"All you need is love."
With all due respect to Lennon and McCartney, in a perfect world maybe love and some grocery money would get couples through, but even Cinderella and Snow White had complications before ending up with their respective Prince Charmings. In today's world of single parents, educational and career pursuits, instant information, instant gratification and any number and types of cyber crimes, finding The One is a little more complex.
Online dating questionnaires quiz singles on hobbies and interests to match people who share common ground. Couples surveyed say they went out for drinks and/or dinner on their first dates—normal according to statistics. What is the least desirable place to go for a first date? A movie.
Not even available 15 years ago, online dating services are linked to one in every six marriages and one in five relationships. Online dating is a worldwide, multi-billion dollar business. Match.com alone is available on five continents in 25 countries and in eight languages.
To take some of the guesswork and scariness out of dating complete strangers, courtship, like everything else, has gone global with hundreds of matchmaking services collecting clients and money. The results culminated in one out of every six marriages in 2010 (280,000). According to a study by Chadwick Martin Bailey Behavioral Studies and dating service Match.com, more people meet their spouses through online services than at clubs, bars, social events and churches combined, and one out of five singles have dated someone they met online. A full 10 percent of singles in the United States (5.5 million) use dating services. Why have online services become the third most popular way of meeting compatible mates (after meeting through school and work or friends and family?)
The "personality profile" on the top sites sifts through part of the "getting to know you" stage via questions on hobbies, interests, religion, children, habits, traits, values and age and height ranges. One can elect to meet only divorced singles or meet those who are "never married," divorced, separated or widowed. Singles can also widen the search geographically, adding more fish to the sea.
Psychology research shows that online dating is fast becoming main stream, and people who are paying for the service are not "losers," but everyday people sincere about finding someone compatible with whom to develop a relationship. They may be in a new location, have jobs that keep them busy or, like friends surveyed for this article, are "tired of the bar scene."
Compatibility also seems to be a key component. Those pages of questions depend on matching people who share interests and values rather than on the old adage "opposites attract." However, at least one caution about the oversimplification of traits comes from a study at Northwestern University. A psychologist notes that persistence, for example, may be a desirable trait that shows ambition or drive on paper, but in reality may be attached to a controlling or demanding personality.
A person's undesirable patterns will not go away just because he or she is using the online service, and the service will not be able to filter something like the "pursuer-distancer dynamic" out. Briefly, the dynamic is that in which the more someone pursues, the more the object of that pursuit distances him or herself, even disappearing altogether. One therapist notes that online dating is actually a vehicle for enabling those entrenched in PDD because the anonymity is more easily controlled by geographical distance and lack of face to face contact. Distancers usually have long-standing issues with intimacy and run from the heat when the emotional kitchen starts cooking. Problems with pursuers could become more than an abundance of emails, phone calls or texts. At its most serious, one might be dealing with a stalker.
For the most part, however, online daters are genuine. Except when they lie, which studies find most of them do. It isn't about the big stuff, though, like children, health issues or marriages. It's adding a couple of inches of height (for men) and subtracting a few pounds (for women), usually enough to make them feel a little better about themselves but not an outrageous change that would be noticeable at the first meeting.
"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?"
The modern version of calling from a balcony is one's dating site "profile." This writer viewed questionnaires from three of the five top sites: Match.com, eHarmony.com and Chemistry.com. All ask about children, income, education, religion, racial/ethnic preferences, interests and activities and preferred heights and ages for matches. They differed slightly in format and options. For instance, on Match.com, one can fill out the multiple choice questions and include optional comments on some pages. eHarmony.com and Chemistry.com ask similar multiple choice questions in different ways to hone in on degrees of certain traits. eHarmony gives users a wider range of answer choices, though. Here is a list of the five most highly rated sites by ConsumerRankings.com.
1. Match.com (rated 9.8 out of 10) has the largest user base and focuses on dating. It absorbed the former Yahoo personals and is affiliated with the newer Chemistry.com. Price programs range from $16 to $32 per month, but they do offer free weekend trials throughout the year. Upon finishing the minimum profile requirements, the site informed this writer she had 500 possible matches in a 50 mile radius! Who knew?
