Has dating really changed dramatically, or is it just another way to make connections? Women and men both use the Internet as a tool to meet potential dates as well as a means of maintaining their existing relationships,” says Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington. “It’s exciting to see the range of ways that women and men are learning to use a seemingly impersonal space like the Internet in increasingly personal and connecting ways.”
Not Disappearing Anytime Soon
This trend does not seem to be disappearing anytime soon. “I think people will start to become more and more comfortable meeting strangers online. It was only 10 years ago that we might have thought someone was weird if they met someone online. Few would raise an eyebrow now,” says Bryant Paul, assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunications at IU Bloomington.
So, what’s the appeal? Paul says the dating pool in real life is a lot harder to access. “People in today’s culture like fast food and fast news,” he said. “We want things processed as fast as possible. Sites like eHarmony do all the front work for you.”
Many women and men say that online surfing lets them meet a wider range of people than they would normally meet in their social circles or work environment. Herbenick said online dating can give them a chance to learn about their dates before meeting them.
“Being able to see one or more photographs of a potential date is an added feature that goes above and beyond newspaper ads,” she said.
The ways people are forging new relationships online are vast. Paul divides the world of online dating into two categories: dating sites and social networking sites (SNS). Social networking sites, like Facebook and Myspace, are Web-based online communities that include people who often share similar interests or characteristics. Paul said the growth of virtual worlds, such as Second Life, offer more options — they enable users to socialize and interact with other users by means of an avatar, or character.
Herbenick and Paul offer the following tips for those just beginning to explore online dating:
Practice A Little Caution
“Safety remains a pitfall to online dating, especially when one is meeting complete strangers online. Women and men who use online dating services should be careful about giving out their phone numbers and work information, and should meet in public places where they feel safe,” says Herbenick. “Sites such as Facebook and Myspace offer some advantages if you choose to date within your own friend networks, and begin communicating with a close friend of one of your friends.”
Many sites claim to offer services, but fail to deliver.
“Recognize what each site has to offer and don’t jump right in because not every site is safe. Google the site and see what others are saying. The more well known a site is, the better chance it’s legit,” says Paul.
Don’t Be Intimidated
Plenty of resources exist for those who may not have grown up in the age of Match.com or Facebook.
“Local libraries and community centers frequently offer classes related to computers and the use of the Internet,” says Herbenick. “Women and men can use these classes to learn basic computer skills related to surfing the Internet, protecting personal information, making online payments, uploading and downloading photos, and using email. Then if they want to venture into online dating, they will have the skills to do so.”
“Be adventurous yet sensible. Look for opportunities to meet people online that make you feel good, safe and yet still excited about the potential for meeting people,” says Herbenick.
Originally published by Indiana University Media Relations on Feb 14, 2008.