U can do just about anything online these days. From banking and paying bills to hunting for houses to booking travel plans, you can browse through a world of choices and "compare shop" with the swift click of a button. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of people are shopping for something else online: a significant other.
Gone are the days when the only people who communicated online were recluses with pasty flesh and few social skills. In the modern era of MySpace and Facebook, people are using the internet to stay connected with their current friends, to rekindle old friendships and relationships, and even to find new ones.
Whether you're just looking to meet people in your area, go on a date or find a life partner, chances are there's an online community that's geared toward what you've got in mind; you've just got to be sure that you know exactly what you're looking for.
One local couple, now Mr. and Mrs., Parker and Beth Fleming, were matched on eHarmony in the fall of 2005. eHarmony.com, launched in 2000 and famous for its cheesy commercials promoting all of their healthy, happy couples, has a mission statement "to empower people with the knowledge and inspiration needed to grow and strengthen the most important relationships for a lifetime of happiness." No small feat, for sure. These people aren't just looking to help you score, but also to help you find a serious relationship.
Even though they were both internet savvy, Parker and Beth were reluctant to try online dating. They were also, however, both frustrated with their current dating status. Living in Tulsa, Parker was tired of the local scene, which largely revolves around bars and clubs. He often met nice girls, only to find out later that he had little in common with them. Beth lived in Raleigh, North Carolina and had been frustrated with being stuck in the often dead-end dating cycle. Both were turned onto eHarmony by other people.
Love at Your Fingertips
While eHarmony touts itself as the "#1 trusted relationship service," there are other options for people who aren't quite ready to say "I do," or for those who have been snubbed by the site for various reasons.
Chemistry.com, a rival site and sister site to Match.com, is targeting the "over 1,000,000 people who have been rejected by eHarmony" with the slogan "Come As You Are," whether that be gay, bipolar or someone who never wants to get married. They believe that relationships are built on compatibility and chemistry and claim to be able to determine to whom your body will respond with delight by your chosen preferences.
Match.com also provides a viable service (since 1995) for those who want to date, and it allows you to narrow your search to someone within a specific ethnicity or group, such as Christian, Asian, or seniors. It acts a gigantic personals site, where you can browse through the thousands of posted singles who might just be looking for you. According to Glamour magazine "Match.com is like Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors: blondes, redheads, Egyptians and probably a set of Siamese twins if you were to search long enough."
Free sites, which may not be as scientific about the way they connect you but are nevertheless connecting people, include Okcupid.com, Datehookup.com, and Eromance.com. These sites offer chat, email and forums in which to meet other singles, and they even pass out some free date ideas to help you keep things interesting and romantic.
Then there are, of course, sites where you can meet people without the pressure of a webmaster connecting you or the promise of "everlasting love" scrolling across the screen in a giant banner. The aforementioned MySpace.com and Facebook.com, for instance, are as popular in adult circles as in younger crowds, and the custom-built profiles let you decide what you want other people to see and learn about you. There are also endless forums and sites that will let you chat with anyone, anywhere, about anything.
Or, if you're looking for a good time and some old-fashioned superficial fun, check out Hotornot.com or Ratemybody.com, where you can rate people's looks and then "meet them" if you think they're a smokin' 10! Take it a step farther and have some anonymous, swingin' fun at Adultfriendfinder.com, which is about as "friendly" as you can get while staying legal. Apparently, it's consistently in the top 50 visited websites. Enter these sites at your own discretion and risk.
Most of the sites offer privacy and tips for online dating safety and even take precautions to make sure that people who meet on their site must both agree before giving out personal info to take the relationship offline. So, you're not necessarily signing up for a stalker if you look into online dating. In fact, the number of sites dedicated to online dating and the number of success stories on those websites is proof enough that times have changed. No longer do you have to endure being set up on yet another blind date by your Great Aunt Bertha. Say buh-bye to hanging out in smoky bars just for the chance to get someone's digits.
Then Comes Love
Parker had a "friend of a friend" who had tried the service (which runs about $100 for three months), and although he hadn't yet found love, he'd been on dates and met a lot of people. Parker was further encouraged when his friend put it to him this way-"You might not meet anyone, you might make some friends, or you might click with a really cool chick. Any way you look at it, you've got nothing to lose." So he logged on.
He chose eHarmony over rival sites such as Match.com for a few reasons. He explained, "I knew some people who had used Match.com, and it seemed to let you set preferences for hair color, weight, body type, etc. For me, that makes it lose some credibility because it allows you to focus on looks rather than character. eHarmony asks you questions about you and then matches you on beliefs and priorities. You don't get to set preferences. It seemed more in tune with the way I would normally go about looking for a date."
