Terrence Blacker: The perfect 21st-century love affair

In this golden age of fantasy Maverick provided Karen with the dream she longed for
Click to follow

Call me Pollyanna, but I find this story oddly touching. Mrs Karen Carlton from Fife was in her late thirties and had recently been divorced when she went looking for love. Being a working mother who was "juggling her busy life", she turned to the internet. There she met, in the virtual sense, a former US Marine whose name in the chatroom community was "Maverick".

Karen and Maverick clicked like a computer mouse. Maverick happened to be Tom Cruise's call-sign in Top Gun, which was one of Karen's favourite films. His on-line profile was both intriguing and romantic. Born in Tennessee, sent to a tough military school at the age of 11 after his parents' bitter divorce, he had gone on to join the Marines as a helicopter pilot, serving in Iraq, East Timor and, more surprisingly, Northern Ireland. After leaving the Marines, he had joined the British merchant navy, where he was now a petty officer.

As luck would have it, Maverick, whose off-line name turned out to be Adrien Sears, lived 15 miles away from Karen. They met. Maverick was a little shorter and stouter than Karen had envisaged but, with his good-ole-boy accent, perfect manners and wonderful stories, he soon won her over. The lease of his flat had just expired, and soon he moved in with Karen and the kids. "Every time he called me 'Sweetie' in that deep southern drawl, I melted," Karen would say later. "I was Scarlett O'Hara to his Rhett Butler."

It was not a perfect relationship. Maverick was such a gentleman that he never actually made it to Karen's bedroom. One night he had broken down in tears and explained that cruel Iraqi torturers had applied electrodes to his private parts: he would never be able to make love. Karen's heart "broke for him" but, since the rest of their relationship was so good, they stayed together.

You don't have to be a visitor to that useful website Impotence News (updated every 30 minutes) to guess where this story is going. There are more US Marines in cyberspace than in Iraq and Afghanistan put together, and most of them are dodgy in some way or other. Maverick was an Englishman born in Leicester. He had once taken a two-week holiday in America, and, as for the helicopters, he had yet to pass his driving test. Rather touchingly, his mum knew all about his pranks.

The affair ended, rather as it had begun. Maverick became increasingly fond of computer games - they reminded him of flying helicopters in the Marines, he said - and insisted on moving the computer to Karen's garden shed. There he was rumbled, up to all sorts of filthy stuff in a chat-room and on his mobile. One of his virtual mistresses sent a text congratulating him on providing her with the best phone-sex ever. One day, the final straw, he was discovered singing "Amazing Grace" into a camcorder for a blonde on his screen. Karen sent him packing.

There has been predictable outrage at Maverick's deception; personally, I find it an unusually moving and uplifting story. Of course, Karen feels a bit of a chump at the moment. She is presumably not a fool, since she runs her own PR firm, and superior-minded strangers might look at photographs of Maverick and ask themselves how she honestly could have thought he was a Marine, a judo black belt, and a master diver - particularly since he had, he once revealed, suffered from childhood meningitis which had kept him in callipers until the age of 10.

The answer to that question, of course, is that, in this golden age of fantasy, Maverick had provided her over a period of two years with the dream that she longed for: childhood suffering, adult heroism, toughness, vulnerability. From his on-line name to his conversation and biography, he was a Hollywood confection, and that suited her fine.

As for poor old Maverick himself, one can only imagine the hours he must have spent creating his persona - a bit of Cruise here, a bit of Gable there - and then perfecting the accent and story to transform a pudgy little loser from Leicester into a romantic hero.

This perfect 21st-century love affair began through a screen and ended with Maverick singing at a screen. Between, all its points of reference were learnt through cinema. The virtual replaced the real to such an extent that even the traditional messy, physical stuff became redundant. Maverick was a superstud but only on the phone. Just as real life could not compare with the fantasy, nor could real sex.

I came across this very contemporary story while re-reading, coincidentally, AJA Symons' brilliant The Quest for Corvo, the biography of a Maverick-type character of a century ago who also lived in a shadowy no-man's land situated between truth and fiction. There are echoes of Corvo in Maverick's story - notably, his utter conviction in his own rightness and his peculiar sexuality - but the fantasies also reflect how times have changed.

The imaginative weirdness of Frederick Rolfe, also known as Baron Corvo and Fr William Austin, produced such extraordinary books as Hadrian VII and The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole. Maverick merely had to turn to a dream-making culture for an off-the-peg fantasy that would appeal to Karen, and probably many others. The work of Corvo would eventually be praised by DH Lawrence and Graham Greene; that of Maverick provides a sad little morality tale in Impotence News.