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Online dating: Myth vs. reality

Is online dating safe?

Many people think "Online dating is either a sea of married men pretending to be single, unusually kinky or unsavory characters and pasty-faced Internet addicts who haven't left their homes in months."

But as more and more perfectly normal singles become perfectly normal couples after meeting online, the truth is becoming clear: This new technology is just one more route to good old-fashioned romance.

Some remain wary, though.

"The stigma that was initially attached to print personals was that you must be a 'loser' to 'resort' to using newspapers to advertise for a date, and 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 personals became extremely popular. It worked; many people fell in love and got married... and because of that the stigma has gone away."

Looking for love in all the right places…

So how does it work? Dating site members select a username or handle that is incorporated into an email address available for use only by subscribers. The company's email server strips subscribers' real email addresses from messages before they are forwarded to their recipients. This double-blind system adds a measure of security to the process of online dating, as subscribers need not reveal any personal or contact information until they're ready. Members post (and have the option of hiding) a free profile that includes text and photographs. Certain criteria—age, height, body type, religion, marital and parenthood status, and smoking and drinking habits—are used to sort out the best matches, and members can add descriptions of themselves, their interests, and their ideal matches.

"Everyone I met was nice and normal," says Laura Banks, author of Love Online, of her own online dating experiences. "I had a couple of 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."

Statistics tell us a lot about who is searching the Web for a relationship. The median age of subscribers is in the mid-30s. The male-to-female ratio is balanced; women account for nearly 50% of members and more than one-third of its subscribers.

Respectable dating site subscribers are well-employed and well-educated. 62% have college degrees, 53% hold managerial/professional jobs, and an additional 17% are in technical fields." Of course, education and employment status aren't absolute indicators of someone's behavior in social or romantic situations, but they are among the first indicators of compatibility most people in any forum seek when connecting with prospective dates or other new social contacts.

Let's get serious.

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.

What draws these people to a medium that still makes so many people so nervous? The same thing that leads to their investing a small fortune each year in other singles services: They want to fall in love. The Internet offers them 24-hour access from home or work, the ability to be anonymous and secure in ongoing interactive conversations, a level of immediacy newspapers cannot offer, and an opportunity to screen prospective dates.

There are over 80 million singles in the U.S. alone and that number is expected to break 100 millionwithin a few years. Trends in the workplace (issues with sexual harassment, smaller companies, etc.) make it difficult to date or find someone at work. Older singles are tired of the bar scene and are looking for something new. On more upscale sites that require a subscription fee, members are a bit older. This makes sense because it is not until people approach their 30s that they becomemore serious about finding a relationship.

Finding the right relationship is hard work. This technology is another tool for helping to get the job done—and done safely, using the same common sense rules you would exercise with someone you met at the gym, a PTA meeting or the grocery store. More and more people are finding success in their online romantic searches. Of course, just as not all marriages end as successful relationships, not all successful relationships end in marriage. But those of you who are seriously marriage-minded will delight in knowing that serious dating sites have sparked 1000's of marriages and countless meaningful relationships.

You've heard the facts, so what are you waiting for?  



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