Beth was first turned onto eHarmony from the advertisements and filled out the questionnaires simply to see what would happen (in the middle of the night . . . at her boyfriend's house!). She didn't pay the sign-up fee until later when her married sister told her about how much fun the nurses she worked with were having with their eHarmony dates.
"At the very least," Beth admitted, "I wanted to get out of my apartment, meet some new people and enjoy a few free dinners."
Beth went out with five of her matches in Raleigh before she clicked with Parker, who had not gone on any dates locally and had decided to not limit his dating scope to Tulsa. He was working a lot in North Carolina at the time, so when he saw Beth's profile, he jumped at the chance to meet her on his next business trip.
One thing Parker likes about eHarmony is how accurate the profiles seem to be. He said, "They speak about you in the third person, and it basically tells you who you are. It talks about different aspects of your life-your beliefs, your social behaviors, your affinities for certain people and they nailed me. I was then convinced that they could match me well."
And match him well they did. Because Parker was heading out to Raleigh about 10 days later, he "fast-tracked" Beth, which means they quickly established contact outside of the website. They admitted that meeting someone online is different than in person but also agreed that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"We got connected online and talked that same night on the phone. We were able to get a sense of personality that way, even though there was no body language," said Parker. "By phone or email you can have more serious conversations earlier because . . . "
" . . . because the physical stuff gets in the way," finished Beth. "It's less awkward over the phone because you aren't looking at each other. You feel less inhibited."
Parker added, "There's also a sense of 'I'm just going to be completely myself and completely honest.' It's safe because you have nothing to lose. That facilitates things faster than dating in person."
After getting to know each other during their virtually non-stop telephone conversations, the couple met a short time later in Raleigh. Beth giddily recalled, "Our first meeting was really exciting. I told him I'd be wearing a multi-colored scarf at the airport. When I saw him, I felt like I'd already known him for ages. For our date, I brought a whole box of 'getting to know Beth,' stuff from my childhood, like pictures and old memorabilia, including my ballet slippers."
Parker elaborated further on what their early dating life was like: "There was build-up for each time we'd see each other. Imagine starting each date with picking someone up at the airport. Also, when you don't get to see each other very often, you have to pack a lot into every minute."
The Real Thing?
Between his business trips and consistent efforts, the two saw each other every few weeks for the first few months of their dating life (and used web-cams to see each other on 'virtual dates' during the in-between times).
By January, it was obvious that their relationship had turned uber-serious, which is what both of them had wanted. Even if neither admits that they chose eHarmony to find a spouse, Parker hinted at the notion when he stated matter-of-factly, "I was ready to meet someone I could see myself marrying. I wanted a substantive relationship. eHarmony wants people who are going to take each other and their relationships seriously."
He claims he could visualize spending the rest of his life with Beth after their first encounters in Raleigh, and Beth exclaimed that by the time Parker teased her with the 'I've got something shiny for you' line in January, she wanted to marry him.
The two got engaged in the spring of 2006, and when she finished teaching in North Carolina, she moved to Tulsa to take her spot by her fiancé's side. They didn't marry for another year, but the ground that had been broken by eHarmony had now begun to nurture and nourish the blooms of their love.
When people ask how they met, the Parkers are always willing to stop and share their tale. When UTW asked if they thought there was still a stigma attached to meeting a partner online, Parker admitted, "I can say that we've never hid it from anyone, but some people think it's an odd way to meet."
"Some are more receptive than others. People who are already married and out of the modern 'social scene' think it's weird," Beth elaborated.
Still, Parker believes that it's becoming a more common phenomenon.
"The more people I tell, the more people I find who want to share their stories with me. They either know someone who's done it or have met someone online themselves, and they feel liberated when I tell them that's how we met too. When people ask about our early days, I always know it's going to turn into a discussion. You say you met on eHarmony, and people always want to know the story. I think this kind of dating will become more prevalent as time progresses. Our internet communication skills have informed our social skills, so this is becoming a natural process. Actually, it's becoming a preferred mode of communication."
"Yeah, people spend more time in front of their computers than just about anywhere else," laughed Beth.
Even if some people still have a few hang-ups about meeting online, so what? It seems that they are rapidly becoming the minority. Plus, Parker and Beth are an example that online dating can lead to amazing connections and relationships, in a completely normal way.
When you're enjoying a good night kiss or hearing your own wedding bells, you won't care what strangers think about how you met your honey.
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