to speak to strangers; many an inquisitive child has learned that ignorance is bliss with the quick words "Because that's just the way it is".  My parents never taught me those things.  Instead, our everyday family mottoes were things like "You were born with common sense: use it" and "If you don't know, ask" (actually embroidered into a chair my mother upholstered for me).

AOL CD-ROM

Remember these? We had so many we used them as coasters

I think it was in part due to the fact my parents held close mottoes like these that, when the internet came to our house in 1996, instead of limiting my access my father quickly got a nearly unheard-of second phone line.  When I made a website to showcase my terrible teenaged poetry to strangers my father was proud of my technological prowess; when I made friends online who taught me to improve it my mother was impressed with my newfound communication skills (how times have changed!).

Never did they monitor me, or worry about my internet use: they trusted me to use my common sense, and my inquisitive mind.  Children today often have their access to the internet severely limited by tools like NetNanny.  I have heard of preteens having consoles, laptops and tablets temporarily and even permanently removed from them for speaking to strangers on the internet. This did not happen to me, even once.  I downloaded music and browsed forums and read and wrote blogs as much as I wanted, for as long as I wanted.

My mother and father never gave me internet-specific advice.  It never occurred to them, I think.  Why would I email naked pictures of myself to someone when I wouldn't think to give them to anyone offline?  Why would I say something hurtful online if I wouldn't say it at a party?  I was taught to use my common sense, and when I occasionally forgot to use it, I was burned by the consequences - as also happened more frequently offline.

Without judging the fear of modern parents - the internet was a different place when I found it - if my parents had not taken the tack they did I would not have my current job in technology and I would certainly not be getting married next month.

Oh yes - if you're wondering why I've neglected this blog, it's because I met a man.  Not just any man, either. The man.

Helen and James

Photo by Spike of Vapour Trail Photography (link in image)

When I heard my job was being relocated to Manchester - ooh, perhaps four years ago - I knew nothing about the place.  I did know, however, that I wanted to escape London - the smog and the smug.  So, channeling my mother's chair, I asked: I took to Twitter and found people.  My friend and colleague Matt had already relocated, and after meeting his internet-acquaintance John from Scotland for lunch a few times I was put in touch with Dan in Manchester and his wonderful wife.  I went to see Dan's band and met, amongst others, his bandmate Alex.  Through Alex I was introduced to James, known only to me as his username @big_poppa_g.

After just over a week and thousands - really, thousands - of text messages we finally met for drinks. Incidentally, we met in a public place and the whole of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare, including my closest friends, knew where we were as we tagged our way down Oxford Road's various bars and pubs.  When I saw his face as he slid into Cafe Nero like Tom Cruise from Risky Business I described it to Twitter while I went to the loo: over toilet breaks and trips to the bar I catalogued his blue eyes, his blonde hair and his taste in cocktails.  When I missed the last bus home ten hours later, the world knew it was because I had drunkenly kissed him in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens.

Six months later, after I went to America for a week, we knew we couldn't live apart.  Precisely a year after we listed our relationship on Facebook (the sign of a modern relationship I suppose) I impulsively asked him to marry me.  I was halfway through a disgraceful meal of sausages, chips and beans and he was doing the washing up.  It had been playing on my mind: I'm not religious but my father is a solicitor and taught me there are no such things as Common Law Marriage and that children of an unmarried couple might as well, legally, be fatherless.  Besides, I had loved the man since not long after I had met and loved his family and he had met and loved mine.

It came to me in a flash: why must I wait for James to gain the courage to ask, when we both know we want to get married?  Why must I wait for a "perfect moment"?  Why must I expect James to buy a ring, when generations of family rings were sitting in a dusty jewellery box somewhere?  I was born with common sense, and I used it.

In just two days we will be married.  My mother, who embroidered that chair for me, is now making my dress.  She's probably embroidering penises on it, because that's the kind of thing she does.  Many, many people I met online and now know as good friends in "real life" will come and eat and drink and dance with us and look at my dress penises.  Although for me, of course, the internet is my real life: life, but catalogued and documented.  Expect photos.

So, fine, teach children not to trust strangers they meet on the internet.  Teach them to be scared of sharing personal information and of giving their phone numbers to people they don't know.  Teach them to differentiate internet life and real life.  The thing is, you and they might never know what they would have gained had you taught them common sense, instead: had you taught them to ask, and to think.

   
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