They are friends with fictitious names, soulmates without commitments -- they are cyber buddies. Stareducation finds outs why online chatting has become the information-age way for teens to hang out and beat boredom, and its social implications.
THOUGH challenging and difficult, a long-distance relationship can be exciting and fulfilling. Suhana (Sue) Abdul Kadir and Roel Haker are two courageous individuals who beat the odds and gave a whole new meaning to cyber relationships.
She is 24 from Malaysia and he is 29 from The Netherlands. Roel and Sue found each other in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) almost three years ago. Both have since travelled halfway across the globe to plan their life together. Here are excerpts of interviews conducted with Sue and Roel.
Sue: I first met Roel in an IRC random chat room in September 2000 when I was 21 and still in college. His chat name was “ruffneck” and he was a chatterbox. He messaged me and thought I was a guy at first! When I told him I was a girl, he was pretty pleased but I was not looking for anyone special at that point in time.
Roel: It was a busy room and a lot of people were talking, but Sue and I decided to talk in private. After some talking, we exchanged e-mail addresses.
I thought she was a nice person, but I made a huge mistake thinking she was a guy! She didn’t chat like a typical lady at all; she was pretty comfortable and confident with every word she typed.
Sue: We started off as online friends or buddies. After a while, we developed a really good friendship. From his letters, I could sense a very shy and honest person. His e-mail evoke kindness and sincerity which I find lacking in many people.
He also used to get worried when I didn’t e-mail him often. That was when I began to think that maybe there could be something more than just friendship between us.
Roel: The very first e-mail she sent me was followed by almost daily exchanges of e-mail that lasted for a few months. I began to grow fond of her and her e-mail. There would be days when she would not write to me, and that actually made me a little panicky. It made me wonder: “Doesn’t she like me anymore?” or “Did I say something wrong in one of my previous e-mail?”
To my surprise, it was not that she was trying to avoid me, she was just busy with her studies. It was then that I realised that my feelings for her had grown stronger; I had a crush on her. It took me a while to build up my courage to tell her so, and when I finally did, she was quite surprised.
Sue: I had my first glimpse of Roel when he sent me a photo. It was nice to finally put a face to a friend who was slowly becoming more than that. From the beginning I told him that I was big; I also tried to tell him how I looked though I never sent a picture.
Pretty soon I had to fly to Australia to finish my studies, but before I left for Perth he told me that he really liked me as a friend and that I was the first person who actually cared about him in that way.
Roel: Our friendship developed steadily, and we chatted online more regularly. A few months later, Sue had to fly off to Perth to finish her studies, and I was afraid that we might lose contact. We then decided to talk on the phone. Sue sounded good on the phone; she has a great voice. After months of e-mailing, online chats, and phone calls, I decided to go down to Perth and meet up with her.
Sue: He came down to Perth in March 2001 to meet me. I thought it was sweet of him to travel all the way just to see me. My friend offered to send me to the airport to fetch Roel. We just clicked. It was like “Wow!” It really felt like we had been friends for a long time ? long lost friends. He sounded and acted just the way I had imagined him to be when we were online.
I remember literally falling into his arms as I tripped while getting on the van on our way back. But it wasn’t as awkward as I expected it to be.
Roel: Sue didn’t send me any photos of herself, but I could recognise her immediately at the airport. We hugged, and as nervous as I was, she didn’t even hesitate. We had a great time, and I was pretty sad at the end of my vacation.
Sue: We took our time and enjoyed getting to know each other better. We started to have a “real” relationship. He proved to be the nice guy that I knew he was; a perfect gentleman.
It really helped that we were friends before we met; it made things a lot easier for both of us. We talked about the future before he left. We realised it was going to be really difficult but we decided to give it a go.
We were online every day and talked on the phone every night. Then we moved on to video-conferencing. It was great seeing him and talking to him, but it wasn’t the same.
Roel: Some months later, I went back to Perth again, and I proposed. I was glad she didn’t say no.
Sue: He came back to Perth later that year, in September. But we also had an understanding that if he ever found anyone back home and vice versa, we would be honest about it.
During his second visit he proposed, but we made it clear that even though we had rings on our fingers it didn’t guarantee that we would end up together.
After that visit, he invited me to Amsterdam. In January last year, I met his family and they were really nice. His mother said to me: “Welcome to the family.”
I stayed for about 10 days. I went again in July last year for another visit. It was only after I came back from Amsterdam the first time that I told my parents about Roel.
In March, he came to Malaysia to meet my parents. My parents were surprised to find that he was such a gentleman. They’d always had this image of Mat Salleh men as being brassy, loud and alcoholic. Then the issue of religion came in – Roel is Roman Catholic and I’m Muslim.
Roel: The religion issue was the most difficult. Sue explained Islam to me as thoroughly as she could and she made it clear that she would not force me to convert. After a lot of thinking, I decided to convert, not only because I love her, but because I believe that it was God’s will that brought us together. I didn’t believe in God until I met her, so it was a big deal for me.
Sue: My religion plays an important role in my life. When I have kids, I want to raise them to be good Muslims. Roel’s decision to convert was totally his to make. For me, it also showed how much he wanted to be with me.
Roel: Lastly, locations, locations! I’m currently working and living in Holland. Sue and I are still working things out, like where to live when we get married. Since I will be a Muslim, it would be better for me to stay in Malaysia so that I can continue to learn more about Islam.
In Malaysia, my life will be completely different, but I am willing to accept those differences for Sue. Of course I’ll miss everything that I have here (in Amsterdam): my friends, my job, and my family.
Sue: We plan to get married in the near future but no wedding date has been set. For me, he’s the one. He trusts me enough to be my own person and to build a career first. I think the distance between us helps make our relationship stronger.
Roel worries about settling in Malaysia and having to start from scratch. We’re doing lots of planning and I think we would have a really good life here. There’ll be less tax and our kids will get to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Roel: A lot of people would think that I am crazy to sacrifice a lot just for this one person. Sue is more than just a person; she is my soulmate.
I am always happy when I’m with her; she makes me feel there is more to life than just living. It’s been almost three years now, and we’re both glad for everything, good and bad. Sue, I love you.
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