‘I met my wife on LiveJournal’: stories of love, friendship and joy from the web’s early days

Thirty years ago this month, Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for what would become the world wide web. Today’s internet is so dominated by a few tech companies and toxic debate, it can be hard to remember that it was once a friendlier place of previously unfathomable discovery and connection, especially when many of those online communities no longer exist. We asked readers and writers to share their favourite stories of the internet as it once was. Tell us yours in the comments.

‘After years of email correspondence, we finally met in person. Three months later, we were married’

In the early 90s, I was invited to join Quiet Communications Listserv (QC-L): an invitation-only listserv group, intended to answer the question of whether people with diverse political views could come together over this new communication form of email to debate public policy in a civilised manner. I had been a member for about three years when work forced my absence from the forum for several weeks. On my return, another member, Lena, realised she had missed reading my posts and emailed me privately on fateful impulse. We exchanged emails daily for about six months, learning more about each other, before moving to land lines.

I lived in Missouri, and Lena lived in Indiana; we talked so much by phone that carriers began to compete with each other for my custom. We finally met in person in September 1996 after years of correspondence. We had come to know each other so well by email and phone, we both knew we were quite in love, although we were not yet willing to declare it. It was such an initial shock for us to be in each other’s presence, however, for the first hour we both spontaneously turned our faces away from the other in order to just listen to the other’s familiar voice. Two weeks later, I proposed to Lena and she said, without hesitation, yes. Three months later we were married. We’ve been married 23 years now, and the story has only gotten better.
John Snethen, Indianapolis

‘We exchanged emails – before moving to landlines …’

‘We exchanged emails – before moving to landlines …’ Photograph: Comstock/Getty Images

‘In the days before picture attachments, there were truly blind dates’

In the mid-90s, a mailing list called Khalsa Net connected me to Sikhs all over the world from London. A special email was sent out weekly to members looking for marriage, and I started chatting with a young lady in San Francisco. We didn’t send any photos, just a few emails. She was coming to the UK with her family and we agreed to meet up, a bit secretively as we both knew that we should request for our families to meet, as is the usual etiquette for arranged marriages.

In the meantime, at Southall Gurdwara, an “auntie” I barely knew had her eye on me and said her niece was coming to visit from abroad and asked if I was looking to get married. I thought there was no harm in meeting someone else as well, a bit like going to multiple job interviews. I turned up with my family to the auntie’s house dressed in my best turban.

To my surprise there were two young women there: sisters, both from the US. Our families got chatting, but no one bothered to introduce either of them. I sipped my tea, trying to guess which one I was going to meet. It turned out I had been emailing the youngest, while her auntie had independently arranged for me to meet her older sister. They politely asked me to choose who I would like to proceed with, but I couldn’t reject one for the other. I felt so embarrassed, like I had been caught playing the field. Those were the perils of meeting in the days before picture attachments.
Harjit Lakhan, Milton Keynes

Stephen Harrison’s bear attack hoax image.

Stephen Harrison’s bear attack hoax image. Photograph: Stephen Harrison

‘A decade on, my Photoshop hoax is still doing the rounds’

For about a decade in the late 90s, Worth1000 was an online community of tens of thousands of artists using Photoshop to create fantastic hoaxes. It was responsible for many of those photos you would find in your inbox back in the day. It ran daily competitions for photo manipulation and it was considered a badge of honour if your work went viral off the site; even better if you made it on to [the fact-checking site] Snopes.

One of my images was grabbed by the internet as the last photo taken by Michio Hoshino, a famous wildlife photographer who had been mauled to death by a bear in 1996. I had no idea about his story at the time; I’d just entered a contest called “last photo” with an image I had Photoshopped of a bear entering a tent. The image is still doing the rounds online to this day, and I am always surprised by how vehement the arguments over its veracity get. I was a beginner back then; it’s not even a good Photoshop job.
Stephen Harrison, Scotland

‘My wife found a tattoo artist on LiveJournal. I found a new wife’

My friends on LiveJournal had the same arguments, friendships and relationships that you would expect of any group of teenagers. In about 2005, my then-wife commissioned a woman whose work she knew from a tattoo community on LiveJournal to design her a tattoo. I think it was a portrait of a cute monster girl. I was impressed by her work and commissioned her to do a tattoo design for myself: a caricature of me.

Fast forward eight years, a divorce and several failed relationships later. While feeling sorry for myself, I posted on Facebook about wanting to hang out and this random lady who had designed my tattoo responded. We were not based in the same city, so we did not meet in person until New Year’s Eve 2011. We will be celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary in June, so I guess I have LiveJournal and my ex-wife to thank for that.
Alun Millard, Nottingham

A place for friendship … Neopets.

A place for friendship … Neopets.

