It’s been many years (decads, actually) since I went seek a partner; my wife, Jean and I celebrated 21 years of marriage last October. But when I was single, I ventured into the “meet market” of the time with a daring step: I took our a “personal” ad in the paper. The letters that resulted lef to a few meetings, but no lasting relationship. (My wife and I evntually met at a young-adult retreat praer meeting and, no, she wasn’t praying for a spouse that morning!)
Today, you can still find “personal” ads in most newspapers, but the Internet has accelerated and broadened the search; online dating is now “mainstream,” says Andrea Orr, author of a 2004 book, Meeting, Mating (…and Cheating): Sex, Love and the New World of Online Dating. Despite its racy title, Orr’s book reveals that online dating services are really rather mundane: most people are there for a purpose, and they’re honest.
A correspondent for Reuters who surveyed numerous “dot-com” flops from her Silicon Valley vantage point, Ms Orr latched on to the online-dating industry as one of the few success stories of the Internet age: “There’s not a lot of inventory” involved in setting up a dating service, she said in a 2004 interview, “just a large database.”
Those databases contain the hopes and fears (and vital statistics) of millions looking for Mr (and Ms) Right. Many question how truthful these online self-descriptions are, a point made by cartoonist Peter Steiner, who once captioned a New Yorker magazine sketch of a dog using a keyboard and mouse with the caption, “On the Internet, no-one knows you’re a dog.”
But Ms Orr was surprised at the candour of most Internet-dating hopefuls: “The majority of people are honest, and are doing this sincerely,” she said.
However, that doesn’t mean there are no pitfalls on the road to romance. “Finding the right person has become almost impossibly hard,” says Neil Warren, a University of Chicago–trained clinical psychologist who founded online dating service eHarmony.com. He also spoke with me in a 2004 interview. “Most people cannot do it by themselves without more than a 35 or 40 per cent likelihood of succeeding,” Warren said, noting statistics showing approximately 20 per cent of first marriages in the US fail within five years.
In its first four-and-a-half years, Warren’s company racked up more than seven million paying customers who answer a 436-question profile. Between 16 and 20 per cent of applicants are “told the service is not appropriate for them,” as a spokesperson says. Of the 200 countries where eHarmony has members, Australia has the largest contingent.
“We are conservative and into it for one thing: find the right person for them to marry,” Warren said. Such exactitude comes in part, he asserts, because finding a true match in a built-to-order world can be demanding.
“The reason it’s so hard is because people have become so individuated…. The effect of the media is just overwhelming in terms of producing people who have attitudes, goals and values and aspirations and opinions on so many things. You need to find them individuated like you are.”
The eHarmony staff developed a list of 29 “critical variables” on which a person can be matched (“chemistry” isn’t among them), and, Warren says, “we match everybody with everybody every single day.”
By this he means that new registrants are matched with still-unmarried members, in the hopes of finding a complimentary match.
Warren, whose parents were married in 1915 and stayed together for more than 70 years, says using an Internet service can revive some of the comfort felt long ago by those whose parents played matchmaker. He said the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s cut loose some of the social moorings, and that Internet dating is a way to “give some of that power back to trustworthy virtual matchmakers,” as he describes them.
“I believe that there’s never been such a good time for singles because the Internet is such a phenomenal distribution system that makes it possible to do something we never could do before,” he said.
Along with eHarmony, which I can recommend solely on the basis of Warren’s reputation and my conversation with him, there are sites aimed at Christians, including denomination-specific.
If you plan to go this route, there are basic rules anyone should follow, regardless of the source or method used.
First, look for those who are truly compatible, especially if, for example, matters of faith are important to you.
Another is to be careful with passing information to “strangers,” your address or workplace, for example; your income; details of children, and so forth.
A third, and one that police have often said is vital, is to arrange for a first meeting in a very public place, such as an outdoor cafe or a large restaurant, at a group event with friends, or in a public park.
And never, ever invite a total stranger to your home until you meet and get to know them first.