By Lillith Branwen
We live in interesting times. Our schedules are packed, with every minute of our day taken up with something important. At the same time, we are more sedentary than ever before. We are in our cars or in front of our computers for long hours each day. When we have a little “free time” we tend to spend it with family or friends. For many, meeting new people is increasingly difficult.
Enter the Internet. As we turn to cyberspace in growing numbers for our shopping, information and entertainment, we are also looking there for social interaction. I’ve met people from all over the world through professional forums and music fan sites, and I count some of them as friends, though we’ve never met in person. Obviously, I’m not alone in this. For better or worse, the Internet has changed the way we meet and interact with others in a profound way.
Meeting people the “new” fashioned way.Thirty-eight million Americans can’t be wrong, can they? (Some would say that depends on your politics, but that can be saved for a different story.) Another study by the Bloodhound Network reports that Internet dating is the fastest area of online growth. Its’ estimates for the number of people visiting online dating sites each month is even higher than Jupiter’s, at thirty-eight million. In our hectic lives, it is appealing to be able skip the bars and the blind dates. Meeting people online allows you to anonymously shop for an ideal partner without a large investment of your time or emotions.
Most of us know someone who has tried a hand at online dating. Like all forms of the mating dance, it works for some people but not as well for others. Some people give up after a few failed attempts, while others seem to have enough luck right away to keep plugging away for months, or better yet to settle down with a new partner to pursue a lasting relationship.
Wedding Rings…Christina and Aaron Ring are one such “success” story. Christina has been meeting people on the Web since the early days of the AOL chat room and has made lots of friends through various political and social bulletin boards. She says she loves the opportunity to meet people from different places and cultures. “There’s really no feeling that you need to censor yourself or ‘dress up’ in order to gain attention… the online public’s opinion of you is based entirely on how you present yourself verbally.”
Her openness paid off when she joined SocialNet.com in 2000. As a single mom with a full schedule, Christina was filling her need for social interaction online. She had never tried a dating site before, but felt like she was ready for a romantic relationship. Christina put up a profile, without a photo, on Social Net. She says she decided not to use a picture because “even the most grounded person will tend to be a bit shallow when window-shopping for a mate. If you’re seriously using a dating site in hopes of finding a true relationship, a photo may be counterproductive.”
Soon, she met Aaron and they spent a very intense day getting to know each other electronically. Christina says, “We exchanged emails all day long, giving each other long surveys, including questions like ‘Coke or Pepsi?’, ‘Boxers or briefs?’, and ‘Directorial Deathmatch: Kevin Smith or Tim Burton?’ We also discussed deeper subjects, of course. Right from the beginning we rolled with each other…we ‘got’ each other.”
The next night, they met for coffee and have been together ever since. “I really can’t fathom how different my life would be if I hadn’t used the Internet to expand my social network” Christina reflects. “I’ve developed a circle of friends who span the globe. I met and married a person who complements me perfectly.”
Long distance love.These sentiments are echoed by Karen (known to friends as Spike) and Courtney, who finally met face to face this past July. They met through a fan blog for the Indigo Girls about a year ago. Spike is a travel agent in San Francisco and Courtney is a veterinary technician living in Seattle. After several months of chatting through bulletin boards and email, they decided to meet at an Indigo Girls concert in Portland.
Courtney says there was chemistry right away. “We met in Portland and there was an instant flirtation. It was just strange how connected we were from the start. We had such a good time that I had to (see her again) at the Vancouver show two days later, and we flirted more. Spike more than me….she was stoned and told me I had a nice rack. We decided to see both Indigo Girls shows in Seattle and at the second Seattle show we ‘sealed the deal’ and kissed. We have been together ever since.”
The distance between them can make things difficult, but not insurmountable. According to Courtney, “It is hard, but not so hard… Life is better with her even considering the distance than it would be without her at all.”
The two are currently in negotiations about permanent relocation. In the meantime, Spike’s job as a travel agent provides cheap flights. She feels good about her online experiences and says that she would use the Internet to meet someone again, but doesn’t think she’ll need to. “There’s such a stigma attached to meeting people on the Internet. Really, if it wasn’t for the Web, I would never have met Courtney. I truly believe I am meant to be with her.”
What’s your pleasure?Not everyone on the Internet is looking for a long term relationship. Unlike Spike and Courtney, Maria is just “dating around” and is happy to keep it that way. Shortly after her divorce, she was ready to meet someone and have a good time. She uses swinglifestyle.com, a website for people primarily looking for sexual relationships, though she doesn’t consider herself a swinger. She giggles and says “Hmmmm, ‘swinger’… it has such a nasty implication, doesn’t it? I’m not looking for group sex, wife swapping, or bathtubs full of Jell-o. I just want to meet a fun guy, go on a few dates and have some decent sex.”
She says she turned to the Internet to meet people because “I don’t really have a life that allows me to meet people in conventional ways, like at a bar or whatever. I have kids and I work for myself, so I don’t get out much. When I was first single again I really thought I would be alone forever because I couldn’t figure out how I would find anyone.”
Maria agrees with Christina’s comments about the Internet allowing you to be really honest about what you want. “If you want a relationship, you can say so. If you just want sex, you can say that too. Find a site that specializes in whichever thing you’re looking for and your profile will be read without judgment by others who are looking for the same thing.”
Maria’s profile does include photos. “My photos get my profile noticed by others and I feel a lot more comfortable writing to men who have posted photos as well.” She goes on to say (almost forcefully) “But a well written profile is just as important. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and the ability to construct a sentence are all important to me. The occasional typo is totally understandable, but an entire profile of misspelled one syllable words puts me off.”
After almost a year of meeting people on the Internet, Maria says she feels like she’s been successful. “I’ve had several dates with men who were interesting and fun. I’ve learned a lot about dating again. I was married for several years and really felt lost when I was ready to date after my divorce. But the Internet makes that part easy. I put up a profile and if someone is interested in me, they write. I do the same. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
“It’s somewhat backwards. You spend a lot of time getting to know someone on an intellectual basis,” she says with a deep sigh. “You exchange emails and chat on a messenger program. There is a lot of time invested without finding out if there’s chemistry. It can be very disappointing when you finally meet to find out there are no ‘sparks.’ I’ve learned not to get very excited about a date ahead of time.”
Leona talks about her first real date with someone she met online. “After about a month of chatting and emailing, I met him in a parking lot and followed him in my car to his restaurant. He was nice to the bartender, but rude to his wait staff: Strike One. He ordered salmon and held it down with his fingers while pulling hunks off with his fork: Strike Two. He then wanted to show me his ‘vacation condo.’ I went with him (I know, I know…) and, surprise, he immediately tried to put the moves on me: Strike 3! I left. I was emotionally invested before the date because we had spent so much time getting to know each other, but since we had never met in person, I had no way of knowing who he really was.”
She offers a word of caution to people considering Internet dating. “Once you’ve been out there on the dating sites, it becomes an easy fallback. Even if you develop a committed relationship, it’s really easy to go back to the ‘Net at the slightest conflict. Shopping for a new partner has never been easier, and in some ways that’s good, but in other ways, it can create real problems.”
Lillith Branwen-lives in Milwaukee with her cat, Miss Kitty. She has been writing about love, romance and sexuality for 10 years, but still hasn’t come up with any answers.