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Lessons in love: online dating heats up

Sarah Moser and Amy Parker / Special Projects Editors

The facts about online dating

Maybe you work long hours. Maybe you don't like the bar scene. Or maybe you're just too shy to take the initiative to introduce yourself to someone. It's the day-to-day obstacles that keep people from finding "the one."

People of all ages, lifestyles and locations have all faced this problem. In the last 10 years or so, a new solution has arrived to help lonely hearts find their soul mates: online dating.

So many of us work too hard, or spend so much time doing other things that we don't have time to get out and meet people. While many of us expect someone to just appear, most of us realize that this won't happen. As more people are having trouble meeting someone, more are turning to online dating services.

There are over 100 million single adults in the United States alone and over 17 million looked at online dating services in 2002, with a prediction that this number will have doubled by the end of the year, according to an article titled "How Online Dating Works." And it is not just a female thing either. About 48 percent of men have used online dating services to find their new soul mate.

Whether someone is looking for a long-term relationship or a fun fling, the process can be made easier online. There's no having to worry about what you're wearing or where you are going since meeting and talking to someone can be done in the privacy of your own home with you, the computer and a potential match.

There are so many dating sites out on the Web. Several have even started to focus on getting specific groups of people to their sites. For example, there are Web sites specifically for seniors, Muslims, fitness-oriented people or people who are just looking for new friends. However, the sites with the most members are still the ones that boast romantic matchmaking as their number one priority. http://wwwEharmony.com reports 10,000 to 15,000 new users every day and http://wwwMatch.com, the leader in online dating services, has over 8 million members. Match.com opened in 1995 and their site reports that each year over 200,000 members find the partner they were looking for.

After entering an online dating site, you can look at other people's profiles without making one of your own. The amount of information you can look at depends on the site. Some sites let users restrict access to their profiles to paying members only. Sometimes photos are only displayed if you have a paid membership. This preserves anonymity, so no one looks at your profile unless you want them to. Only with a paid subscription can someone see the picture on your profile.

The Basics: All you need to know about creating your own profile

To make your own profile you start with basic information. Are you a male or a female? Are you looking for a man or a woman? What age range are you interested in? Where do you live? Profile information may also include where you were born and an e-mail address. Site administrators will communicate with you through this address. Some sites let users send messages to your e-mail address while keeping it anonymous. When they send you a message, it is routed through the site's system and redirected to your e-mail without the other user ever seeing it. Describing your physical self is usually next. Height, weight, hair and eye color and body type are common questions. Then you describe your interests and activities, favorite sports, authors, music or movies or how you like to spend weekends More personal questions might include whether or not you have children, whether or not you want children, your religious beliefs and your political views. Pets, occupation, income and living situation are sometimes on the list as well. Next, you'll be asked to answer questions like these to describe your ideal date. The site will then use this information and the information you provided about yourself to find matches.

If you are a paying member of the dating site, you can then start contacting other users if you like what you see. It's up to you how many people you want to contact and what you'll say. After e-mailing back and forth, many people start meeting in person.

Many of the Web sites for dating are free, which makes them an even bigger convienence when you are trying to find someone. There are also sites that make people subscribe, which may seem like a disadvantage, but can really be a good thing. If people are paying for the service, you know they are serious about finding a date. This can be comforting, especially when you begin to get more serious with someone. On a subscription site, you also have access to better profile searches and other advanced features.

The purpose of online dating services is for people to meet other people. It is a chance for people to mingle, flirt and have fun while making a connection with someone who could potentially be their next boyfriend or girlfriend. However, people should still be wary when they first decide to meet their new friend.

Overall, it's a personal preference whether or not you want to give online dating a try. There are safety issues at risk and you have to be able to judge whether or not another person's profile is true. Many people have found their true love online and maybe you will too.

Getting Personal: A tale of love on the Internet

"Matt and I met in a chat room one night. It was so random because neither of us had ever been to a chat room before. His screen name caught my eye, but I'm not really sure why. Pretty soon I was ignoring everyone else in the chat room and he and I typed for hours that first time. We started off casual, saying hello to each other when we saw the other person online. Then he left for his last deployment to Iraq, so things were on hold for about four months. Our relationship took a different path when he got back. It was better timing at that point. We found out so much about each other in the next six months. I didn't even see a picture of him until about three months into our chatting. I think his picture was just icing on the cake at that point. Not being able to see each other in person in a way forced us to really focus on each other's personalities. I remember how I began to look forward every day to coming home and flipping on my computer, hoping he would be signed on. We waited almost nine months before we met in person. We really felt that waiting that long was the best thing for the both of us, to avoid rushing into things. Matt told me on the first night that he came to my house that he felt like he had known me his whole life. It really did feel that way. We had spent so many hours talking, even learning all the little annoying things about each other. By the time we met, it just all seemed to come together. Online dating is not for everyone, because I'll admit there are a lot of scary people on the other end of the connection. You have to be really careful at first and just make smart decisions about giving out information. I just think I was fortunate enough to meet such a great guy who makes me happy. It's kind of like an Internet fairy-tale romance."

- Katie, an Elon student

Contact Amy Parker and Sarah Moser at pendulum@elon.edu or 278-7247

 

Jessica Kimmel / Photographer

Top safety tips for online dating safety

Match.com has 11 tips to make sure you stay safe while using their services.

1. Start the relationship out slow.

2. Guard your anonymity.

3. Exercise caution and common sense.

4. Do a little digging.

5. Request a photo.

6. Chat on the phone.

7. Meet when you are ready.

8. Watch for red flags.

9. Meet in a safe place.

10. Take extra caution.

11. Be able to get yourself out of a jam.