t began with a simple hello. Albeit it a virtual one. Mary and Alex traveled in the same circles; both worked in the wine industry and they followed each other on a variety of social media. They had “friends” common and both effused over wine labels several nights a week.
Alex was among hundreds of men in Mary’s industry, but he lived in Florence. Mary had trouble dating men in Queens, let alone on the other side of the Atlantic. She’d never paid particular attention to him other than to comment on his industry updates with smiley faces and exclamation points. In pictures, he wore a blue baseball cap and seemed to have a sweet face. She hardly paid attention.
That is, until he sent her a private message, the digital equivalent of dropping a note on someone’s table on your way to the bathroom.
It consisted, mysteriously, of a greeting. No more.
In a culture where online alter egos are the norm, reading occurs between the lines. A smattering of photographs and a well-chosen word can be enough to send someone into a dream spiral. Online personalities can be the extension of what we think others want us to be at any given moment.
Mary ignored Alex’s “message” for months. Either she didn’t it or was otherwise distracted. Then, one December night, alone on the couch, she took a longer look.
Three dots — the ellipsis — with their innumerable implications and infinite possibilities: ellipses say everything while saying nothing at all.
Alex’s message, she was sure, was more than just a hello.
She finally replied, asking how he was. It was late, well past midnight in Florence, so she didn’t expect as response.
Instead, moments later her phone lit up.
How are you…?
Ellipsis plus a question mark? This was curious. It seemed less like a question than the smooth injection by a stranger at the bar, so often preceded by, “Hey sweetheart,” and accompanied by a raise of the eyebrows.
The ellipsis acts as eyes, forcing intimacy. She felt invaded, as if he knew she was alone on the couch and thinking about him or other men. Wishing she were with someone. He knew exactly how she was.
Or did he?
She answered him. You’re up late.
Yes… Happy to hear from you…
Was there a “finally” missing from his phrase? Or was “happy” another, more sexually charged word in disguise?
She was riveted by their terse exchange, but then again she was ripe for riveting. Was it just timing?
Mary and Alex began keeping in touch. What she garnered from his profiles suggested they had a lot in common. He was an expert marketer and seemed quite knowledgeable about wine. Surely they’d have enough to talk about for at least one night.
So she took a chance and wrote to him. Hi Alex, I’ll be in Italy for Christmas…
His response: I can’t wait…
She hadn’t planned on stopping in Florence, but he offered to arrange everything, from her hotel and dinners to an afternoon of wine tasting in Chianti. She couldn’t help but feel flattered, a sensation she indulged. The little vacation twist couldn’t have come at a better time. She’d gone too long without love, and here was a man who seemed to be falling all over himself with excitement at the prospect of seeing her. It all felt nice enough that she let her hope crowd out any remaining doubts that Alex was just a lonely man online.
In the weeks leading up to her departure they sent each other hundreds of short messages… all of them riddled with ellipsis. She packed something red and lacey just in case.
They didn’t actually speak until she was on the train one hour out of Florence. He called to make sure she was on time. He voice was pleasantly deeper than she’d expected. The pictures she’d found of him online made him seem slight and sweet, not her usual type, but she’d been willing to take a chance. She was dying for a chance.
He sounded calm and collected, the opposite of how she was feeling.
He met her on the platform. He looked exactly like his pictures, if a little taller. He offered to carry her bag. As she passed the handle their hands touched…
She held her breath. He smiled.
So, how are you…?