They've Got Love

You’ve Got Mail e-squeezes Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan aren’t the only couple making a love connection. With more than 50 million Americans now online, the not-just-for-the-nerdy Internet is turning into a superhighway to the altar. America Online’s dating area has sparked 1,200 weddings; other folks bond over shared passions in the Net’s myriad discussion groups. The key, experts say, is that Netizens bare their souls before meeting face to face. “They’re falling in love from the inside out,” says Trish McDermott, whose boasts some 600 marriages. Read on for stories of couples whose e-mail led to “I do.”

Aussie gal for a New Jersey guy

Kathy Campbell was preparing a story about online dating for Australia’s She magazine in 1997 when she decided to do some firsthand research. Skeptical about whom she would meet—”I was kind of expecting geeks and psychos”—the never-wed Sydney resident, now 35, posted her particulars on a Web site called American Singles. Bombarded with about 500 responses from around the world, she struck up some correspondences and went on a few uninspiring dates.

Campbell “was getting a little bored with it all,” she says, until she heard from Tom Blumm, a never-married prison administrator from Westampton, N.J. He says he was simply seeking a literate pen pal: “I thought, ‘She’s in Australia. How much trouble can I get into?’ ”

Plenty. Over two months their e-mails on topics from The Simpsons to the death penalty graduated to marathon phone chats (one lasted 11 hours). In August 1997, the smitten couple decided they had to meet. Blumm, now 36, stocked up on the Aussie sandwich spread Vegemite and greeted Kathy in Philadelphia in a stretch limo. They spent a month together. “We had pretty much the best times of our lives,” says Blumm.

When Campbell was about to board her plane home, Blumm says, he told her, “I’m going to marry you.” She went home and packed. The couple tied the knot last February. Now a journalist in New York City, Campbell admits to homesickness, but “I love Tom so much,” she says. “I guess when Cupid strikes, what can you do?”

Long-distance lifesaver

Ian Fleming, an administrative assistant in Manchester, England, was about to log off AOL one night in September 1997 when his curiosity was piqued by a chat group called Trans-Atlantic. As he browsed through its members’ self-descriptions, one by Teresa Dravk intrigued him. “It went on about clouds and skies and fields,” says Fleming, now 29 (no relation to the author of the James Bond novels). “It was really weird but interesting. I thought, ‘I just have to talk to this person.’ ”

In fact, Dravk, now 36, rarely ventured outside her York, Pa., home. A transplanted kidney she’d received in 1984 had failed in 1992, leaving her on dialysis. She was also slated for surgery to replace her heart’s mitral valve.

Dravk and Fleming spoke on the phone for the first time just before her November operation. After it, Fleming “was driving the nurses crazy” with calls, Dravk says. “They could hardly understand him with his [British] accent.” That Christmas, Fleming visited Dravk, and on New Year’s Eve he proposed to her. “By that time I knew what the answer was going to be,” she says.

The couple planned to wed in September 1998, but that April doctors decided both of Dravk’s diseased kidneys had to be removed. Fleming, who had just moved in with Dravk and her mother, began tests to see if he could give her one of his. “I told him not to get his hopes up,” says Dravk. (The chance of a match between two unrelated people is about one in five.) They married on Sept. 19—and three weeks later learned that Fleming was Dravk’s dream donor come true. The November transplant went well. “The odds of us meeting over the Internet, marrying and being a transplant match,” says Ian, “were a billion to one.”

Both widowed, they found love

After their respective spouses died in 1994, neither Doug Wolfe nor Maxine Russ thought they’d ever marry again. He, a retired airport director from South Daytona, Fla., had been wed 52 years; she, a caterer in Dallas, 41 years.

Both turned to the Web for solace and companionship. They found it—and, eventually, each other—on SeniorNet, a nonprofit Web site where they both became regulars in a discussion forum called Widows and Widowers Talk. “My dear friends in Dallas took very good care of me,” explains Russ, now 64, whose four grown children had coaxed her onto the Net, “but they weren’t in the same shoes I was in, whereas the people [online] were.” Wolfe, now 79, a longtime computer buff, credits the group with pulling him out of a depression: “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who got in touch with me and helped me.”

In April 1995 he and Russ struck up a friendship that, in daily e-mails, turned into something more. “It was just like dating, I suppose,” he says. A month later she bought an airline ticket to visit him—open-ended, she says, so “I could turn around and go home.” She wound up staying for a week. Soon, Wolfe, a father of three, was meeting Russ’s children (between them, they have nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren), and by July 1995, the couple had moved in together in Daytona. They tied the knot that November. “He wasn’t comfortable with us not being married,” says Russ, joking that “if he had gotten down on one knee, we probably both would have needed help up.” Flying off to visit a man she’d never met, “I was probably not as careful as I should have been,” says Russ. “But I had made up my mind I had to face the world—and I’m glad I did.”

Happy as pigs in mud

“John has a whole troupe of women he talks with online,” says Cindy Harris, grinning at her husband. “But I’m not worried. They don’t have more pigs than I do.”

The Harrises, both 45, met in a chat group John started on AOL for potbellied-pig aficionados. Now the North Fort Myers, Fla., pair care for 272 porkers—mostly abandoned pets—on their five-acre hog haven.

