Wednesday 07 August 2002


The voice of experience is instantly recognizable. Dorothea Salo resonated with Jeff Ward’s realization that the same intensity that makes him a “natural scholar” also makes him a “natural asshole.” She responded by explaining that she is not an intense person (though she is often mistaken for one). She outlined certain characteristics of the intense personality, most of which I exhibit (though I can’t, of course, speak for Jeff) then offered some practical tips for maintaining a successful relationship between an intense person and his or her non-intense partner. Dorothea concluded her post by answering my rueful question about whether relationships between people with roughly the same “intensity coefficient” will be more successful than those between couples whose intensities are drastically out of balance:

Jonathon, for what it’s worth, I do not think that two high-intensity people should try to make a go of it unless their avocations dovetail nearly precisely. If not, they will grow apart, because neither of them will put in the effort to pull together. Two low-intensity people are likely to be fine.

And a highly intense person can be happy with a not-intense person, and vice versa. As I said, it’s tough, but it’s manageable. I have found the rewards worth it.

This advice matches my own experience in that my relationships with non-intense women have lasted a lot longer than those I’ve had with intense women—although I can lay claim to plenty of unsuccessful relationships with intense and non-intense women alike. But Dorothea’s post did bring to mind a relationship that foundered on the issue of intensity.

It started like this. In late 1994, at the height of the short-lived CD-ROM boom, I was working as a multimedia producer when my boss—sensing the growing importance of the Net—decided to establish a corporate Web site. Responsibility for building the site fell largely on me and H, the programmer with whom I worked most closely.

I’d almost convinced myself that I liked being a producer, but I realize now that deep in my heart I didn’t truly enjoy it. When you’ve spent most your life photographing or writing, supervising other creative people can be a miserable substitute. Heaving a sigh of relief, I poured all my pent-up energy into learning about HTML, GIFs, and JPEGs.

H and I worked like Trojans for a couple of months and, once the site was up and running, decided to add personal pages. H showed me the page he’d designed. It had pictures and descriptions of himself and everything he loved: his wife, their cat, his car.

Me, in Saitama, with my former Japanese teacher's brother-in-law and two niecesWe thought it would be neat if the structure of my page mirrored his. But as I sat down to make my page, I realized I was in trouble: I had a cat but no car, no wife, and—though I’d been a photographer for nearly twenty years—hardly any pictures of myself.

I managed to scrape up a snapshot from the period I lived in Japan. I was visiting the the sister of one of my Japanese teachers and she took this picture of me (in the leather jacket) with her husband and two daughters in front of their apartment block at Saitama in northern Tokyo.

She took lots of other pictures too but I liked this one best. In it I am hardly recognizable.

My cat, PuddingPudding was originally my parent’s cat; she’d belonged to someone a few houses away before she inveigled her way into their lives. My mother, hoping to travel, didn’t want a pet but my father secretly fed Pudding for three months until mum relented. After my father died, my mother continued to care for Pudding, even though, as she confessed to me: “I like her but I don’t love her.”

I’d always been fond of Pudding and so, when I bought a house, she moved in too. Thinking she was the prettiest little cat, I was astonished when a friend looked at her and said: “Mate, you can’t possibly think that’s an attractive cat!” Well, I always thought she was. Sadly, I had to have her put down a couple of days ago, after the cancer for which she’d had surgery nearly a year ago had started to spread. She was an affectionate little cat, and she had a sweet nature. I’m lucky to have had her.

Still life with PowerBookFor H’s car, I decided to substitute my PowerBook, since each catered to our need to tinker with machines.

It’s strange, years later, to look at this artless—and unintentionally revealing—still life: the PowerBook 180 (self-reflexively displaying the Web page under construction) flanked by Genji Monogatari, a stack of CD-ROMs (one about Ozu on top of the pile), a Japanese-English dictionary, magnifier, pen, and mug of coffee.

My life in a stolen moment, to quote the immortal Bob. How little it’s changed.

Miyamoto NobukoNo wife? No problem. I borrowed Itami Juzo’s wife, Miyamoto Nobuko, star of his comedy A Taxing Woman. Why? Because I’ve always been strongly attracted to women who:

  • are intelligent;
  • have a sense of humour;
  • wear glasses (see item one);
  • are Japanese;
  • have red hair and/or freckles.

Miyamoto Nobuko represented my ideal: the kind of woman I wanted to be married to. Perhaps the red in her hair owes a lot to the late afternoon sun but as I asked on the Web page, “Hey, who’s perfect?” I uploaded the files to our server and went back to the story I was writing in my spare time.

Around Easter in 1995, quite out of the blue, I received an e-mail from an old friend who was living and working in Lisbon. She’d somehow stumbled across my Web page and sent a message from a colleague’s computer. I replied on Good Friday and went off to visit some friends who lived on an island north of Sydney.

On my return, there was another e-mail—from the colleague, a Brazilian woman. Her name was Lauana.

Lauana's emailWithin a week we were exchanging e-mail messages of extraordinary intimacy, within a fortnight this virtual relationship had become intensely sexual, and within a month faxes and phone calls were adding fuel to the flames. English was not her native language so she spelt phonetically. In her e-mails I could hear the lovely South American cadence of her voice.

