Jena Cumbo: We Met on the Internet
Bryn and Mike are both rapidly approaching 40. The two met on Myspace in January of 2006. “I found an image of [Mike] that he had posted that was utterly hilarious. So I friended him without sending him a [message] and he sent me a [message] back. We hit it off.” They would write each other 3 or 4 emails a day for a month or so. Then they decided to make their friendship a reality by meeting in person in February.
They met at a venue in Minneapolis. Mike told Bryn to bring some of her friends. “When he walked in and sat down next to me,” Bryn confessed, “it was like that cheesy saying: ‘You’ll know it when you meet him.’ It was for sure the situation. When they began dating, Mike gave Bryan a guitar pick and told her that it would come in handy someday. In March, he sent her an invitation to “a guitar pick summit” at his apartment for which the guitar pick was the entry fee. “I went to his apartment and he just expressed his feelings for me and hoped that I felt the same. April he met my parents. May we got engaged.”
They married the following July in Bryn’s parents’ Wisconsin backyard. “We had record albums as our centerpieces with flowers coming out of them. [Mike’s] band played during our ceremony, “I was made for loving you.” They now live together in Park Slope with their 2 cats. Bryn has just started an event production company and Mike is a musician.
Jena Cumbo’s new series, We Met on the Internet explores the social phenomenon of relationships born online. Interviews were conducted by Gina Tron and the project is a little bit like reading the New York Times Sunday wedding pages, offering a window into personal stories of connection and love.
Jena earned a BFA in Painting from the University of Hartford and an MFA in Photography from SUNY Buffalo. She began a commercial career in photography in New York in 2004 assisting under many established photographers including Lauren Greenfield, to whom she was first assistant to in Los Angeles, California in 2008/2009. Cumbo returned to Brooklyn, NY in 2009 where she continues to live and work as a freelance photographer.
We Met on the Internet
Given the fast pace of urban life and the digital necessity of our social media, connecting online has become ubiquitous. It was reported in The Daily News in past June, 2013 that 1 in 3 married couples met online. In an article generated by eMarketer, weekly Internet usage in 2011 averaged more than 30 hours a week for affluent Americans. For Millenials (people 18-29) it was up to 40 hours a week. As the amount of time we as a society spend in cyber space increases it should come as no surprise that it is also a place one has the potential to find love.
The couples I have photographed vary in age, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background. Their reasons for choosing to navigate cyberspace vary as well, yet they all started their current relationship on the Internet. Most met their partner with the intent of Internet dating, while others ‘stumbled into each other’ online and from that interaction their relationship blossomed. I intend for my photo series to be a comment on the way we live now and our connection to the internet as it connects us to others.
Mariela is a 21-year-old self-taught photographer who moved to New York in December of 2011 from the Dominican Republic. Tiago is a 30-year-old who has worked as a finishing carpenter since he was a kid. They found one another in cyberspace thanks to their shared love of tattoos. Their initial contact began on tattoodatingsite.com. “[The name] is that blunt,” stated Mariela. “When you go there, you think it’s a spam website.”
The site was appealing to Tiago because he was frustrated with the lack of tattoo-clad folk in his neighborhood of Queens. “I wanted to meet people and where I live there aren’t many people with tattoos.”
Mariela thought that Tiago was cute. They began talking on Skype and then met in person. On their second date they shared some ink time together. Tiago got a previous piece polished off, while Mariela received a eye onto her forearm. After just two weeks of dating, they moved in together. After four months, they got engaged. Now the two share matching tattoos. “We both have [the word] ‘love’ tattooed in our hands.”
19-year-old Ember began using a website called “My Yearbook” when she was in high school. The site transitioned to Meetme.com, a site primarily used for friendship. “I was using it when I first moved to New York to make friends.” 23-year-old Patrick found Ember on the site in August of 2012 and their original intention was to be platonic.
