Perfect Stranger

Joshua Alexander looked at all the lonely women in internet chat rooms-- and saw nothing but opportunit

"I had gotten to the point where I wanted her to kick me out," Alexander says. "When we had sex, I couldn't come. But I could with other women, so I wanted to think it was her fault. It has to do with my sexual identity, which was probably affected by the abuse. I didn't want to live the offline life, because it wasn't a happy life for me. But it started becoming harder for me to get away with having my online life without my wife knowing about it. Here I was, having all these women adore me, and she was just ruining it."

But against all logic, Bev stuck around. "There's probably several reasons why I stayed. One is that I love him and I know that in his heart he loves me. But the other thing is that when somebody is sick, do you walk away from them or do you help them? My belief is--and this is just the way I am--you don't give up on somebody that is sick. You do everything in your power to help them.

"So many times, despite everything that he was doing, he would say, 'Don't give up on me,' or 'I really love you.' I know he has said some of the exact things to other women that he has said to me--I'm not blind. But these wouldn't be at romantic times, or in a discussion. I mean, we'd maybe be cleaning the garage and he'd come over and give me a hug, say, 'I know you have gone through a lot with me, but don't give up.' I know how he feels. In fact, one of the things that has angered him over the years is, because of everything that we have been through, I probably know him better than anybody else."

When Alexander said he was going to take a trip one weekend in November 1998, Bev knew something was wrong. In the face of her ceaseless questions, Alexander quickly broke down sobbing and told her he'd planned to go off into the middle of the woods, take all his medication, and just go to sleep. "It felt like there was no place left for me to go," he says. "Offline or online, both weren't working, and I just didn't want to have to deal with it anymore."

After a week of rest, intensive therapy, and visits from friends, Alexander left the hospital feeling renewed. "It seemed like things were clearer, that there was a reason to live," he says. "But I had all this support when I was in the hospital. There is something I want people to know. People are well-meaning when they visit you; they say if you need anything and need to talk, please call. But when you take them seriously and call, they do everything possible to get you off the phone. That's part of what drove me back to the Internet, because it was one of the few places I felt safe. It was like a support group because, once again, I could be anybody I wanted. The fact that Bev couldn't have kids anymore had become a real big issue with me. All my life, I had never felt normal; I always felt like I was the one outside the box, looking in. And I decided I wanted to be part of a family."

 

By early 1999 Alexander was spending all his waking hours in chat rooms; he no longer believed he could function in any other setting. He began one day like all the others, logging into the Yahoo chat rooms Single Parents and Single Again. Launching into his litany about moonlight walks and cuddling on the couch, he asked if there were any ladies over 25 who were interested. Almost immediately, a personal message appeared from a woman we'll call Shirley. It initiated the most dramatic Internet-related relationship he'd ever experienced.

"From the beginning, everything she said just felt right," Alexander remembers. "Right away, she asked, 'Are you for real?' 'Of course,' I answered. I told her I was a single father with a four-year-old, that my wife had died after our daughter was born. She said she was a single mom of a teenage girl, that she had been divorced for about six years and had been in relationships that didn't work. She sent me her picture probably within the first ten minutes. She was about five-ten and 110 pounds, with long brown hair and a beautiful smile. She wasn't real curvy but very proportionate, and very easy to talk to. She said a lot of things I wanted to hear; that I was very romantic and it was hard to believe there were any of us left. Right off the bat she asked, 'Where have you been all my life?' She asked me to marry her within the first 15 or 20 minutes, then put LOL after it so I knew she was joking. I said, 'You tell me when and we'll get married, LOL.'"

They started talking about their kids--Alexander outdid himself gushing about the daughter he didn't have--then discovered a mutual love for camping, country music, and high-speed romance. "I asked her, `Do you believe in love at first sight?' She said yes, then asked me, 'Do you believe people can meet and fall in love in a chat room?' I said I did and she answered that she did too.

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