Review Feature

Looking for love in cyberspace

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Wordlessly, we gazed into each other's eyes; liquid pools which reflected the hopeless romanticism in both of our throbbing hearts.

Our quivering lips met, softly at first, then passionately, as if we had just realized that we were the last two living male and female members of an endangered species ... jungle cats, maybe ... and it was mating season.

When our kiss had done its job, generating a heat so powerful it melted our two hearts into one, it was she who spoke first, between heaving breaths, with a sensuousness that could have scorched the chrome off a trailer hitch.

"Nice to meet you," she said.

"Nice to meet you, too," I answered.

Thus began my very first Internet date. And it went straight downhill from there.

We had boldly planned online to spend an entire weekend together, in Laughlin, in separate rooms. But she agreed to call it quits within hours after meeting, and never before have I so appreciated the thoughtfulness and generosity of another human being.

Which leads us to the very first and most important rule of Internet blind-dating: always meet your date for coffee first. And even then, plan for a quick and easy escape. If you're meeting at noon, tell friends to call your cell phone at 12:02 p.m. with a fake emergency. If at that time the date appears to be going all right, you should still play it safe. Have your friends call you at two-minute intervals for the next hour.

Even if you don't end up using this escape route, it will make you seem very, very popular. Or very, very unlucky, if all of your callers report fake crises.

I had signed up with an Internet "personals" Web site called Kiss.com at the suggestion of a friend who had grown tired of listening to me whine about 1) my bachelorhood, and 2) the inarguable fact that there is not a single single woman in all of Payson who meets my demanding standards (alive and ... well, that's about it).

For the uninitiated, we are now living in an age where there are only two ways to catch a first glimpse of your soul mate without even having to get out of your pajamas, take a shower or use deodorant: In your dreams and on the Internet.

Like most things Web-related, online dating is growing at an amazing rate. Stories of couples who have met on the 'net have appeared everywhere from local newspapers to Hollywood movies like "You've Got Mail," wherein Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks made finding love in your e-mailbox look adventurous, romantic and fun.

There are two major types of online matchmaking sites: introduction services where "professionals" match you with a compatible mate based on certain criteria, and the typical online service like Kiss.com where you choose your own matches by searching through member profiles, sometimes for free and sometimes for a monthly fee.

On the do-it-yourself sites, you're asked to complete a personal ad or profile with details about yourself and the kind of person you'd like to meet. Some services invite you to submit a photo. Then people who view your profile can contact you, and you decide how to respond.

You can also search the member profiles online according to various preferences you specify; then you contact anyone you might be interested in. Usually the contact is "anonymous" initially, meaning that your e-mail address, phone number and criminal record are kept confidential until you and your potential date mutually agree to share them.

After exchanging e-mail, you may wish to move on to talking on the telephone and if things go well you can decide to meet in person for a date.

Advantages of online dating

There are several benefits of online dating services compared to traditional ways of meeting people.

Online services allow you to "meet" lots of people you would not otherwise encounter. Of course, this is not always a good thing. For example, under traditional dating circumstances, you would probably not find yourself in a nice restaurant with a companion who's 25 years older than you thought, with a facial wart the size of Rhode Island and a T-shirt that reads "I Survived Cell Block No. 346."

Online services give you access to detailed information about people, increasing the chances that you can find someone compatible. In other words, it is possible to learn a lot about someone before you ever decide to meet them. But never, ever for a single moment think that the information you've gathered online and through e-mail conversations represents the full picture especially if your mental image of the person is counter to words like "dork," "geek," "outcast," "social loser" or "psychopath."

This is not to say that it's impossible to hit the jackpot of love. But expect to lose a lot of quarters in your quest.

The anonymity of the 'net allows you to pursue potential dates with less fear of embarrassment or rejection.

This may be, in fact, the most amazing thing about budding Internet romances: Corresponding in writing with a potential online love almost completely removes the huge wall of self-consciousness that most people feel around total strangers in real life.

You feel absolutely free to express thoughts and feelings you would almost certainly not share in person with someone you've known for three days.

But this feature, too, has its drawbacks, the primary one being that you often learn a lot more about some love-seekers than you care to know.

One night, I logged into my Kiss.com e-mail box and found five letters, all written by the same woman whom I had never communicated with in any way, shape or form within the span of 10 minutes. She had merely read my Kiss.com profile to be inspired to write the following series of e-mails, complete with spelling errors:

Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2001 20:52:45

Michael,

Of course I have a big smile on my face...your different..

Like the kind of different that would capiture my attention.

I love reading you.

Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2001 20:57:04

Michael,

I am sure that you are more lovely, you look wonderful in you picture to begin ... Thank you for noticing me... I really appreciate it. More than you know. I sent my picture of recent to you...I understand if you are no longer attracted... 2 years for a women does a lot of damage.

Your potential beloved...

Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2001 21:01:21

Michael,

I want to tell you that I worked for (a Valley newspaper columnist) for 4 days 2 months ago..I walked off the job ... I cought her going through my personal e-mails ... She was paying my goo over $90,000 salery, but I was in jail workering for her.

Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2001 21:02:11

Can you call me? 623-xxx-xxx

Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2001 21:07:19

Michael,

If your not attracted to me that's ok, I get that alot ... I do wish you the best. To friends!

Within 10 minutes, this woman had created a relationship with me in her mind, lived it, and ended it as "just friends."

Come to think of it, there is perhaps the best advertisement of all for Internet love: You can go through all of the stages of an actual romance, from flirting to the breakup, without even being aware of it.

Affairs of the heart could not possibly be made easier than that.

Internet dating safety tips

Common sense. NEVER EVER give out your telephone number or address to someone you have just met or simply don't know very well!!

Trust yourself. You know that gut feeling you get in your stomach? Trust it. If it's telling you not to trust this person, then don't.

If someone wants to send you a gift, it is a good idea to get yourself a post office box. They are relatively inexpensive and ensure your peace of mind.

If you have decided to go ahead and meet someone, then obviously you must feel pretty confident that they are who they say they are. But still it's always a good idea to take as many precautions as necessary. Always let someone know who you are meeting, where and when you are meeting them. Or better yet, bring along a friend.

Remember! It's easy to "connect" on the Internet.

No matter how often you chat or e-mail with a person, you can never truly know what they are like in person. Be careful out there.

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