We talked endlessly about moving the relationship into the real world but couldn’t decide where. I suggested Phnom Penh or Vientiane but she, living in Europe, preferred Prague. The time difference meant that our lives were totally out of sync. She would wake me to chat at 3:00am. I would drift back to sleep, wake up and stagger into work, switch on my computer, check my mail, find two or three messages from her, write a quick reply, then try to do my job.

At that time I was reading VOX, the hilarious Nicholson Baker novel about telephone sex. I airmailed a copy to Lauana. She sent me a picture of herself.

Lauana's self-portrait

We drove each other crazy. Minor issues of emphasis or tone in an e-mail led to massive misunderstandings and flurries of conciliatory messages. I longed for the unspoken understanding and emotional restraint that I’d shared with my Japanese girlfriends.

My phone bill skyrocketed. To save on international phone calls, we communicated via IRC. Thank God the company was paying for my Internet access.

I found myself being snappy with H although we had worked together for over two years—often under crushing pressure of deadlines—without a single disagreement. He behaved towards me with more grace and tolerance than I deserved.

My friends, when I talked about the relationship, took it as further (superfluous) evidence of my craziness. Then, one day, out of the blue, a casual acquaintance said: “You’ll never guess what’s happened to me. I’ve fallen in love with someone on the Internet.”

Tell me about it, I thought.

Eventually it blew up in our faces. A virtual relationship was—paradoxically—simply too intense. People told me this wasn’t a real relationship but that’s not how it felt. At the time, it seemed absolutely real. As real as the lilting tone of her voice, as real as the lingerie on her bed.

A year or so later, reading through the hundreds of e-mails we’d sent, I came across one of her first, in which she’d predicted exactly what would happen.

Lauana's original email

For a brief time, we continued exchanging e-mails, though the intimacy was gone. Until one day I mentioned that, although we’d never met, I regarded her as affectionately as any other lover. Lauana immediately wrote to rebuke me.

There’d been no intimacy between us, she said. I didn’t know her smell, nor how she kissed. I’d never “toched” her. In fact, Lauana told me, I hardly knew her at all. She was right of course. I hadn’t loved her. I’d been captivated by a technology that fostered a transient—and ultimately false—sense of intimacy. Perhaps our three month “love affair” had been, at best, a virtual one-night-stand.

The day after I received that final e-mail, I was sitting at my workstation, fussing with a page on the corporate site, when H suddenly looked across at me and said: “It’s nice to have you back.”

“It’s nice to be back,” I replied and we each returned to our screens.

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The heart of things.

Posted by Kris on 7 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

It`s very funny. I`m Lauana and I`m from Brazil. And I have a boyfriend that lives in Australia and we talk a lot about internet. I laugh a lot reading this. It seems like my life.

Posted by Lauana on 8 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Lauana, it's funny indeed (though it wasn't so funny at the time). Life imitates art, or should I say, life imitates life. Thanks for leaving a comment and much happiness to you and your Australian boyfriend.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 8 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Virtual love..ah yes, been there too... In my experience, when a 'relationship' is limited to words, the words take on greater significance than words casually spoken in real life; and the 'relationship' itself feels more intense because it feels like it flows directly between two minds, uncomplicated by physicality, somehow purer. On the downside, it's far easier to project meaning. And it's more sexually frustrating...

Posted by Gianna on 9 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Three years ago I was in Australia. I came for the wedding of a friend of mine and brought my daughter Julia with me. One day it ocurred to me that you may want to meet her. She is , after all, in this world partly thanks to your encouragment. Anyway since this thought came to me in Australia I didn't have your number with me. I looked in the phone-book and I called. To make it really short I got to say hello to a man that hung-up on me. Well it was puzzling. But then I started to get these weird calls from a woman with an accent. She wanted me to swear that I was never going to make any contact whatsoever with you. By the second call I was already swearing that I had called the wrong person since the man I was looking for was a gentleman, who would have hung up on me. I apologised and said that she should stop calling me...but the calls came one after the other...making it even more surreal. I read your story about the "relationship" we had and the way you describe is very sweet. I agree that love for the medium blinded us tour "common sense". Anyway it's a long time ago now...too bad you didn't meet Julia. But maybe that is the way it was meant to be...

Posted by How should I call myself on 30 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

What a lovely surprise -- I'm glad you liked the way I described our "relationship". I'm sorry that you weren't able to make contact when you were here three years ago. It definitely wasn't me you called, since I have an unlisted number. And sorrier still that I didn't get a chance to see you and to meet Julia. But I'm very happy to find that you are both well.

Posted by Jonathon on 30 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

What a weird experience it was! It let me feeling so very confused.
Have you become a mafia guy?
Or were you in a relatioship with a very posesive woman?
People change but not so much! Hey! God knows everything is possible...after all in was pure virtual person. but I just couldn't put these two characters together in my mind. You have always shown class and sensitivity...How on earth you could have change so much!

Julia is beautiful I also hope one day you'll meet her...somehow you are also part of her life.

And yes! I like the whole project not only my little part.
Are you happy?
Have you found her?
Are you doing the work you've always wanted to do?

It is amazing how much things have change since has lost so much of it "luster" and I feel (as always did) that people are important not the tools they use so I went back to the less words and explanations. Out of the "Art World"...I feel liberated!


Posted by I am also happy on 30 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour