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Online dating services: Myth vs. reality
 

By Randy Hecht

Is online dating safe?
We’ve all seen the sensationalist news reports. The way sweeps-week TV shows portray it: 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. Even people who are engaged in online dating sometimes joke that if they meet their true loves online, they’ll have to lie to their friends about how they met. 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.
Industry expert and Match.com VP of Romance 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 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? On Match.com, 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 by percentage, 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 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."

Match.com's own 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 company says; non-paying members and those who log on as guests are younger. The male-to-female ratio is more balanced than you might think, too; women account for nearly 50% of Match.com's members and more than one-third of its subscribers. Gay and lesbian Match.com users account for 7% of membership, and their numbers are growing, approaching the estimated 10% of gay people in society at large.

McDermott reports, "Match.com 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," McDermott adds. "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," McDermott says, "and that number is expected to break 100 million within 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 Match.com, precisely because we are more upscale than chat environments and because we require a subscription fee, our members are a bit older. This makes sense because it is not until people approach their 30s that they become more 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 Match.com has sparked more than 1000 marriages and countless meaningful relationships.

Thanks to Match.com and other online dating services, more and more people can look forward to ordering that takeout meal for two.

You've heard the facts, so what are you waiting for? Search for local singles today!

1. Research online dating sites. Keep in mind that online dating sites that you have never heard of before will have a minimal database and won't be worth your time and money. Try the big online dating sites with name recognition.

Match 3 Day Free Trial

American Singles

Yahoo Personals

EHarmony

Matchmaker

2. Establish a budget. Decide how much money you want to devote to online dating, and set a budget. Some sites charge one-time membership fees, others automatically charge recurring monthly fees to your credit card. Most online dating sites charge between $20-$30 a month. Some with extensive psychological profiles and matching like E-harmony charge $49.95 a month......but watch for their specials where they will sometimes do 2 or 3 months for the price of 1. Match.com will offer a 7 day FREE TRIAL on occassion.


3. Seek recommendations. Talk to trusted friends, colleagues, and family to see if anyone they know has had a positive experience with a particular online dating website.

4. Consider specialized online dating sites. Determine if you have any special interests or unique situations that might require a more specialized online dating website. Some online dating sites cater to customized audiences including political affiliations, sexual preferences, race, religion, etc.

5. Determine pros and cons. Narrow down the list of potential online sites to your top three and compare them to determine pros and cons of each. Pay particular attention to monthly/yearly cost, free versus fee services, and number of website members.

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What are the best ways to meet singles in your city?   Go to as many singles events as you can. Variety is the key.  Don't focus on any one type of group.   First: Meet young single professionals at fundraisers, singles charity and civic organizations. Second: Join sports leagues, singles hiking, biking, outdoors, or adventures clubs.  Third: Join a church or religious group for Christian, Catholic, or Jewish singles. Also check out singles cruises and  travel.   Newly divorced or single parent? Get help at a singles support or divorce recovery group. 

What about online dating? Check out the information on Singlesonthego.com to learn how to place personal ads to meet single men and women online.  You'll also find great dating advice for online personals and meeting singles by using various dating services, dating agencies, matchmakers, introductions services. Go ahead, you can do it!.....check out the singles scene in your area to find a new relationship today!  Check out the list of online dating services above categorized by general, foreign/ethnic, religious, alternative, senior and single parents.

   

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