by Stephen Ritch
Two years ago Shellie Berry had never travelled out of Oklahoma or Texas, did not possess a passport, and was a stranger to the Internet. Two years on Shellie knows all there is to know about emails and websites, has a passport, has flown across the Atlantic for the first time ever, and more importantly, has a new husband, David.
And for these monumental changes in Shellie and David's lives, they have the Internet to thank, as it was through IRC - internet relay chat - that they met, fell in love and married.
Both David and Shellie were married to other people when they logged on for the first time, but both confess that all was not well with their respective relationships. David has two children from his previous marriage, and Shellie, three, two of whom are now resident with the couple in the Isle of Man.
Meeting a spouse on the Internet could prompt any number of uncharitable comments but cast any such thoughts from your mind. David 33, and Shellie, 32, are two eminently sensible, sensitive, frank and open people. David is a process engineer with Callender (IOM) Aeropart Ltd and Shellie is now working at Legends at the Tynwald Centre. They are both animated, cultured and gregarious people...they also happen to be truly, madly, deeply in love.
David Berry acquired a PC about two years ago (paying for it with money he had saved when he gave up smoking), logged onto the Internet, and entered the 'beginners' room to start elementary 'conversations' with people from around the world, one of whom was Shellie, herself a novice at the time in IT matters.
She says: 'All the kids at college (she was studying to be a nurse) were saying how great the Internet was, and how they could talk to anyone in the world, so I thought I'd give it a try at college, and soon discovered how addictive it can be.'
Shellie logged on for the first time around March 1997, and soon built up a network of electronic pen pals. 'It got so that every day I needed my "fix" on the Internet, so when school finished for the summer and I had to use my home PC, I got withdrawal symptoms, as I had no modem to hook up to.' The problem was soon redressed and Shellie was back in business, chatting with people from around the world, including some from the Isle of Man.
'I'd never heard of the Isle of Man, so looked it up in an atlas to discover it was just a tiny dot in the middle of the Irish Sea.' Shellie also soon discovered just how different the British sense of humour was, quickly latching on to the finely honed cynicism of the Brits.
One of the Isle of Man correspondents turned out to be David. Says Shellie: 'At first it's prudent to withhold your more personal details, but it soon became clear that we had a lot in common. We were both in relationships which weren't going anywhere, I had three kids, David had two, we seemed to share the same interests and conversation was just so easy between us.'
Ultimately the time came to exchange photos, David sending one he had had taken while on holiday in Greece, which showed him with green lips (sun-block induced). They also exchanged photos of their respective children, and despite the green lips, Shellie still wanted to know more about this man from an island in the middle of the Irish Sea.
Then disaster struck in the form of David's PC monitor breaking down. 'I couldn't go on-line and it was then that it struck me just how much I missed speaking to Shellie every day.' Similarly Shellie was devastated that she was missing his calls.
The monitor repaired, the calls continued every day, with David becoming increasingly concerned on the rare occasion when Shellie was engaged, speaking to other people on the net. Says David: 'I was afraid I'd done something to upset her, but it turned out to be far from the case.'
Time differences made communicating all the more of a challenge, as Shellie explains: 'It was six hours earlier in the States, so we spoke most often between 6pm and midnight, "IOM time" as David had to catch some sleep before going to work.'
By this time the couple were talking for six hours a day, every day. Says Shellie, 'Talking for that long every day, you get to know a person really well. How many couples would normally get the opportunity to talk for that long at a stretch? It got to the stage when we were finishing each other's sentences, and could tell when the other person was feeling upset, simply by the tone of the message.'
The romance, for romance it was by this stage, flourished, with David sending Shellie 'cyber flowers', and their setting up a programme of their favourite music, the two most special tracks being Celine Dion's 'Colour of my Love' and Savage Gardens' 'Truly, Madly, Deeply.'
(Ironically by this time, Shellie was sharing her PC with her then husband who was also conducting a 'virtual' romance with a woman in New Zealand). 'There were times,' says Shellie, 'when it was becoming increasingly clear that David and I were getting serious, that I would ask myself what I was doing, communicating with a man on the other side of the Atlantic, anxious to get out of my existing marriage, and trying, simultaneously, to study to become a nurse in order to support my kids.'
Shellie then filed for divorce which took only three months to become final. Some time afterwards, David, as he was about to go away on a course, telephoned Shellie at home for the first time ever. 'Shellie's first reaction was, 'Oh my God, that accent!'
The conversation did not flow as easily at first on the phone as it had done via the Internet. 'I think we were both a bit reserved,' says David, 'but only for the first five or 10 minutes, then we were up and running as before and the words just flowed.'
'By that time,' says Shellie, 'I was even more attracted to David and it didn't matter if I were to meet him and he looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame, I still wanted to know everything about him. When David was away on his course, it was one of the longest five days of my life, so I filled them by cleaning the house, which I'd been sorely neglecting ever since we'd got serious.'