2. Chemistry.com attracts serious-minded singles looking for long-term relationships. The questionnaire is more in-depth than Match.com's, but more general than eHarmony's. This site offers expert advice and tips and asks for user feedback to improve the client experience. The one month rate is $50; the six month rate is about $27 per month. Questionnaire results put users into categories: Explorer, Negotiator, Director or Builder. This writer was pegged as a "Negotiator" (imagination, empathy and nurturing tendencies) and netted five matches and one "he's interested" from the Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas.
3. PerfectMatch.com is another relationship-oriented site and touts the Duet system for matching singles. Site benefits include several advice categories for questions and help and the opportunity to have questions answered by Dr. Pepper Schwartz, relationship expert. Users can also enter themselves into one of 34 specific categories to narrow the search, including "Christian Men," "Dog Lover Singles" and "Vegetarian Dating."
4. eHarmony.com has a very large user base. Most of the singles here are looking for long-term or marriage partners. The site is popular because of its step by step communication levels. Price packages range from $24 per month for 12 months to $50 per month for three months, but they, too, have periodic free weekend promotions. This was the longest and most thorough questionnaire of the three, and brought this writer four matches right away, all from Pittsburgh.
5. Spark.com is relatively new and has a small user base. It is, however, less expensive than the others and free to send and receive messages. All profiles are required to post a photo.
Before climbing aboard the online dating bandwagon, friends and experts have some pointers to share. First, decide on intent and join a site with a like-minded community. Someone looking for a spouse may not be comfortable on a casual dating site. Second, be as genuine as possible. Use real names; don't check "non-smoker" if you're going through a pack every week. Lies will eventually catch up, and deception is no way to begin a serious relationship with someone meeting in good faith.
Friends say, "be patient" with the process, be somewhat flexible with the guidelines, and don't expect to meet The One immediately. One survey respondent says she dated several "frogs" then took a six month break, tried online again and met her husband within three weeks.
Technology has its merits when it comes to first dates. All the friends said they made "safety net" arrangements before heading out to meet anyone. One arrived early at the restaurants and texted her dates' license plate numbers to a friend. Two had friends checking in during the date to make sure things were okay. All met in public places and took separate cars.
Photos are important, not so much for rating physical appearances, but for the willingness to put one's self out there and show a little personality. For women, seeing a man's profile photo is a safety thing. Two survey respondents sent their dates' photos to friends with names and phone numbers for the first meetings.
Not every photo will get the right responses, however. Experts and friends say photo "don'ts" include taking photos of lying in bed, photos drinking and partying and photos with dates, ex-spouses or friends that could leave an ambiguous impression. This writer checked a couple of "match" profiles with pictures of middle-aged, shirtless men (not attractive) and one gentleman in his swim trunks flanked by two Barbie babes in bikinis. No match there.
Rose: Do you love him, Loretta?
Loretta Castorini: Aw, ma, I love
Rose: Oh, God, that's too bad.
- from the movie Moonstruck
Though Loretta (played by Cher) was the steady girlfriend of Johnny Cammareri (played by Danny Aiello), there was something missing. She had a sense of it, but went about the days, months and years with an acceptance, a resignation about their relationship. Johnny's brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) showed up and POW! There it was, the connection, the chemistry that made him The One.
Each couple's experience is different, and love is intangible and ethereal until POW! It's found and felt. Three people kindly shared their thoughts and experiences through a survey for this article. All had dated before; one was divorced with children. All met their spouses through either Match.com or eHarmony.com and married within three years of their first date. All enthusiastically recommend online services.
How did each know that she'd met her match?
JJM: The only match I clicked with was K. After days and nights of three hour phone calls, we both knew that we stood a strong chance. [On their first date] He was perfect! We hit it off. The night went too fast.
SH: I just knew it felt right. It was comfortable and I enjoyed being with him, and I when I was away I couldn't wait to be with him again.
SM: I don't believe there was one moment, but a series of amazing things: his smile, the way he told a story, his drive and his family and values. I can't believe I found someone whose family is so close and similar to my own. I thought I would never find that!
Online dating services provide options from companionship to connubial bliss. Everyone deserves love. As with any other dating venue, honesty, trust and patience work to one's advantage. A little fate and a full moon couldn't hurt, either.