Ember had a get together at her house a month later and invited Patrick to come. “There was an immediate connection when we first met.” Patrick works as a personal trainer while studying sports nutrition. The couple enjoys working out together as well as cooking together. “We make our own sandwiches, trying out different ingredients,” says Ember who is currently studying fashion merchandising at LIM college. “He’s an animal lover, like me, so that’s nice. He’s very caring.” Patrick moved to the city to help his mother.
Now, the young couple plans to move to Dallas together. Patrick’s friend is opening a gym and he plans on being employed as a trainer there while being in charge of nutrition.
Rita and Antonio are both 30 and live together in Astoria, Queens. They initially met when they were just teenagers, chatting in a Napster chat room in 1999. They spoke about music and other friendly topics. After the Napster era ended, the two stayed in touch over e-mail.
They reconnected more intensely in the mid 2000’s. “We started connecting again, and would talk everyday on the phone or on MSN messenger and video chat.” Antonio was fascinated by Japanese culture, “so I introduced him to [it] and anime.” They also share an interest in Asian music, Korean pop music in particular.
In 2006, Antonio came to visit Rita in New York. She picked him up at JFK airport and they hung out for a few days. A few months later, Antonio brought Rita down to St. Thomas. They soon moved there together for 2 years. They have now been living in Queens for 2 years, where they take care of Antonio’s daughter.
31-year-old Linny and 29-year-old Pat have been a couple since 2008 and a married couple since 2012. This almost didn’t happen. One day, Linny was sitting at a bar alone while her friend paid the bill. “[Pat] looked over at me and came and sat down. Usually I was not very receptive to that sort of thing. We had a conversation and when my friend came back I got up, touched his arm, and told him it was good to talk to him.”
As soon as Linny left the establishment, she was kicking herself for not getting Pat’s number. The next day she created a post on Missed Connections. When she got home that evening, she had two responses to the ad. “One said, ‘Whatchu into?” and the other was from Pat.” Pat didn’t even know the site existed, but his friend who was “popular with the ladies of Missed Connections” saw the post and let him know it was about him. Pat and Linny connected on email and went out 4 days later.
The two never tried to hide how they met. “It was just such a crazy story that I was just delighted that Missed Connections actually worked. I had been so flabbergasted that it all came together that I was not shy about sharing it,” said Linny. Romantic love is not the only love the two found online. They also found their dog Freddie through Petfinder.
Love sprouts from the darkest of places sometimes. 22-year-old model and photographer Taylor and 21-year-old Bumble and Bumble hair stylist Jonathan met on Grindr, a site known for gay hookups. “It’s so bad. I know,” admits Taylor. “I had actually never used [the site] before. I had literally got it for the sole purpose of showing my hetero friends how disgusting the gay world can be. So I guess I kind of proved myself wrong.”
Taylor’s profile caught Jonathan’s eye. “He stood out because he wasn’t some chunky looking Chelsea guy. I just kind of knew that we would hit it off, whether it be [as] friends or if we were to date,” said Jonathan. It took Taylor a while to warm up to the idea. “I didn’t really trust anyone on that site because of its reputation.”
They have now been dating for 2 months and live together in Bushwick. They are both into cult classic films and vintage shopping. “I feel like we both have a thing for things with a darker feel. We are super into Tim Burton,” explained Jonathan, “But at the same time we like romantic comedies. We might both possibly cry during it. “Don’t tell her that!” Taylor exclaimed. “It’s embarrassing!”
In the era of Friendster and the birth of Myspace, Roberto and Valerie connected on a website called Makeout Club. Around Thanksgiving 2002, Roberto shot Valerie a random message. “It was like a chance encounter. There was no organization to it,” he admits. They chatted and talked on the phone the same night.
The two soon became friends, despite living states away. “The only reason I kept talking to her was because I liked her writing. For the most part, when [people] say they are writers you would read something and it would be absolutely horrible. But with her, her writing was really great.”
