Further proof that there’s a fine line between romance and mildly creepy stupidity: a man recently wrote in to Slate’s advice column Dear Prudence admitting he saw his now-wife online first and then orchestrated a way to meet her, but he continues to let her believe it was all just romantic happenstance. And for whatever reason, he can’t just tell her the truth.

The letter-writer asks:

Q. How We Met: As far as my wife knows, we met by chance. In actuality, though, she was a friend of a friend of mine on social media, and her profile piqued my interest. I did not contact her by that medium; with the information she shared, it was easy enough to meet her in person without giving myself away. We hit it off. I’m sure she’d be flattered to learn the truth, but I’d be embarrassed if she told anyone else. Currently, no one but me knows, although I do find myself shifting uncomfortably when the story of how we met comes up. Would it be best to just tell my wife the truth, or keep it to myself?

I’m curious—why would it be weird at all to have seen this person, with whom you share a mutual acquaintance, online already? For ages, many people were embarrassed to admit they’d met online because it seemed desperate. Today, however, it’s almost weirder not to.

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A simple “hey, I think I’ve seen you online before or something” would’ve sufficed. Or, “the truth is, I found myself looking at your profile, noticed you love the Occupy Movement, and decided to check it out one day hoping I’d run into you.” A person should be so lucky to motivate an actual strategy in another human being.

One endlessly fascinating thing about courtship is that it is so heavily predicated on contrivance of a sort. We make dates and set the scene, and we filter ourselves, presenting only our best faces, angles, clothing, jokes, histories. What we say is as critical as what we don’t, and typically we never behave better than when trying to convince someone we are lovable. Or at least fuckable.

Then slowly, that red carpet we rolled out becomes a bit tattered. We forget to vacuum and it descends into disrepair, at which point it becomes either really nice and comfortable, or hideous and unacceptable.

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So yes, the first part matters, because without it, we’d never be able to endure each other’s sometimes-unappealing realness. And I understand this dude’s desire to make their story seem more organic than forced. We all want to have a good origin story, and for some couples, the idea of being fated for each other seems better than having had to jump through a lot of hoops.

But this does not mean you should fake your meet-cute story unless both of you are in on it. Some people just want things to be more magical than they are—I like to think of them as embroiderers of reality. They mean no real harm; they just want the story to have more zing. Still, what a dumb lie to sit on.

Prudie agrees. She cannot for the life of her figure out why this person would not simply tell his wife their real story, especially when framed as “you now want her to know that even before you two met, you were sure she was the one for you.”

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Is there anything more seductive, more powerful, more relationship-affirming than the idea that your partner was so moved by the sight/thought of you that he moved mountains to set up a “meet-cute”? That makes for a far more interesting story, I think.

Image via USA/You’ve Got Mail.