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Beep. Beep. “Okay, now what was that timer for?” I said to myself. “Oh, it’s the steak!” Once the tray was safely on the table, I took off my oven-mitts and crept towards the door to peak in and spy on my guests. The dinner party invitation said to arrive at six o’clock, but I was not surprised to open my door to Ellen and Sherrie at 5:15. They rang the doorbell at least a dozen times in the thirty seconds it took me to get to the door. I found two middle aged women decked out in trendy clothes, the sort a teenager might wear. Ellen had a bright yellow headband on, and Sherrie’s hair was died a fiery red. The kitchen door made a creaking sound as I shut it to return to my cooking, but I was not concerned that they would see me looking in on them. I knew those two would never hear the little noise over their own gabbing.
A few weekends ago I saw a segment on online dating on NBC. Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, who co-authored The Rules For Online Dating, spoke with David and Liz, a couple whom had just started dating thanks to online dating services. Prior to seeing the show, I thought that online dating was ridiculous and only for desperate people. David and Liz though, seemed perfectly normal, and from what I gathered, the online dating scene is quickly gaining popularity (Ellen Fein and…). I just did not know what to think about it all. Is online dating a good thing? Is it safe compared to real life? I decided to invite all four of them (Ellen, Sherrie, David, and Liz) over for dinner the next week to talk about online dating and if and how it worked. Even after sending out my invitations though, all I could think about was online dating, and I just could not seem to make up my mind as to whether it was a good idea or not. I spent time researching the topic and I came across two more experts on online dating that I wanted to invite to dinner as well. Both Kelly Starling and Andrea Svoboda seemed to be fairly laid back (judging by their writings) people, so I had decided to invite them to dinner also (even though it was short notice).
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Finally, I finish preparing all of the food a few minutes before 6:00, so I head into the living room to wait for the arrival of the rest of my guests. Andrea arrived shortly looking professional in her business suit; I think she had an interview this afternoon. Less than one minute later, David and Liz both show up at the same time, but the couple is not driving together. This is probably because it is only their second meeting, I speculate, and they are simply following two important rules of dating, “practice common sense and take your time” by their not driving together (Starling). I smile thinking that Kelly would be proud. She, after all, included these rules in her article, “The Joys and Dangers of Love on the Internet.” My thoughts are interrupted by Kelly herself as the doorbell chimes and I see the top of her curly hair through the small front door window. I open the door for Kelly, but Ellen, who is too busy snooping through the pictures from the album under the coffee table to pay attention to anyone else, speaks to me before there is a chance to greet Kelly.
“This guy looks exactly like a guy- a guy I dated a few years ago. Oh and I met him- I met him online, ya know.”
This seems like a good time to delve into the online dating topic which had spurred my curiosity enough to even have these people to my home in the first place. “So, David, Liz, how are you doing? Have you two been seeing a lot of each other lately?”
“Oh, we’re doing well,” David says.
“Yes, but we have not gotten a chance to meet again since the show until now, so we have not really spent time together,” Liz adds. Liz and Dave seem really nice, but they do not really give much information. They spoke in this same distant manner that night I saw them on NBC, and I would have thought that by now they would be a little more open. I silently reflect on a point that Kelly made in her article. She said that a “benefit of on-line dating is its ability to lower inhibitions. There's freedom in anonymity. A person who is too shy to go up to someone in person can approach someone in a chat room with relative ease (Starling).” Dave and Liz must be shy; they are lucky to have a tool like the internet to communicate. The aspect of not talking face to face can, for shy people, be very helpful. Otherwise they might never have had the courage to strike up a conversation in the first place (Starling). On the other hand, it may be hindering to more outgoing people. Maybe the outgoing personalities would not be able to use their friendly charisma as much to their advantage online as in real life. I decide not to mention this to my guests though, so as not to embarrass Liz or Dave regarding their shy nature.
A brief moment of silence occupies the room until Andrea speaks up for the first time tonight. “It is very good that you two are meeting in person, I think. I once interviewed a twenty year old girl named Amy. A guy on her campus sent her an instant message. They talked for five hours every night and this went on for a few years, even after he transferred to a new school. Amy wanted to meet this guy or even just talk on the phone; for goodness sake, they called each other boyfriend and girlfriend. Finally, she broke up with him, thinking he must be hiding something after he repeatedly refused to meet with her. He never signed on the same user name again. Not that I am trying to scare you kids- I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re past the hardest part (Svoboda). And I mean I have heard so many ‘success’ stories too. Geeze, Match.com has an average of 75 reports each month announcing an engagement or marriage!”
“That’s so strange and kind of scary too.” Liz starts to open up after all. “Yes I was very nervous about meeting David for the first time- no offense, David,” she giggled, “but that is why I did it in such a public place.”
“Yeah,” David puts in, “and NBC is about as public as it gets.”
“They are just following our rules, ya know. I mean, we say- we told them that you have to be careful, ya know?” Ellen pipes in.
“Yeah, you have to be careful, just like you would if you met someone in real life,” Sherrie adds as she makes her way back to her seat from walking around the room looking at pictures.
“I think that is a huge point, Sherrie! People can deceive and be just as dangerous when met in the real world as online. You just have to use common sense!” Although I may not be an expert on online dating, I do realize that there are bad people in the world, and people get hurt in the real world just as they do as online. I continue my hypothesis boldly, “I think that the reason we hear about online dating issues is because the internet is new technology that the media feels it has to bash the newest medium. I still don’t even have a final opinion as to whether online dating is exclusively good or bad, but I do believe that the same safety is important when people chose to date online as in real life.”
“I agree with you. That’s why David and I are being so cautious. We really want this to work out,” Liz adds. “And it was so nice to sort through profiles on the dating service until I found David’s which matched a lot of my interests (Starling). But sometimes I feel embarrassed to tell people that I met my boyfriend over the internet because a lot of people look down on that, even though the truth is that many people use online dating services successfully (Svoboda). Plus, almost everyone who uses these services is an average person you might meet in real life.”
“I know! A few weeks ago, I was one of those people who thought that only desperate online junkies used these sites. I’m only now beginning to see just how far the online dating scene has come. There was a time when it was almost exclusively strange, insecure people using these sights.”
“Oh yes, things are really picking up! Many people love the dating services; it doesn’t work for others,” Andrea comments as her stomach grumbles out loud. “Oh, excuse me,” the classy professional says blushing.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Let’s go sit down for dinner,” I say remembering my duty as hostess. “You can follow me into the dining room.” Everyone gets up from the couches and chairs to sit at the neatly set table where the food is laid out. David is asked to bless the meal, and after he thanked the lord for the food, he ended with, “and thanks for family and friends, and for bringing Liz into my life.”
As we begin to eat and conversation slowly shifts off our online dating topic, I decide that my dinner party has served its purpose; I have discovered the answer to the question that plagued me for days: is online dating good or bad? My answer: it is neither. For some, like David and Liz, online dating is good and can be a useful tool that will reap great benefits. For others who enjoy the thrill of approaching someone physically to get a sense of a prospect’s charisma, online dating may never satisfy their needs. In addition, safety precautions for those who chose online relationships needs to be exercised with common sense as in the real world.