A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a casual acquaintance. As we were chatting, she mentioned her new boyfriend, Adam. "Oh," I asked. "How did you two meet?" She looked around and said, "Well, I guess I can tell you. I mean, he tells everyone." And then she lowered her voice slightly, "We met online."
Now, to me, the phrase, we met online is not one that warrants a lowered voice and furtive glance around the room before being uttered. But, apparently admitting to meeting over the internet has not quite become the stuff of polite conversation. In reality, this shouldn't be that surprising. There are some long-standing stigmas attached to this type of coupling; often holdovers from the days of newspaper personal ads and video dating services.
My first encounter with personal ad dating came when I was a teenager. I was at an older cousin's wedding. At one point during the reception, my mother whispered to me, "You know, they met through the personal ads." Forgetting my whereabouts I loudly repeated, "The personals?" only to get a sound motherly shushing. But, I was confused. My cousin didn't seem desperate. Or weird for that matter. Weren't those the types of people who did this? Now, granted I was a teenager and not fully versed in the ways of the world, but I would hazard a guess that I wasn't the only one under the impression that only desperate divorcees and perverted polygamists would place an ad looking for a date. Of course, it was more likely than not the daters in question were simply busy people with specific needs and interests whose social lives had not yet presented them with an appropriate match. Just like internet daters today.
Now that internet dating has been going strong for nearly a decade, people are coming around to the idea that there is no more shame in meeting someone online that there is in meeting someone through a friend, at a bar or over the office water cooler. My friend Andy and his live-in-love met on an internet dating site a few years ago. However, this wasn't initially what they told people, instead concocting a tale about meeting in a park on their way to work. Eventually, the happy couple felt silly perpetuating the fabricated story and outed themselves to friends and family. Not surprisingly, the only negative reactions came from people who didn't understand why they had invented the park fable in the first place. Still, as Andy says, "In the beginning we felt a little pathetic, like we had to go online to get a date. And, I know Jen was worried that people would think we had just been looking for a hook up. But, we got over that pretty quick!"
Many internet daters see these qualms as being decidedly out of touch. Twenty-seven year-old Ilana explains, "I have no problem telling people I'm doing Internet dating because everyone's doing it. I think the fact the people do everything on the Internet makes it seem totally natural. You do all your communication on the internet. All your research on the Internet. Make all your plans on the Internet, so why not find someone to date on the internet?"
Why not indeed? There's plenty of stuff out there to feel legitimately embarrassed about, an addiction to reality television and our love of Les Miserables for example.
Online dating doesn't need to be added to that list. Who knows, in a few years, the idea of going out with someone without first being able to check his or her profile might seem positively pass?.
Ellen Friedrichs is a dating advisor for MetroChai. To read more articles and tips visit our blog at http://nydating.blogspot.com/
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