Question: I purchased an airline ticket for a woman from the Netherlands. I was a DJ on an Internet radio station, and that's how I met her. We fell in love -- or so I thought. But now we are not on the same terms as we were when I bought this ticket. I spent $598 and can't transfer the ticket or get a refund. It's really not a good situation. Is there any way around this?
-- Skip Lutey, Las Vegas
Answer: Alas, no, at least not in this case. Lutey's ticket -- or, we should say, his acquaintance's -- was nonrefundable and nontransferable. In a surprisingly gentle but firm e-mail to him, the American Airlines rep wrote, "Although we regret disappointing you by declining your request for an exchange . . . we must adhere to the fare restrictions applicable to the ticket you purchased. To do otherwise would not be fair to those customers who do buy refundable tickets."
There are two lessons to be learned here. The first is that unless you're willing to bet a month's pay on the other party, either don't buy the ticket or buy a refundable one, which costs more.
And the second comes from experts who want to emphasize what can happen to Internet romances.
Elizabeth E. George met her husband, Darren, on Match.com; they married and are living in Alberta, Canada, where they specialize in marriage relationship preparation. They are also the authors of "The Compatibility Code: An Intelligent Woman's Guide to Dating and Marriage."
"Self-preparation and recognizing pitfalls are two urgent considerations when an individual wants to use the Internet as a mechanism for meeting potential partners," she said in an e-mail to me. "The Internet provides opportunity for first contact and shared information, but little more."
In a later conversation, she added, "When we put our emotions first before logic, we often get into trouble, whether it's a business deal, shopping for a car or looking for someone who fulfills us as a person. Emotions themselves reduce our logic.
"While this is not a retrievable situation, perhaps it is less expensive than if he had made the same mistake on a bigger scale."
Irina Firstein, a licensed clinical social worker, says she constantly hears about Internet dating from her clients. "Any dating situation carries with it a possibility of getting hurt," she wrote in an e-mail. "My advice is to be open to situations, but at the same time be aware that it takes time to get to know a new person. It is helpful to have a 'protective boundary' around oneself and not believe necessarily everything . . . people say about themselves, unless with time it is substantiated with actions and [with] what gets revealed."
I've not met these experts in person, so am I perpetuating the same misplaced faith as Lutey? Having spoken with both of them, I am fairly certain I'm not. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but neither of them asked me to buy them an airline ticket either.
And if they had, I would have bought a refundable one.
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