In today's wired world of Internet dating, online hook-ups between gay men might be more likely to lead to one-night stands than wedding bells.
For Michael Curnes and Richard Thompson--who met in July 2002 on gaydar.com--an overnight fling was physically impossible. At the time, Richard, then 35, was studying pre-med in Portland and Michael, then 41, managed a bed-and-breakfast and the chamber of commerce in the small town of Tofino (population 1,400) on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
No matter--both claim they were uninterested in a flash-in-the-pan romance. Self-described workaholics, they each claim they were too busy to deal with a lover who lived in the same ZIP (or postal) code. And so they began a largely virtual relationship.
From Tofino, Michael would send long emails to Richard daily. In between classes, Richard would read them. In an attempt to get to know each other, they sent questionnaires, asking questions about housekeeping tendencies, previous relationships and life history.
"Neither of us had much time," Michael says. "We were looking for the express method to love."
Express, indeed. In an offhanded email sent just weeks into this online romance, Michael proposed--though both claim more serious marriage talk came after the new year.
The first time they they spoke by telephone, the two vowed not to replace web time with phone time. Through the Internet, Michael says, the couple developed an intense relationship.
"It required a whole different level of conversation," he says.
Turns out their conversations weren't just with words. Richard had a web camera, and Michael bought one so they could employ its uses--not, they claim, for the kinky stuff--to broadcast each other's facial expressions when chatting online.
By the following September, the men decided it was time to meet. Both say they were anxious before their weekend in Seattle. During Michael's 11-hour journey from Tofino to Seattle, he went through a file of old emails and kept running through potential scenarios of how a meeting might go. They had, after all, never seen each other in person, let alone shared a kiss.
The first meeting was a success. From the moment they met at the Greyhound bus station until they said goodbye at the Cheesecake Factory, Richard says everything went extremely well.
"I'd just had the most perfect two days of my life," Richard recalls. "And we were both crying in our cheesecake--which is just wrong."
After this first meeting, the couple took turns traveling for weekend rendezvous. In June, the couple went to Astoria together. On the beach and with only two dogs as their witness, the couple held their own, private commitment ceremony. Afterwards, they flew to Mexico for a weeklong honeymoon.
In July, word came of Canada's decision to legalize gay marriage, and Michael immediately began planning another ceremony. "I spent time putting the normal pieces together," he says. "Because that's what we've been waiting for our whole lives."
Richard, whose sexuality among his family had been a known--but hushed--subject, sent word of the upcoming nuptials in an email to his parents. When his mother called him, her reaction surprised him.
"She said: 'We'll be there, but your father's upset. He wants to know if he can be your best man,'" Richard says.
And so the couple married in front of 100 invited guests and dozens of other onlookers in another, more public, beach ceremony at Tofino this August. But when all the dust of the wedding settled, Richard drove to Portland without his new husband.
That homecoming came two months later, in October, when Michael's commitments in Tofino were finished, and he moved to Portland. Finally, the two were able to leave the virtual stage of their relationship behind.