When they connected, John Harris, a Steubenville, Ohio, crane operator, had three pigs—and a disintegrating 20-year marriage. Cindy Magnus, a licensed practical nurse with one pig, was living with a boyfriend near Fort Myers. She joined the monthly pig-out. “I couldn’t wait till it came on,” she says.

In March 1995, 30 of the online chums held a confab they dubbed Pig-stock at a pig sanctuary in Charles Town, W.Va. “I thought [John] was cute,” says Cindy. Back online, “I started to flirt with him, but he didn’t pick up on it.” At a Pigstock reprise in September, Harris finally got the message. Their romance, he says, became “kind of the talk of Pigstock.”

Three months later the by-then-divorcing Harris moved in with Magnus, who had broken up with her boyfriend. The pair wed in December 1996 and began rescuing pigs from pounds all over Florida. “It just snowballed,” says John, who tends their brood while Cindy runs a medical-records copying service. “You have to be in love to lead this crazy life,” she says. Turning to John, she adds, “If I’d never gotten a pig and a computer, I’d never have met you.” Says he: “Pigs work their magic in mysterious ways.”

Their matchmaker?

O.J. Simpson

Like You’ve Got Mail’s odd couple, Josh Marquis and Cindy Price seemed all wrong for each other. She had just left a job as a foreign-policy analyst at a conservative think tank. He, a district attorney in Astoria, Ore., was a Democrat who thought Ronald Reagan was, he says, “the Antichrist.” But they agreed on one issue: the guilt of O.J. Simpson.

Marquis, now 46, and Price, 44, met in 1995 on a Court TV-sponsored AOL message board devoted to the raging Simpson trial. Neither was seeking love—”just good conversation,” says Price, then living in Sherman Oaks, Calif. They and other pro-prosecution advocates split off into a private e-mail group. The two admired each other’s writing—then hit it off when about 50 group members met at California’s Beverly Hills Tennis Club to commiserate over Simpson’s acquittal. Back home, their e-mail turned romantic. “This is what they call falling in love,” the never-wed Marquis wrote Price, who had been briefly married. She flew to Oregon for their first date and stayed (she now hosts a local cultural-affairs radio show). They wed in March 1996. Their plans? Says Marquis: “Live happily ever after.”

Movie madness

Matt Frassica had his heart set on Sandra Bullock—or at least someone like the winsome lonely heart she played in 1995’s While You Were Sleeping. “It was such a romantic movie,” he sighs. The Walnut, Calif., movie-theater manager, now 27, posted a note on AOL’s romance bulletin board. “One Jack looking for his Lucy,” he wrote, referring to Bill Pullman’s and Bullock’s characters. Most of the responses, he says, were notes of encouragement from already-attached women. But among them was a message from Traci Tanimura, now 27, saying she too loved the film.

Frassica and Tanimura, a fabric-store worker near San Francisco, 300 miles away, chatted online, then on the phone. Before visiting her for the first time, Frassica sent her a dozen roses, while she cross-stitched him a line from a love poem. “I was head over heels,” he says.

Tanimura, though, balked at a long-distance relationship. The two split for more than a year, then resumed e-mailing—and eventually rekindled their romance. During their time apart, Matt had slimmed from 350 to 200 pounds, but his weight “didn’t matter,” says Traci, who had fallen for “the way he thinks.” They wed last fall (Matt snared a transfer to San Francisco). The hiatus brought the relationship that had started as a “fantasy” into real life, says Traci. “I guess we both really grew up.”

Ex-biker beats the odds

It sounds like the beginning of an online-dating horror story: When they first traded notes on an Internet message board titled Looking for a Wife in July 1997, Pennsylvania construction worker Randy LeTrent was a longhaired, tattooed former motorcycle-gang member who had served time for selling drugs. Peg Brow, 17 years his senior, was a recently widowed, avowedly religious mother of two who ran an at-home desktop publishing business in Waukesha, Wis. “I always dated women older than me, so that didn’t bother me,” says LeTrent. “But she told me she was a God-fearing person, and I said, ‘Oh. I’m a biker, and I like to drink and party, so maybe we aren’t going to click.’ ”

But two weeks later, LeTrent, now 31, e-mailed Brow again. He said he was trying to go straight and urged her to phone him. Brow, now 48, fell for his voice. Many chats later, she says, “I sent him a picture of myself with wet hair and no makeup and said, ‘If you can wake up to this every morning, then we probably have a lot to talk about.’ ”

They decided to meet. “I felt the Lord give me a little push,” says Brow, who flew to visit LeTrent in Waterford, Pa. She returned smitten. “I couldn’t eat or sleep,” she says. After a week of calls, she and her daughter Nicole, now 15 (her son Christian is 28), moved in with LeTrent, who nevertheless continued to use crack. After seven weeks, she issued an ultimatum: “I said it was the drugs or me.”

“We cried and prayed,” he says. “It was the first time I ever prayed and asked God to forgive me. From that day on, I never took another hit of crack.”

He kept drinking, though—until Brow threatened to throw him out just after their June 1998 wedding. Sober ever since, Randy now works at a Wal-Mart while Peg runs her business from their new three-bedroom trailer home. However unlikely, they say, their romance is blooming. “I read my Bible every morning, and we pray together every night,” says Randy, “and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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