Copyright 1998 Information Access Company,
a Thomson Corporation Company;
Copyright 1998 Maclean Hunter Ltd. (Canada)
SECTION: No. 9, Vol. 71; Pg. 32B; ISSN: 0009-1995
LENGTH: 1142 words
HEADLINE: Lust in space; cyber dating
BYLINE: Enfield, Julie
A realistic voyage into and out of the world of cyber dating
I'm single, 40, and have been heating a lot about looking for love on the Internet. It sounds like an idea whose time is long past due. According to one cyber buff I spoke to, who also happens to be a resident in psychiatry at the University of Toronto, romantic Web sites and chat rooms have become the singles bars of the '90s.
"Many women," she said, "are reluctant to do the singles scene because they resent being judged by their looks, age and race, while their intelligence and experience are often overlooked or undervalued." For me, the real allure to meeting a soul mate over the Internet is the idea that I'm in a room with half a million eligible hunks - there has to be someone out there, right?
I did a bit of exploring and here's what I learned: if you have Net access, you can connect with people you might never have had the opportunity to meet in person. Yes, there is a slender chance that you'll meet someone special, but like the old joke goes, "you would have to cyber kiss a lot of frogs before you connect with a handsome prince." In fact, after my tour of the cyber dating world, I concluded that online experiences can't replace good old-fashioned life but I had lots of fun looking.
The first stop on my investigation was cyber dating services. The plan: cruise the online singles scene, and use the Internet as I would a newspapers personal ads. I try a site my friend had suggested.
A welcoming on-screen message invites me to post an ad for free or browse the profiles that are based on participants' age, looks, lifestyle and geographic location. I select the desired age range and enter a search profile, men seeking women, between 35 and 40, in a 150-kilometre radius around my home. Moments later, squads of smiling singles come flashing on my screen.
The one that intrigues me is a man named Walter (or so the profile reads - it could be fictitious). He says he's a passionate 38-year-old businessman (again, supposedly). Mmmmm. I want to learn more and click on "complete profile." Walter, it turns out, thinks the ideal first date is throwing back chilled chardonnay while sitting in his steamy backyard hot tub.
It hardly takes a tarot reading to figure out what's going on here. I realize Walt and I are fated never to meet. I point my cursor to the top of my screen, then exit.
I understand that the only difference between online matchmaking and the more traditional methods is that online, as long as your cyber date is more discreet than Walter, the facade can last longer. As soon as you and the person you're communicating with agree to exchange real identifying information, such as phone numbers, home addresses or private E-mail addresses, or even, God forbid, meet, you're suddenly back on terra firma. There may be thousands of Walters out there, so this is not the way for me to meet a man.
Chat rooms are probably the most popular places to meet people online and the abundance of them is quite simply overwhelming. If you've never done this before, you're in for a surprise. In this world, thousands of people are caught up in private and public discussions at any given time.
You can join special-interest chat groups. A friend of mine is a James Joyce afficionado and joins a chat group every Wednesday evening to debate Ulysses and Dubliners. Too heavy for me. All I want to do is play.
This is how it works. At a search prompt, type in "chat rooms." Then dive in. If you connect to, say, www.mikesweb.com, you will be welcomed to a kind of cyber singles bar, where you can join discussions on everything from relationships and travel to sex, sex and more sex. What's really happening is a bunch of computer users are sitting in the privacy of their homes or offices responding in real-time to one another's words. You can even create an identity for yourself, but it's crucial to remember. so can everybody else.
"Given that you have absolutely no idea whether your virtual fling is a sincere executive-type sitting alone at his computer gazing wistfully at a Vancouver skyline, or some angry techno-whiz kid whose girlfriend just ditched him, you'd better be careful," warns one chat fan.
The reality check? Don't ever reveal personal information. That includes phone numbers, work numbers, home or E-mail addresses. Tempted to meet for real? I would advise extreme caution.
That said, I thought I'd have some fun. I found a chat line and, trying hard to summon-up the Erica Jong in me for a zipless cyber date, I type in "Spirit," my invented online name. A list of users with names like Steelshaft and Ravager emerge alongside their fast-moving scripts. An orgy of sex acts unfolds before me. And I don't even have to participate. I can just read other people's fantasies as they appear on my computer screen.
I'm getting bored, ready to log off. Then someone solicits me and says, "Spirit, do you want to go private?" This means do I want to exchange messages on another screen where other participants can't watch. I click my assent.
Here's what's on my screen.
M: "Are you female?"
Spirit: "Yes, what's your name?"
S: "As in mouse?"
M: "Are you alone?"
S: "Ah, yeah . . ." (I'm really with my cat)
M: "Wanna play a fun game?"
S: "Like what?"
M: "Like spanking."
I click off and Mouse's world disappears from mine before he has a chance to reply. I don't think I'm going chatting anymore. I watched people chat others into strangely imaginative (and imagined - these people are sitting by themselves at their computers) gyrations of sex, and again I think I prefer the tried-and-true version.
However, if you'd like to try some proven meeting grounds, visit these sites.
Romantic Web sites
* Canada Singles On Line www.singles-on-line.com/
You can create a listing for yourself, and read through listings created by others.
* CyberRomance 101 http://web2.airmail.net/walraven/romance.htm
It's a good site for its collection of articles related to cyber love, essays and forums for romance.
* Third Age www.thirdage.com/join/
Active adults and seniors can explore love and friendship at this site. There are lots of special-interest groups to click on.
Internet dating services
* Date.com www.date.com/
Nonmembers can browse profiles and access a chat room for free. Full membership costs $ 10 a month and includes E-mail, chat room access and the ability to respond to classifieds. It's where I found Walter.
* One & Only www.one-and-only.com/
Enter an ad for free or browse site profiles. The monthly membership fee is $ 15.
* Smart Date www.smartdate.com/
This is a site devoted to keeping women safe when meeting their online loves in person. It also provides many useful tips for safe dating.