They would speak on the phone once a week. On March 20, 2003 Roberto drove to Philly and they shared their first date. “We saw Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and had dinner. It was the perfect date,” gushed Valerie. “It was the first of our everything: first date, first dinner, and first kiss in streets of Philadelphia,” Roberto added. They have been living together in Brooklyn for 2 years and they are planning a pregnancy.
If it weren’t for Lily’s meddling mother, she would have never met her husband. The now 28 year old Lily was living a life of “sexual liberation.” She had a different guys in her life that filled different needs for her, one for an ego-boost, the ex-boyfriend, the boyfriend potential, the guy next door, the coworker. She was also partying heavily at the time. Lily was “perfectly happy” with this. Her mother on the other hand, wasn’t. Her mother always wanted Lily to get married to a nice rich Jewish doctor. Her mother set up a JDate profile for Lily. “It had a picture from my high school yearbook.” The profile stated that Lily was a non-smoker and didn’t drink very much. Basically the profile was loaded with lies. Lily went on a few dates her mother set up for her, all of which she claims were horrifying.
Her mom set Lily up on a date with a boy that Lily found cute, Dave. “She told him I was a jazz musician. I’m not a jazz musician.” Lily told Dave that it was her mom’s doing and that she was getting off JDate. She messaged him her phone number and told him to call her if he is still interested. He did and they talked for two hours.
They hung out a few times but Lily wasn’t too interested. “I didn’t want my mother to be right,” she admitted. But more and more, Dave filled all the roles of the different guys Lily had in her life previously. “We would go to concerts together. We would have fun and watch movies in together. It was amazing. We had this connection.” After 4 months they moved in together. They have been married 2 years. Lily hated the wedding because it was too traditional.
19-year-old Rain and 24-year-old Nelson’s relationship blossomed from a Facebook poke. “Why the hell do I have a poke from a random person?” Rain reflected. He messaged Nelson, and they talked over the site for a month and a half. It turned into a date. They went to dinner, and liked each other right away. They began doing movie marathons together. “Some nights it would be girly night for me where I would put on chick flicks and other nights he would choose the manly movies.” Nelson has a daughter from a previous heterosexual relationship. Rain says the daughter was a big factor in them getting along so well. Rain now helps care for the child. Despite being in “crazy” relationships in the past, they found their connection to be easy. “Especially the first six months. It was like honeymoon phase. Nothing was wrong for the first six months. We were just completely happy.” They just hit their one-year anniversary.
It started with a photo on Instagram. 27 year old Nikki saw a photograph of 28 year old Malliha. “It wasn’t just that she was pretty and beautiful. It was just an amazing photo. I was taken aback.” She saved the photo and used it as the screensaver on her tablet. “I would see this picture everyday I would get on my tablet.” Oddly, on a hair themed blog Nikki saw Malliha again. She didn’t realize it was the same person because Malliha had sunglasses on in her Instagram photo. Nikki added Malliha on Instagram after seeing her on the hair blog.
Malliha wrote a comment on one of Nikki’s pictures. Malliha thought if Nikki didn’t write back she would call it a day. Nikki didn’t respond, because she didn’t see the comment. On her own, Nikki liked one of Malliha’s Instagrams. Nikki, was getting ready to attend an event. She saw that Malliha was also attending. “We linked at the event and from there we hit it off,” Malliha said. Nikki didn’t realize she was dating the girl from her screensaver until one day when Malliha showed Nikki a bunch of her photos.
“We have so much in common it’s scary. We have the ability to reach each others’ minds.” They have been together over a year and a half. In their free time they love to visit pet stores. “We really want a pet but we can’t get one right now, so we live vicariously through visiting shops.” the couple usually ask the pet store to show them a puppy so they can play with it for a while.
Donna doesn’t remember which AOL chat room she met Jesse in back in 1997. But, she does remember his screen name. “It had ‘47 in and I thought maybe he’s around the same age as me because my birthday is in June of ‘47. That’s why I said hello.” They were the same age. The now 66 year olds spoke over email and phone for about 5 months. “We decided to meet at the mall in Syracuse. I figured that was pretty safe.”
