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'Falling in love with somebody . . . you've never met'

Thanks to modern technology, Matthew Lockwood and Casey Guadagnini's budding online friendship bloomed into a full-fledged romance, despite being thousands of miles apart.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Casey Guadagnini's grandfather -- the one she considered "dad number two" -- had just passed away in the early summer of 2007 when she began spending a lot of time on Facebook. Dave Smalley, the longtime basketball coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, had been the one to teach her to drive and play basketball when Guadagnini's father, a rear admiral, had to be away on duty.

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"It was just a really big shock to me," she says. "So I was just staying in a lot, not going out."

Facebook had recently introduced a slew of new applications, including an adaptation of an earlier Web site, "Hot or Not," that allowed users to rate each other's attractiveness.

"I said, 'I wonder if I got good ratings, if that would make me feel a little better,' " recalls Guadagnini. Laughing to herself, she posted a picture. And while the athletic trainer, who was then about to start an internship at the Naval Academy, wasn't terribly satisfied with her hotness rating, she was inundated with requests from guys who wanted to communicate with her.

"I was like, 'This is ridiculous. I do not want to meet people on the Internet.' I just wanted a boost to my self-esteem," she says.

Most of the inquiries were quickly deleted. But one kept gnawing at her -- a guy whose profile picture showcased the blue eyes and dark hair to which she'd always been partial. She wrote him a one-word message: "Hey."

He replied quickly, introducing himself as Matt Lockwood, and soon they were exchanging frequent pleasantries. When he spelled color with a "u" -- colour -- she asked where he was from. "Cornwall," he wrote and in her next message she asked, "What state is that in?"

"And when he said the U.K., I was like, 'Oh well, cool. This has been fun,' " she says.

Instead of fizzling, their communication escalated. Guadagnini would race home from work to check for new messages. Lockwood, a graduate student who'd gone through a breakup when he posted his own picture on Hot or Not, would stay up late to see if he could catch Guadagnini online.

After a month, he asked if he could call. That first conversation lasted more than five hours. "There might have been a point after three hours where I was like, 'It's 2 a.m., should I hang up the phone? No. I'm good,' " recalls Lockwood, now 24. "We just got along so well."

They discovered Skype and were soon spending three and four hours talking every night. Both shied away from bringing up the relationship with friends, wary of the stigma of Internet romance. "It's hard enough to be falling in love with somebody that you've never met," Guadagnini says, "never mind trying to justify to someone else why this ridiculous story is not actually ridiculous."

But the strangeness of the situation was getting to her, too, and just as Guadagnini started expressing real doubts, Lockwood proposed a trip to Maryland. They'd spent three months fantasizing about kissing one another by the time Guadagnini picked up Lockwood at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport in September 2007. He was sweaty, bleary eyed and shaking; she felt strangely detached.

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