CONSIDER the erotic potential between blogger and commenters.
The blogger is boss, a salon host with wit and whip. Certainly a blogger thrives on commenters — who wants to declaim to an empty e-room? But let’s be clear: blogger, sovereign; commenters, courtiers.
That’s why the bloggerati pounced gleefully last week on the news that one of their own had fallen in love with a commoner, er, commenter.
Reader, she is going to marry him.
Ann Althouse, 58, is a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison who blogs about politics, law and cultural whatnots in a sharp, occasionally ribald tone. She admires Rush Limbaugh, voted for George Bush in ’04 and Barack Obama in ’08. She attracts derision and applause from 500,000 monthly visitors.
The jeers spiked ever since the March 22 announcement on her blog that this divorced mother of two adult sons, stalwartly single for more than 20 years, is engaged to a commenter known simply as “Meade.” Except for her closest readers, the blogosphere was taken by surprise.
“Does she know the guy?” sniggered Mickey Kaus, the Slate blogger, in a bloggingheads.tv interview.
In a phone interview, Ms. Althouse shot back, “If a male blogger found women to consort with by going into his comments, I think he’d be congratulated.”
The tale of Meade and Ms. Althouse is a cross between the studiedness of a Victorian epistolary courtship —a modern-day Robert Browning googling his dear Elizabeth Barrett — and the wackiness of 21st-century life online. The Althouse commentariat would log into the virtual local pub of the blog, gossiping and fantasizing about their queen’s offline love life, and even egging the couple on. When the announcement finally came, the commentariat cheered, bursting with hometown pride that a humble, anonymous son of the Internet could win the hand of the blogger.
Until now, Meade liked his online anonymity just fine. But at his fiancée’s urging, he agreed to be unmasked here. He is Laurence Meade, 55, divorced, father of a college student and a garden designer and caretaker for a Cincinnati estate.
About four years ago, Mr. Meade happened upon Ms. Althouse’s blog, by clicking through a series of Web links originating on the popular blog written by Andrew Sullivan (who also snickered at her betrothal last week).
Intellectually smitten, Mr. Meade read Ms. Althouse’s blog daily, becoming a regular commenter. “He would write jokingly as if he was in love with me,” Ms. Althouse said. “You couldn’t tell if he was fooling around or not, but it warms your heart.”
Mr. Meade even followed a blog kept by Ms. Althouse’s ex-husband, Richard Cohen, a writer in Austin, Tex. Once, about three years ago, when Ms. Althouse and her ex had a blog-spat, Mr. Meade, whose marriage was then unraveling, commented on Mr. Cohen’s behalf.
Over the years, Mr. Meade developed a blog-crush on Ms. Althouse. His wry, eloquent commenter persona became even more flirtatious.
In December, in a private e-mail message, he asked whether they might meet. Nothing came of it.
Turns out that the way to a blog-woman’s heart is through the comments.
In a January post, Ms. Althouse listed lessons from Clint Eastwood’s film “Gran Torino.”
No. 5: “A young man should perceive when a girl likes him and he needs to ask her out to dinner and a movie before somebody else does.”
In front of the eyes and fingertips of thousands, Mr. Meade made his move.
Mr. Meade: “OK. Want to have dinner with me and see it again?”
Ms. Althouse: “Yes, but you’ll have to come to Madison.”
On the phone last week, Mr. Meade recalled that exchange. “It was a throwaway,” he said. “I didn’t expect Ann to answer. Even so, I thought, that’s the end of that. But then Knox noticed.”
That is, Knox, another commenter, who wrote: “Meade, this is HUGE! Meade …? He must be packing.”
Emboldened, Mr. Meade wrote privately to Ms. Althouse. After he offered his Social Security number, in case she wanted to run a criminal check, they made a date.
He was intimidated by her. “I don’t have the education she has,” he said. He had studied history and horticulture in college but never graduated. “I don’t have the social status she has. But I was powerfully drawn to her. And I thought, what do I have to lose?”
Mr. Meade drove 10 hours to Madison. At the theater, they met — and spoke — for the first time. Alas, the film was “The Wrestler.”
As a blogger, Ms. Althouse gives the illusion that readers are privy to her personal life. But she is actually circumspect. The next morning, she posted a harsh review of “The Wrestler,” but didn’t mention the date itself.
But Mr. Meade did: “it didn’t ruin your appetite for dinner, did it? I hope not.”
Mr. Meade kept writing to her on the blog and through e-mail. Writing was the comfort zone through which they had come to know each other over the years. They began to relax.
Ms. Althouse agreed to meet him once more, halfway.
That would be West Lafayette, Ind.
On Friday, Feb. 13, the couple and their laptops met at a cafe there. They chatted, she wrote; literary libidos soared. “I loved the kissing in public,” Ms. Althouse recalled last week. A car had passed and someone hooted. “No one has ever yelled, ‘Get a room’ at me before!” she said, with evident delight.
That evening, the commentariat buzzed with suspicion. “I think the professor has a boyfriend.” Another wrote: “Has anyone seen Meade lately?”
The next morning, Valentine’s Day, Ms. Althouse posted a photograph of the cafe with the caption, “In the Heartland.”
The commentariat speculated madly.
The couple spent two more weekends and 10 days’ vacation together. Ms. Althouse blogged as usual, but did not disclose the romance. She did drop hints and puns like bread crumbs, alluding, for instance, to mead, the honeyed drink. On Feb. 28, Ms. Althouse posted a photo of a skillet on a stove, with the headline: “You cook breakfast. I’ll blog it.”
Mr. Meade wrote: “Nice steamy reflections.”
A prosaic commenter: “Using a metal fork in a nonstick pan?”
Two weeks ago, Ms. Althouse put up a series of photos. The final was a close-up of her hand, trying on Tiffany sparklers.
The commentariat went wild.
Freeman Hunt: “if they’re engaged, they actually got pretty much engaged on the second date.”
Finally, Meade himself stepped forward and made the announcement: “Althouse said yes! I am the happiest man in the world.”
Mr. Meade plans to move to Madison in August, when the couple will become legally wedded blogger and commenter.
Knox, the commenter who sent Mr. Meade on that first movie date, sobbed with virtual joy: “Couldn’t be happier for two people I’ve never met!”