Love in Cyberspace
Randy B. Hecht
He blitzed barrooms in the 70s, prowled the personals in the 80s. Sometimes, he was a she. Now he's back in his latest incarnation, the Deranged Online Dater, coming soon to a PC screen near you. He's cunning and dishonest at best, dangerous and even criminal at worst — and he's largely a figment of our imagination. In reality, online dating's horror stories are well outnumbered by its success stories. Want proof? Does your mother want proof? Read on — and pass a hard copy along to Mom.
Industry expert and Match.com columnist Trish McDermott has seen it all before. "The stigma that was initially attached to print personals," she remembers, "was that you must be a 'loser' to 'resort' to using newspapers to advertise for a date, and that there was so much uncertainty involved: How would you know anything about the person you were going to meet? It was scary, and it was kind of a mark against your ability to get a good date in the real world. Of course, what happened was that the personals became extremely popular. It worked; many people fell in love and got married ... and because of that the stigma has gone away."
With the advent of online dating, the old fears have been revived — this time with the added twist of a kind of high-tech performance anxiety. "Now online dating is new and unknown, and for people who are not technologically savvy there's even a further element of uncertainty about it, because they're not even certain how the technology works," McDermott says. But despite the opportunities for anonymity in this medium, she believes online dating is a viable and valuable option for singles. "Lots of demographic information tells us that people who are using the Internet are college-educated, intelligent, highly functioning in terms of their ability to navigate both in terms of communication and technology. These are certainly not what we'd call losers in life. These are people with jobs, people who can afford computers, people who are in a profession where they're using computers," she explains.
This brings us to another widespread myth about online dating: that most of its participants are techno-nerds who can't function in real-world social situations. Not so, says Laura Banks, author of Love Online, a guide to online dating services and practices. "You're meeting more people than you would in any other way. You're aggressively pursuing meeting people. And so you're going to occasionally meet someone who's a little left of center or a computer geek," she explains. "Everyone I met was nice and normal," she says of her own online dating experiences. "I had a couple of close encounters with men that didn't work out, but they were reasonable guys. One was a respected author, and another was a lighting designer — very attractive and literate. Not a geek." Banks also talks about one online connection that changed her life in a very unexpected way: "Through someone I met online, I got turned on to traditional church, which is kind of funny for such a progressive medium."
10 Steps to Love in Cyberspace
For women wondering whether/how to find husbands online, Yashodhara Pawar of Princeton, N.J., has a few words of advice. Although she did not use an online matrimonial service, she did meet her husband in cyberspace. "Grit your teeth," she tells a group of South Asian women in an on-line discussion group. "Accept it. Internet is here to stay. You can buy books and find a husband on the Internet. This is a very simple primer. Just do it."
1. On an Internet Service Provider, make a "profile" for you. AOL has a profile that lets you enter your hobbies and passions and you can check others' as well. For me, I could see right away that if a specimen liked bikes, guitars and hi-fi, he was not my type. In contrast, my husband liked Tarkovsky films, backcountry hiking, photography.
2. Remain open for chats, discussion boards and swallow your pride and be gritty. It is a bungee jump.
3. Be quick to reject. And be quick to accept.
4. Exchange pictures early on. Show your appreciation for a hunk and your displeasure at someone obviously ugly. Because, this is the real world and you eventually will be intimate with him as you are human.
5. Meet, meet and take it offline as soon as possible after liking someone online.
6. Remain friends with all rejected.
7. Be safe! No address or last name. Meet in a public place for the first few times. Let someone know you are off and where you will be. Return home at a safe time. Do not invite him home nor visit him at his.
8. Enjoy! Humans are such wonderfully intricate creatures that relating to them should transcend simplistic social categories like husband, brother, great grandfather.
9. After committing to someone you met, continue meeting people online. But clarify that you aren't looking for love. The men who are love-a-hunting will run and ones that are still interested in being friend will stay and remain friends. The world does not stop when you commit. I still meet men and women online.
10. Now that you two are hooked, never use the Internet to communicate with the significant other. You will find out why then.