‘My mum sent a letter to Silicon Valley so that I could play Neopets’

I started playing Neopets in the early 2000s, before I was 13. Its policy was that you needed parental permission. I was such a goody two-shoes that I badgered my mum until she wrote a physical letter to their head office in California to say that I was allowed to use the site. Bless my mother for humouring me, and not suggesting that I just, you know, lie about my age. Emily, Edinburgh

‘As a rural Christian teen, my second home was a goth messageboard’

Back in the mid-90s, I was a prefect at a Christian high school in a small town in New Zealand. I went to church most Sundays. But my second home was a goth messageboard. With moderators and members’ rankings, it was a self-policed Utopia of goths, and I bloody loved it. Sure, I learned about Aleister Crowley and being a witch, but also foreign films and bands I had never heard of; it was there that I first considered becoming a journalist. People were married, babies were born, people went through divorce. We were a big old weird family.

Pretty soon, I had real friends all over the planet. The first time I ever went to the US was to meet a buddy off that messageboard when I had just started university. She picked me up at the airport and took me to the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. It was a great day, and that night she dropped me off at her friend’s place, where there was a spare bed. I quickly learned my housemate loved heroin. Spoon suspended over a gas element, he asked if I wanted any. I declined. In my internal panic and confusion during that moment, I also felt a sense of calm. “What a generous offer,” I thought, as well as a bit of: “Isn’t life just so interesting?”
David Farrier, Auckland

‘The first time I met my internet date, I was sure we were going to marry’

I started using Friends Reunited Dating when I was a single mum, teaching in Germany in 2005. I didn’t get out much and I was just about to move to Norfolk, where I had only ever been for a job interview. I met my husband online that summer; we mostly “spoke” on MSN Messenger. When we met in person for the first time about a month later, I remember thinking: “How odd, I’m sure I am going to marry this man.” A year later, we bought a house together.

Internet dating seemed far friendlier then. Without the site we wouldn’t be together now, and we wouldn’t have our amazing son. I am really proud that we met this way.
Miriam, Norwich

Where love blossoms … Habbo Hotels.

Where love blossoms … Habbo Hotels. Photograph: Habbo

‘I met one of my first boyfriends on Habbo Hotel’

As a 13-year-old Muslim girl with extremely protective parents and going to an all-girls state comp, meeting boys was a real task. I turned to Habbo Hotel: essentially it was an online chatroom where members could speak through an avatar. I made mine as attractive as a little Lego person can be and met Dave, one of my first boyfriends. He was from Manchester, and I was from London; we bonded over hugely earnest conversations about emo music and being misunderstood.

A few years later, we met in person; miraculously, neither of us was a pervert or a catfisher. Our relationship continued until I was in my late teens, when I started going to a mixed sixth form and I cheated on my Habbo Hotel boyfriend, then he dumped me. Today we are friends, our relationship still confined mainly to the online space.
Poppy Noor, London

‘We lived on opposite sides of the US. We met on Neopets. Now we live together’

I met my best friend on Neopets when we were 12 or 13. She lived in Oregon and I lived in Kentucky; we were six months apart in age, with budding mental health problems and no one to talk to about them. We used to skip lunches so we could sneakily buy phone cards and call each other. Our parents had no idea; they were both terrified of us making friends online, because they were sure that it was full of serial killers.

We were best friends, for sure, but we didn’t meet in person for more than 10 years after we met online, and I think that sense of facelessness made it a lot easier to open up to each other. We played therapist to each other for years, and got each other through a lot of dark times. We still do; we will both be 31 this year, and we live together now.
Autumn Jarvis, Kentucky

‘She thought she was adding her housemate on instant messenger. I was a stranger in Australia’

I met my friend Tina when she accidentally added me on AIM [AOL Instant Messenger], because my username was very similar to her housemate’s. She lives in Virginia, USA; I was in Melbourne, Australia. What started as a confusing exchange became a friendship; I went to her wedding a few years ago.
Jeremy Burge, London

‘An LGBT messageboard helped me come to terms with coming out to my family’

I was painfully shy and introverted in my early teens. When my parents got me a computer, I looked online for the human connection I was missing out on in real life. I was about 13 when I gathered up the courage to sign up to an LGBT messageboard called Queer Youth Network, but I was still too scared to post, even anonymously. Instead, I found comfort in other people’s coming-out stories, sharing in their relief, joy and heartbreak. I pictured my own coming out, to a thousand different reactions.

My mum finally asked me if I was gay when I was 14. Shaking, I told her that I was. My heart was pounding as I ran upstairs and logged on to the safety of my computer. A few minutes later, my mum knocked on the door and told me she loved me. I never did post on the messageboard myself, but reading others’ stories helped me through that time; once I had come out, I didn’t really need it any more.
Eben Dombay Williams, Reading

‘I was a Red Hot Chili Peppers superfan who didn’t like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’

I joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers messageboards as a 13-year-old in 2003. Between then and 2010 (with several breaks in between), I made something absurd like 50,000 posts. The people I met on that forum were my first online family; I grew up with them. The real kicker is that none of us particularly liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Oliver Kealey, Vienna


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