Sunday, March 23, 2008

Online Dating: Everyone's Doing It

I am, as we speak, sitting and waiting for my car to be fixed. It's a whopper of a fixing, and I've been here in the little waiting room for four hours now. The wait has been made somewhat more pleasant by the fact that a) I have my laptop to play with, b) I convinced all the other people in the waiting room that as joyful as daytime gems such as The Price is Right and Family Feud are, we didn't really need to have the television on quite so loud, and c) the woman who's helping me is really quite lovely.

We have, shall we say, bonded. First she told me where to get the less watery office coffee. Second she has entertained me with stories about mean customers. Third, she told me she's starting to "correspond with someone on the Internet." This woman, who's certainly over 40, who has known me for one morning, has told me all about her online romance.

I see this as final proof: Everyone's doing it. And no one's even particularly embarrassed about it anymore.

Now, I have very definite ideas about online dating. When I began writing as the Diva three years ago, I was new to the online scene and found it all somewhat odd. In one particular chat I led, a man said he was at his wits end, the woman he had been "in love with" for the last two years had refused not only to meet him, but even to talk to him on the phone. "I don't think you'll like the sound of my voice," she said. And "My roommate and I have a deal not to invite men over or have men call." My response? "There are only three options here," I told him. "She lives with a man, she's married to a man, she is a man."

I was, perhaps, a tad bit skeptical about the whole thing.

I also would get numerous questions which began with the statement, "I am in love with someone I've been talking to on the Internet for the last three days/months/years, but I've never met them face to face because I live in a different hemisphere/worry they won't think I'm attractive/lied about my age." And I would have to get very stern with such people and explain that you can't fall in love with someone you haven't met. It's a Big and Important emotion, certainly. Perhaps it's If-Things-Continue-This-Well-It-Will-Be-Love. It's Almost-Love. It's Love-Potential.

But realio, trulio love it's not.

And I still believe that. But what I've since learned is all the pluses of online romance. You can't fall in love until you've interacted with someone in person, but meeting people online -- I am all about it.

For starters, simple ego-boosting. Perhaps you haven't had a date in awhile, you're newly single, you're vaguely depressed, you want to practice flirting, whatever. Placing an online personal ad brings insta-intrigue to your life. Suddenly tons of people write you lovely letters saying what a prize they think you are. You don't even have to go out with them if you don't want, just use it like the kiddie pool -- a nice safe environment in which to get your feet wet.

Better yet, it is -- and trust me I was surprised by this -- a fairly effective method for finding interesting dates. I have three friends who say they will never again go out with someone they haven't communicated with online first. And it makes sense: this whole Screening Process is a brilliant concept. Though, actually, I suppose it's as old as the hills. It's the way we all grew up dating after all. You get to know someone over time at school or in your town or through your family and only then do you decide if you'd like to date them. Getting to know someone via e-mail gives you just that much more of a chance you're going to get along with someone face to face.

And the biggest bonus for people like me who get all squirelly about having to tell someone I don't want to go out with them--it's so much easier to kindly reject anyone who doesn't interest you.

Dating online is the very definition of Dating101. The absolute safest, easiest way to screen a match, to practice your dating skills, to get to know someone. And, yes, it's new, and no it may not be so romantic. . . but mark my words: some day you will hear your grandkids say: "What? You used to go to bars to find dates? You mean with people you didn't even know?"

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