Thursday, June 12, 2003

Peculiarly modern bad behaviour?

From the New York Times comes an internet “cad” story with a twist. A married US Army Colonel, Kassem Saleh, proposed to over 50 women with whom he had only e-mail or telephone contact – many accepted. But what the internet provides cover for, the mass media may take away: he was exposed when one of the women appeared in an NBC piece on women waiting for fiancées serving in Afghanistan, and other women who believed they were engaged to him started posting on the station’s website:

“The Army said yesterday that it was looking into
allegations that he managed to line up dozens of
prospective wives … women he met through Internet dating
services. Virtually all of them posted advertisements on a site
called, which specializes in men and women
who are taller than average.
The matter began to unravel after a television station in
Washington, KNDU-TV, showed a segment in April about a
woman in Pasco, Wash., who was engaged to Colonel Saleh and
awaiting his return from overseas. That story was posted on
the MSNBC Web site. Soon, other women who thought they were
Colonel Saleh’s fiancée called KNDU. ...
They now derisively refer to him as “Kassanova.”

In fact, one of the other women said he mainly recycled
letters he got from one woman and sent them on to the
others. Or he would cut and paste letters he received from
different women and create new ones that went out in bulk.

“There was this connection I felt,” Ms. Solod said.
“Unfortunately, there were 50 of us who felt it.”

“He’s a sick individual that deserves jail time,” she said.

I’m not posting this as a “freaks you meet on dating sites” warning. I think it’s just an interesting example of how modern forms of communication, by stripping emotional interaction of body language and personal contact, may allow people to “get ahead of themselves” in feeling a sense of personal connection. Any blogger recalls their first meetup would know something of the feeling: a sense of disjunction between what you know about someone from their writing and how you initially react to them in person. I’m sure the same scam could have been (and probably was) run in days of handwritten letters by international mail – just on a less industrial scale than this guy’s love-spam-letters.

I can understand these women’s anger – but calls for disciplinary proceedings seem a little bizarre, unless they feel he was somehow trading on his status as a serviceman stationed in Afghanistan for romantic appeal. It all seems strangely reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan plots about court actions for “breach of promise of marriage”.

Maybe times haven’t moved on so much, after all.

(And in a massive act of sensitivity, the web-article features an ad for one of the implicated dating services … )

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