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Jan 3 / Elliot Darvick

Closer: Janice & Kevin

Welcome to the latest post in our Closer series — a look at how technology brings couples, family, and close friends closer. Kevin and Janice are a married couple living together in Seattle. Prior to getting married, Kevin and Janice spent a year in a long-distance relationship that began and blossomed on AOL Instant Messenger back in 1998.

Unbucket: Tell us a little bit about how you and Kevin met.

Janice: We met via a mutual friend on America Online when that service was fairly…awesome. (Laughs) This was in 1999.

Kevin: 1998.

Janice: Oh yeah, technically ’98! The end of ’98. We were doing one of those email distribution lists together, just as a hobby project, and within a few months he instant messaged me. I still remember the date, January 14th, 1999 — it’s one of our annual anniversaries we still celebrate. He was kind of flirty and adorable and he just kind of started talking to me. We really haven’t stopped talking since.

Unbucket: Where were you living at the time?

Kevin: I was in Oklahoma City.

Janice: And I was in Puyallup, WA, about 45 minutes from where we are now.

Unbucket: How else did you use technology to stay connected while living apart?

Janice: AOL Instant Messenger was definitely primary for us. I had a cell phone, but it was really expensive to use. That was when plans weren’t nearly as cheap as they are now. I had to pay for every minute. Sometimes emails, but primarily Instant Messenger. I also had a group of friends that chatted online, so he would join us and we would just kind of hang in a private room.

Kevin: To keep things as cheap as we could, we would actually go buy stacks of phone cards that would give use three cents a minute rates or something insanely cheaper than the ten or twenty cents a minute rates we were getting from our phone providers. I worked at America Online at that time so I was online almost all the time between work and home.

Janice: I could pretty much contact him anytime. He worked a weird schedule, I worked a weird schedule, so we almost worked similar schedules even with two different time zones. We would talk on the phone and (laughs) fall asleep on the phone…yeah, it was pretty awesome.

Unbucket: How long did you stay in a long-distance relationship?

Janice: Until we were married we lived in separate cities. It was January of ’99 when we first started talking and we were married May of 2000. We became engaged in a couple months actually, it was very quick, and then we went through the proper “let’s wait a year” and try and go at this the traditional way even though it was a very untraditional relationship.

Unbucket: Do you wish you had available to you back then technology available to couples in long distance relationships today?

Janice: That’s a really great question. When we were living apart, he had to actually borrow a web cam once, so we didn’t really have a lot of that. The connections were really slow — we didn’t even have high speed internet when we first met.

Kevin: It would be a lot more convenient to do this now not to mention cheaper on the pocketbook. I make way more money now than I did back then, so the cost to us on the salaries that we had at that time was pretty high. Overall it was worthwhile of course!

Unbucket: Once you finally lived under the same roof, how did things change with respect to using technology to remain close?

Kevin: Well I work in IT and I did back then too. I had multiple computers, in fact, the computer she was using I had built. We had our computers set up in the same room and sometimes we’d still socialize with the friends that we had made online while sitting in the room together — we would sometimes even IM each other. We still will today! (Both laugh)

Janice: True.

Kevin: It wasn’t unusual that she would be out in the living room and I would be back in the bedroom — I might send her a text message now — back then I couldn’t have done that, but I did have a PC downstairs and two or three upstairs, so it worked that when she was home, she could get in touch with me even on a shift that ran me until 4 am our time. Eventually we got me a cell phone as well, so at that point we were only a ring away from each other.

Unbucket: Fast forward to today, how are you using technology to remain close?

Janice: Yeah, cell phones and messaging are still so very prevalent in our daily communication. We have our iPhones and iMessage is pretty awesome. We can be together on our phones or on our laptops — basically anywhere. When he has to go on a business trip we use Skype or MSN Messenger — so it’s still all very much a part of how we communicate.

Kevin: There are at least 30 computers in my home and even right now when I have a good chunk of them turned off and not running, I still have 15 computers that are on in here plus our mobile devices.

Janice: Uh, yeah… (Laughs)

Kevin: We both have an iPad so we stay in touch with email and iMessage there. With the roll out of Apple’s operating system Mountain Lion, the messages application became iMessage and it’s been tied into the whole iOS scheme, so whether I’m sitting in the living room on my MacBook Pro or she is, or if we’re out and about, we really can rotate between computers on the Apple side of things and stay fluidly in touch.

Unbucket: Sounds like an Apple household.

Kevin: I’ve got one main Windows machine that I use a lot, but it streams TV online more than anything else. We actually don’t have TV service so we use our technology to stream movies and TV shows that we watch together at night.

We’re really wired. I don’t think we ever actually unplug, we’re available 24/7.

Unbucket: From the very start of the relationship!

Janice: Part of the goodness that technology has brought to our relationship is that it really has provided this closeness. Communication is awesome — it’s the most communicative relationship I’ve ever had and I have to say that it’s primarily due to technology bringing us together from the start. For a long time we couldn’t have any type of physical connection — all we had was talking and communication.

Kevin: Since in our first year together we communicated through the IMs and over the phone more than anything else ever and so I think it really gave us a deep insight into who the other person was. I didn’t try to be anyone but me, and I know she was her because when I would come visit her in person to do wedding planning or for a getaway, it was with the same person I had been talking to every night.

Unbucket: Tell us about your engagement story; we understand technology was a part of it too.

Janice: I actually asked him to marry me on AOL instant Messenger! It was by accident, but it did occur (laughs). It was only a month after we really started talking on January 14th — this was February 21st — and you just kind of know who that person is that you want to be with for the rest of your life — your soulmate. I felt that connection so strongly in that moment and I just said, “Marry me!” and he said, “I will! I will!” I can still see the text in my head [laughs]. Then I was like, “Oh! Okay! Call me, let’s talk about this!” We immediately disconnected and got on the phone and decided, “Yeah, this is what we want to do.” This is before we even met in person!

We didn’t meet face to face until April 15th of 1999. We kept it on the down low for the most part; we wanted to make sure we had a physical connection and not just an emotional connection. I met him — I can still remember the gate, B6 at the Seattle airport — I saw him and I was nervous and we were just kind of awkward, but as we were walking to baggage, he pulled me aside and gave me the biggest most romantic movie kiss you can ever imagine. I was done; I knew for a fact this was going to be my husband.