Whether you’re a 78-year-old widow or a 15-year-old high school student, meeting new people can be one of the easiest things to do. In recent years, personal computers and the Internet have fostered a new form of dating that has swept the romance scene by storm. Internet dating sites such as eHarmony.com, Match.com, Blackplanetlove.com, Gay.com and hotornot.com give anyone with a modem or satellite the potential to find a date. At MSU, thefacebook.com and a dating section on allmsu.com allow students to submit profiles and make contact with individuals they find interesting.
Sounds like a great way to get out there, right? Not always.
Valerie, an interior design junior at Central Michigan University who asked that her last name be omitted, has learned how easy it is to run into trouble with online dating.
[control] During Valerie’s senior year of high school, she began talking to a guy online from Web site called Face the Jury. He said his name was Michael, and as they started talking more and more, the conversations became more in depth. Valerie started becoming attached to the person on her computer screen, and eventually began calling him her “boyfriend.”
“He was a sweet talker, a pretty poetic person and he always seemed to say the right thing at the right time,” Valerie said. “He was a hopeless romantic, and that really impressed me.”
She virtually dated him for three years, even though they had never met. However, the online relationship Valerie had with Michael affected her social life and her relationship with her family. “We talked every day,” Valerie said. “When I wanted to go out with my friends he would make me feel guilty because he wanted me to stay online and talk to him.”
Finally, Valerie’s mother became so concerned with the situation she hired a private investigator to check out “Michael.” The P.I. informed Valerie and her mother there was no record of anyone by that name where he claimed to live.
As devastated as Valerie was to discover this, she confronted Michael, who then admitting to lying to her and claimed his name was actually Chris. Valerie continued talking to “Chris” online for about two months with the hope of working things out, before realizing she needed to stop.
“It’s almost like a cigarette addiction,” she said. “It was very hard for the first month or two, but I feel so much better about myself now that he is out of my life.”
Valerie was so caught up in her relationship she ignored warning signs that the guy was lying. For example, she never met Chris and never spoke with him on the phone, despite requesting that they do so. He also would never tell her exactly where he lived, claiming his mom wouldn’t let him give out their address. “He had an excuse for everything, and I believed him,” she said.
[laptoplove] While Valerie’s experience was not a postive one, it shouldn’t make anyone completely disregard online dating. Keeping your guard up can mean the difference between a bad experience and a good one. Paying attention to clues is key to ensuring you don’t end up in a similar situation. Tips for online dating safety can be obtained at many of the dating Web sites, and usually include things such as: don’t rush into meeting; talk on the phone; ask for a photo; use common sense and instincts. And if you do decide to meet someone, choose a safe, public place during the day.
In addition to the initial dangers of meeting a stranger, problems can arise because prior to actually meeting in person, two people might seem compatible, only to discover they lack the chemistry a good relationship needs.
East Lansing relationship therapist Marilyn S. Thompson has read studies illustrating the idea that while two people may look great together on paper, a real, live relationship is a lot more complex.
“I’ve read that sometimes people get their hopes up when they are e-mailing or communicating through the Internet,” Thompson said. “But…it can be a let-down because the chemistry just isn’t there.”
Despite dangers and doubts, millions of people worldwide are turning to Internet dating sites for anything from needing a date Saturday night to looking for the love of their lives.
Boasting itself as the “fastest growing relationship site on the Web,” eHarmony.com stands apart from other dating sites because of its method. Developed by a clinical psychologist from Pasadena, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, the site offers a unique way of matching people. The site has each user take a 436-question personality survey, which categorizes people in 29 personality dimensions. The site then does the work of finding matches using each person’s individual results. The site is self-titled a “relationship,” not dating, service, as their goal is to find long-term relationship matches, not just casual dates.
Public relations manager for eHarmony, Joe Zink, is confident in the site’s ability to help people who are seeking meaningful relationships. “The people who use our site want to have long-term relationships, and our site is a safe way to go about doing that,” Zink said.
Zink also explained it’s the site’s use of screening and science which allows for the high success rates of its clients. “We have over seven million users internationally,” Zink said. “And [we] have record of over 10,000 marriages that occurred as a result of our matches.”
Zink credits the recent increase in people using the Internet for connections and networking with people becoming more comfortable with the process. He claimed, a year or two ago, many people thought “only weirdos use online dating.” After success stories began emerging through friends and relatives, however, more people began turning to the Internet as a healthy way to meet people, he said.
While eHarmony.com is an international service specializing in connecting people for the long-term, a local service with less of an agenda can be found right at MSU.
allMSU.com’s dating section provides a way for fellow Spartans to meet each other through the Internet. On the site, students can create profiles with their picture, a description of what they are looking for and the kind of person they hope to meet.
Mechanical engineering freshman T.J. Bertagnoli created a profile on allMSU earlier this year to meet new people, and ended up meeting his current girlfriend of seven months.
“I went into it without a lot of expectations,” Bertagnoli said. “But obviously it worked.” Bertagnoli believes the site works because it’s just MSU students, so people already have a lot of things in common by just being MSU students.
Stefanie Mueller, a psychology junior, agrees the site being for only MSU students made her feel more at ease about using it over other online dating services.
“You meet people that are your age, that go to your school, that do the same things you do, and quite possibly even know some of the people you know,” Mueller said. “So it seems as though they aren’t as much complete strangers as the people on any other dating site would be. Something about it being based from your own school makes it seem safer, and less weird.”
While it’s become seemingly easier to meet people online, it’s important to remember there’s a world of singles outside the glow of your computer screen. So put up a profile or two, but instead of going completely digital, think about actually asking for digits once in a while.

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