Internet Cafe by Flickr User Jared

Lauren K. Johnson was just looking for a connection. Somebody who had worn the same shoes and could understand her story. The love that came about was just an added bonus.

By: Lauren K. Johnson

Photo Credit: “Internet Cafe” by Flickr user Jared (licensed by CC 3.0) — also on Instagram!

You could say my boyfriend and I met at a conference in Chicago. You could also say we met on the Internet. The truth: I stalked him.

Colin is an Army infantryman-turned writer. Last spring, he spoke at a national writing conference as part of a panel on how to effectively incorporate veterans into creative writing classrooms. As an Air Force officer-turned creative writing student, I was, for obvious reasons, intrigued. So I stalked the panelists; I picked through their bios and utilized the Electronic Stalking Network that is Google to dig for more information. I found Colin’s email and contacted him.

Perhaps against his better judgment, he responded.

From my email, he knew I was well-meaning; he knew we had similar backgrounds and common interests; he knew (because I assured him – twice!) that I wasn’t a stalker. What he didn’t know is that I do this all the time.

During my first few weeks in the Air Force, I was painfully lonely. I had moved across the country by myself, without even a cat to keep me company (those came later), and was the only single female officer in my field. I was surrounded by men in uniform, which was wonderful—and terrifying—in its own right, but I desperately craved female companionship.

So I stalked friends.

“When I stalked Colin, I was merely looking for a connection. I wanted to share my story with someone who might understand.”

I scoured my base directory and identified every female junior officer stationed there. Then I emailed every single one of them. Sixteen of us met for dinner. Six years later, many still keep in touch.

I stalked friends again when I moved across the country—again—for graduate school. School Facebook groups simplified the effort. From there, I targeted people in my program and those from my hometown of Seattle. We bonded over status updates until we met in person a few weeks later (“I’ll be the bewildered-looking one in plaid!”). By then, we already had solid foundations for friendships.

Colin wasn’t aware of my stalking history when he responded to my email (though I dare say my success rate bolstered my confidence that he would respond). Like me, he took a leap of faith that we could connect over shared experiences and develop a professional relationship; that, if nothing else, he would guarantee at least one seat filled at his panel. And that I wasn’t a homicidal maniac.

At the conference, our collective leaps paid off. We met the first evening for drinks, a tradition shared by veterans and writers alike, and immediately connected. We just “got” each other. We’d both been to war, and were both writing about it as a way to better understand our experiences and to share those experiences with others. We both had military injuries that left us with chronic knee pain. We both loved microbrews and pizza.

 

(Related: I Never Imagined Being a 20-Something Veteran: A Soldier Reflects on Why it’s Important to Share His Story)

 

After our first meeting, Colin lent me the manuscript for his book of war poetry. Reading a few poems solidified our connection; I felt like he was unscrambling everything that was in my head. It was frightening. And awesome.

For us, the jump from stalker-stalkee to girlfriend-boyfriend was short. How we met is just one of the many ways in which our relationship is untraditional (those are other stories for other times). I know stalking may not be an effective practice for everyone, and I’m the first to admit I’m shameless, but I think the underlying principle behind my actions is universal.

Undeniable truth: being an adult is hard. We’re growing up, living and learning, working to make a name for ourselves. We’re trying to forge our own paths, to keep our heads above water, to save the world. All the while, many of us are still trying to figure out who we are. There are so many things we need, finding time for those we want seems impossible. Even dating has all but been reduced to profile pictures, survey questions and hurried, grammatically incorrect emails.

On those rare moments when the planets align and time and motivation coincide, there’s that other problem: fear. In putting yourself out there, you risk rejection. If you never leap, you’ll never fall. But you’ll never land anywhere cool either.

So I subscribe to the philosophy that if you know what you want, go after it. The worst that could happen is you don’t get it; you fall a little short, brush the dirt off your knees and try again. But the thing is, you never know.

When I stalked Colin, I was merely looking for a connection. I wanted to share my story with someone who might understand.

Love was simply an added bonus.

Colin and Lauren -- up-and-coming writers and 20 Something Magazine contributors, both -- pose for a photo. Looking good, guys!

Colin and Lauren — young writers and 20 Something Magazine contributors, both — pose for a photo. Looking good, guys!

Lauren K. Johnson (@LaurenKayJ), an Afghanistan veteran and former military public affairs officer, has won regional and national-level Department of Defense journalism awards. Her work  has appeared in Mason’s Road, the Edmonds Enterprise, and numerous Department of Defense publications, including military.com, Tip of the Spear magazine and Special Operations Technology. Lauren is earning an MFA in nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she is completing a memoir about the experience of female soldiers during and after war. She blogs at uncamouflaged.blogspot.com.