When David returned from his course, he started to ring Shellie, on the phone for at least an hour every night. He says: 'I hadn't realised that it was costing me £75 a day, until I received my first credit card statement bill. I knew I had to put a stop to them, albeit very reluctantly.'
David goes on to say that he managed to track down a company, First Telecom, which charged only 10p a minute for calls to the USA, 'So,' he says, 'I was back on the phone for two hours a day, plus using the Internet as well.'
A meeting of the two was inevitable. David had holidays due to him and wondered whether the time was right for the two of them to meet. 'I thought about it on the Monday...on the Friday I was on the plane to the States!'
He flew out to Tulsa. The plane was 40 minutes late, which gave Shellie 40 minutes more to wonder what she was doing, waiting at the airport for a man she felt she knew so much about. 'I was excited, but a little anxious as well. The words of some of my friends and family came back to haunt me. Phrases like: "You must be crazy", or "How do you know he's not a mass murderer?".'
All such thoughts vanished the minute David appeared. Shellie says: 'We hugged in the airport and being together instantly felt right for both of us.' Shellie had left her children at home with her mother, but as soon as David walked in the house they ran into his arms and he was 'home'. Says David: 'I'd travelled extensively but never to the States. There I was, jet lagged, in a strange country face to face with a family I'd never met before, but everything just fell into place and felt so right.'
The couple were together for 10 days before David had to return to the Island. 'I knew I didn't want to leave Shellie, and she felt the same.' Shellie adds, 'At the airport we were both crying, then after David left, I felt such an emptiness inside. Because we had spent so much time on-line, we knew everything about each other so when we met, there were absolutely no secrets between us.'
David returned to Oklahoma in October 1997. This time their meeting was even more relaxed. During his stay, Shellie became unwell for a couple of days, so David looked after the children, cleaned the house and did the cooking. 'So by the time I had to go back to work it was really hard to let go. I bought Shellie a promise ring before I left, then finally, at the end of 1997, Shellie and her two daughters, Caitlin 7 and and Cassandra 10, came out to the Isle of Man.' (Shellie also has a son, Thomas, 14, who lives with his father in the US).
Shellie explains: 'I'd never been out of Texas or Oklahoma in my life, so it was quite an epic trip travelling to Manchester with two kids in tow and a mass of luggage, leaving behind everything that was familiar to me, to be with David.'
He met her at Manchester airport and they drove to Liverpool to catch the ferry to the Island. Says Shellie: 'I've never been too keen on the sea or boats, but found that this new experience wasn't so bad after all, especially to be with David. Watching the Isle of Man - the place I was to be calling home - coming in to view was a very special moment for me. It looked so beautiful at night, all lit up'
David by this time had moved out of his matrimonial home and living in an apartment in Peel. Shellie says: 'I had no preconceived ideas of what the Island might be like, but took to it immediately. I thought the town and the castle were enchanting.'
By February 1998 the couple decided to marry. David's divorce became final on June 20 and on June 27th they were married in Peel.
The couple soon fell into a regular way of life, with the two girls attending the local school, and Shellie securing a job at Legends at the Tynwald Centre.
The couple's routine continued, David's two children Mathew 10 and Deborah 7, regularly visiting, and life was going well until one day in October when it seemed that their happiness was to be snatched away from them. Shellie explains: 'We were involved in a dreadful car accident. We were in the car with Mathew and the girls when it happened. I had to be cut out of the wreck, and all the time we were trapped, I kept thinking, "This isn't fair. We haven't had enough time together".'
Fortunately the family survived. David's leg was severely damaged and he was off work for over three months, walking with the aid of crutches, while Shellie is still undergoing treatment for whiplash and associated injuries. Mathew and the two girls have also come through their ordeal fairly unscathed.
Now life is sweet for the Berrys, even when Shellie is reluctant to relinquish her grip on the TV remote control. After the accident David lost weight, but with Shellie's cooking - pancakes, bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy - he's bulking out nicely now. They still finish each other's sentences, but rarely surf the net for such prolonged periods as before.
The Berrys have set up their own website: http://homepages.enterprise.net/berrycreg and have an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. They subscribe to the Internet's International House of Romance and have received numerous emails from around the world, congratulating them on the brave step they took. Says Shellie: 'We're only too happy to share our experience of meeting via the Internet, and to let people realise that it's an OK way to meet your partner.'
David adds: 'Friends, some of whom were sceptical at first, have now said that meeting via the Internet seems quite romantic, like the old-fashioned way of courting, slowly and gently building up layer upon layer of a relationship before any greater level of intimacy takes place.'
Shellie proclaims: 'David's everything I've ever wanted in a man. He's my husband, lover and best friend - a true soul mate. His Mum and Dad are great too, and have been wonderfully supportive, as have David's sisters. Now I feel I've got the family I've always longed for.'
On 15th January 1999, our story was published in a local newspaper called The Manx Independant. The story (as it now appears) was written by Stephen Ritch, and he has very kindly consented to us using this joint version, which we would like to thank him!