February 2002
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Online Love Connections: Those looking for love on the net
By: Beverley Yu, Grade 13, Father Michael McGivney School, Markham, ON

Do you believe in love at first sight? How about at first mouse click?

You may be "rolling on the floor laughing" (ROTFL) right now after reading that but that could just very well be the new way Romeo finds his Juliet. More and more teens and adults are logging onto this innovative thing called the information highway a.k.a. the internet. Some want to meet new friends, some to keep in touch with old friends, some to check up on the stock market or sports scores, and yes there are some who are online to find their true love. Or, at least, a compatible mate to get to know.

This is the age of great technologies such as cell phones, two-way pagers, DVDs, and even computers who keep our society functioning. It's no wonder that we turn to technology to make our lives easier and better in every aspect – including dating. Conventional dating may be too frustrating with endless attempts at trying to find that special someone or the need for variety. In comes the Internet. Such online dating services have already cashed in on this growing trend with many singles turning to the net to find someone who they click with.

Chatrooms are buzzing almost 24/7, even on Friday nights. That's just one of the hot spots many singles hit to hang out to find "their significant other". Through private messages or "PM's" in net lingo, people exchange their thoughts and get to know each other better. More than just asking for age/sex/location (a/s/l), there are some people chatting to really try to connect with someone.

Meghan Beattie and Pat Waldon, both 18, had one of those encounters that went more in depth than just the usual "what's up? a/s/l?" conversations. One summer afternoon, Meghan signed onto a chatroom trying to kill some time and not expecting to meet anyone special. Who would've known that in that Teens chatroom that day she would met a guy who happened to have all the similar interests and lived in the same town as her as well.

"He was just a sweet guy who said everything I was thinking and vice versa," she reminisces. "It was as if I met my soul mate - but at the time I didn't want to get my hopes up because I've always heard of those horrible things that happen to young girls who get caught up in online relationships. There is a lot of elusiveness in meeting people online, so I was hesitant."

Pat fondly remembers his first encounter with Meghan as if it was yesterday. "I started talking to her because something about her username allured me and so I sent her a message. I wasn't expecting much, maybe just a conversation about the usual things like music, weekend plans, TV, and etc."

After a few months of chatting to each other on AOL Instant Messenger, things began to get serious and they decided to exchange phone numbers. Both Meghan and Pat were cautious about revealing such personal information especially Meghan because she had overprotective parents.

"I knew they would flip if they found out that I gave my number to someone I met online," she explains. "But after much thinking, I decided to just call him instead because I felt that this [relationship] was something special and that there was a future for us."

The phone calls became more frequent and with each call, they talked about their days, consoled each other with their problems and just joked around.

"She just had a way of making me feel better…no matter how down I was. She really understood me," Pat says enthusiastically.

Usually there is room for suspicion about who exactly the other person is on the other end of the conversation. It's just human nature. When talking to someone, you have to see him or her to know that they are who they really are and get that feedback you can only get by talking face-to-face. But with endless reports of teens and even young adults meeting with disaster rather than the expectation of beautifully painted visions of love's first encounter, there are risks that must be measured. An online relationship is a risky game because there's a lot being put on the fine line of trust between both parties. And in first face-to-face meetings, it's wise to make sure oneself is protected by taking the proper precautions such as meeting in public places and never alone.

That's exactly what the pair did. Both "dragged along a friend to the designated meeting spot at the mall" recalls the two.

"It was awkward at first because I had never done something like this before and never thought I would," Pat reveals. "But after a few minutes to ‘warm up' to each other, we totally clicked and felt comfortable with each other…."

"…And ever since that meeting, we've been happily together," inputs Meghan.

Ever watch television late at night and see those dating services ads plugging their websites that flash across the screen? Or you might have seen those "online matchmaking" or "meet other singles" banner advertisements on popular websites? Ever been enticed, even slightly curious, to check them out even if you've never considered those "online shams"?

Paula Frattini and Brad Lewis were both "lured" in by these advertisements and, well, their curiosity got the best of them. Paula, 19, and Brad, 21, had initially no intentions on making a "love connection" from the dating service they joined late 2001.

"It was just for fun, to see what kind of responses I would get," Paula points out. "I just put up my picture and made up a profile. That was just about it. Then I decided to let fate take its course."

Brad joined because he wanted to meet someone – not necessarily a love interest but just a new friend. Paula also wanted to meet some new friends. After all, internet dating services don't always help people meet new people with love in mind, some people make significant friendships in the process.

Through daily emails and chatting, the two bonded and got to know each other's quirks and how each other thought. This was a momentous part of the relationship because there wasn't "instant attraction", for Paula anyway. This "getting-to-know-each-other" process, important in both online and conventional dating, played a great role in getting the two together.

"The thing I think is the best plus of online relationships," Paula says. "is that the getting to know each other portion of the ‘dating ritual' is more emphasized in online dating than in conventional dating. This is because you want to know exactly what you're getting into…you have the ability to decide for yourself if the person is right for you [by judging from their personality] and if they aren't, then, you don't have to deal with the rejection process face-to-face which is less nerve-wracking in my opinion."

Paula and Brad took the giant leap and planned a meeting a few weeks later. Paula was nervous but wanted to finally have a face-to-face first acquaintance with the guy she had started to have deep feelings for. Brad was up for it because ever since he first saw a picture of Paula, there was something there and long waited the moment to meet her.

"It was just a gut feeling you know? I can't explain it, I just had to get to know her. Even when she tried to push me away, I had to show her that she was a very special girl – to me." Brad admits.

From that crucial day of the first meeting to this moment while they are musing over how far their relationship has come, the decision of making an "online encounter" with a complete stranger has never been regretted.

"It was one of the best decisions of my life! I still can't believe I found such a great guy from an online dating service, but here I am so I guess you never know," gushes Paula.

Both these couples have come a long way since their initial judgement on online love. There are many critics out there who believe internet love is a silly idea and that you can't truly love someone you haven't met in real life. It is possible that you can love someone without meeting them in friendship or in a romantic relationship. In many internet relationships, couples have not met but do feel love for that person both in friendship and romantically. By taking the right steps in communication and taking time to get to know one another more and more, a stronger bond of love can occur than in a face to face relationship where looks or thoughts of sex may interfere.

Contrary to popular belief, online love is true, is real and is just as valid as a relationship that occurs in "the real world". With internet romances, there are disadvantages just like any other relationship. There are many advantages outweighing the drawbacks. Dating someone physically could lead to possibilities of pregnancy or exposure to STD's. Most physical relationships tend to be geared around the person's outer appearance and consequently the amount of communication is often at a minimum. Lust has a tendency to take charge in a relationship with love and respect being put aside.

Most physical relationships tend to be more geared around what the person looks like rather than who the person is and therefore communication is often at a minimum. Lust tends to go before love and respect. Internet relationships are the other way around. Emails and chats via the net force people to communicate. People can find out who the other person is inside and out before actually meeting them. This is an excellent stepping-stone for the relationship and prepares the couple for what will come in the future.

Making that connection with someone met online can eliminate illusions of love caused by looks. Love sparked on the Internet is just as pure, if not more pure, than normal. You get to know and love the person for the person they are without the distraction of looks. Obviously trust is a major issue in online romance because no one can be certain if the person on the other end of the conversation is not lying and trying to make something of themselves that they are not. Yes, there are risks, we've all heard about those stories of raving maniacs stalking prey on the internet. You must always take precautions. There definitely are risks to consider when jumping in such a situation and that must be made clear.

To sum it up, Internet relationships work for some, but it's NOT for everyone.