Donna planned an escape route in case Jesse was a “dud.” But, she didn’t need to escape. “He didn’t escape is more like it!” After their mall meeting they went out to dinner. Then they talked in a park for hours. Both were divorced with children at the time, and they bonded over camping and travelling discussions. Donna thought that Jesse was “ a really nice fellow” but didn’t see any long-term plans. She had been on her own for at least 20 years. “Permanent was far from my mind. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
They told each other they didn’t want to fall in love. One night at Red Lobster though, Donna asked Jesse how he felt about her. He said, “Remember when we said we didn’t want to fall in love? Well, it’s too late.” Donna immediately got sick at the table. “My kids say I can’t believe after you threw up at the table he still asked you to marry him!” They married in 2000 at a wedding bigger than both of their first weddings. “Every year around the same time we go to Red Lobster for dinner just to laugh. “
caption by Jena Cumbo
Monica was friended by Jamel on Facebook without knowing him. confused, but flattered, she accepted his request. They soon learned they had many childhood friends in common. Jamel turned out to be the older brother of a friend she grew up with but she never knew Jamel existed and though it is possible they may have someday met by chance because of their mutual friends, being on Facebook expedited that process and the two fell for each other pretty quickly. They live together in the Bronx. They love playing video games.
A New Orleans meet up evolved into marriage for 30 year old Casey and 26 year old Ben. They found each other on Craigslists on the personals section. Both love art exhibits and museums, and love talking about different languages. They invented an excuse for Ben to visit New Orleans again. They visited each other once a month for eight months. Then, Ben had to go to Vietnam. “So I thought what if we go together and that turned into moving to Vietnam [together.]
While in Vietnam, they planned their wedding. They wed in December of 2012 and were married by the same priest that Casey had house-sat for. The couple is now doing the long distance route again, this time between Sweden and Vietnam.
Back in 2011, twenty-five year old Giovanni started writing to thirty-seven year old David, who was incarcerated at the time. She was living 45 minutes from San Francisco and he was in a California prison. She wasn’t on the site looking for romance, more for a pen-palrelationship. “I thought it be cool to do it from an objective view.” She said that David’s profile stood out among the “scary” and often deceptive inmate profiles. She told me that it didn’t surprise any of her family and friends that she joined the site, because it was “something she would do.”
David was sentenced to ten years in prison for a white-collar crime. “I used to work as a computer programmer. It was one of the fraud cases that was really, really prominent in the early 2,000’s.” He served nine of these years. “It started it getting easier and easier to justify taking it out on the system” In the beginning of their writing, they would talk about garage rock and art. About a year into their pen pal relationship, their letters got more flirtatious and they began making plans for Giovanni to move to New York once he got out.
They love photography and going to museums. “What attracted me to Giovanna,” confessed David, “Was that she was able to see the world in different ways and she didn’t want to settle for the life that people say you are supposed to have.” Giovanni claims that when she explains to people how they met, some assume she “lives in a trailer and watches daytime TV all day.” David says he notices that a lot of people “have bigotry towards others based on their history or where they’ve been rather than judging them on where they are now or where they want to go.”
caption, Jena Cumbo
Jack was struck by an image of Renee lighting a religious candle, faith is very important to both of them. Jack was very adverse to dating someone in Manhattan, as he was living in Long Island, however Renee won him over, plus the parking space at her co-op on the upper west side helped ‘seal the deal’ The two were wed in 2009 and have been living in Manhattan ever since, they have a rich and active life full of family activities with their extended families as well as group events through their temple.
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
The 2019 Lange-Taylor Prize: Chinen Aimi: Finding RyukyuOctober 4th, 2019
Sunny Strader: 5th Grade DreamsOctober 1st, 2019
Marcia Resnick: Re-VisionsSeptember 19th, 2019
Hiroshi Watanabe: KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange ThingsSeptember 17th, 2019
Photographers on Photographers: Julia Vandenoever and Stephanie BurchettSeptember 2nd, 2019