I'm a big fan of the Internet. Each day I boot the computer and wait an excruciating 45 seconds for Windows to load, then settle into my sequential routine of MSN, email, then perusal of my favourite websites. The little ritual can last anywhere between 5 minutes and several hours, and is often repeated more than once a day.
I might feel embarrassed about my Internet 'addiction' if so many other people weren't doing the same thing. The majority of my friends and peers, people who enjoy the kind of enriched and meaningful lives I comfort myself by assuming I lead, are chatting and surfing on a constant basis. See mom, all the cool kids are doing it- and if they jumped off a bridge, I'd be inclined to follow them.
Due to societies' increasingly warm embrace of the World Wide Web over the past decade or so, a lot of activities that used to exist on the online 'fringe' are now gaining widespread acceptance. I'm a fan of online banking, eshopping and eBay, which were all things I would have been very hesitant to try a couple of years ago. I've had nothing but good experiences with all three thus far, although my inevitable forthcoming misadventure with credit card fraud or identity theft will probably temper that enthusiasm somewhat.
After using the net to buy and sell the likes of DVDs and used Playstation 2s, the next logical step was to sell myself in the form of online dating. A few months ago, on the eve of an important exam I didn't feel like studying for, I read an article in MacLean's that toted the benefits of dating sites, and went to great pains to explain that 'all the cool kids were doing it'. I checked out one of the sites mentioned in the article, and the people listed did seem surprisingly normal.
With all my prior online experiences, signing up at an Internet dating site shouldn't have been strange, and it wasn't. It was very strange. I wrote a nondescript profile that vaguely defended my choice to sign up, and uploaded a picture of myself giving the thumbs up to a dissected lab cat. It was a perfect example of hedging your bets if ever I saw one. I was more than a little embarrassed, and loathed the idea that someone I knew might find out. After debating whether to delete the profile and forget the whole thing, I eventually decided to check the site out and see what (if anything) would happen.
Although I had signed up for pretty innocent reasons, and my expectations (being practically non-existent) were healthy, I still avoided telling people what I'd done. Part of me couldn't shake the preconceived notions I'd always held about Internet dating being a last resort for weirdoes and losers who couldn't get a date using more socially accepted methods. While that sounds shallow and harsh to me now, at the time I couldn't help it. Initially I told very few people that I'd signed up or that I was talking to people casually I'd met online.
After trying the site for a few weeks, however, I'd come to see some of the advantages online dating could offer. If your usual dating pool(s) (for me, predominantly work and school) is/are running dry, your chances online are probably better than going the traditional bar or club route. Reading profiles gave me an opportunity to find likeminded people with similar interests who I might potentially be attracted to both physically and mentally, which seemed a lot more productive than slurring ?what's your sign? to some random girl at a bar. It was a lot easier on the wallet as well, since spending the equivalent of $1.60 to communicate with someone easily beat buying them a $5.00 drink. (And yes, I did rewrite my profile and replace the picture of the dissected cat).
While I understand that most girls get inundated with a lot of undesired attention online (just like in real life), my interactions were somewhat more humble. I was never talking to more than a couple of people at once, and of the few girls I met in the brief time I used the site, most were single dates (if you even want to call them that) that didn't amount to anything. For those few quasi 'successes' there were many more total non-matches, but overall from my experience online dating seemed like a pretty direct and effective way to meet new people. Considering my initial reservations and low expectations, I couldn't have expected things to turn out the way they did.
Six months ago I never would have imagined that I'd meet people 'edating'; a little over three months ago I never would have imagined that I'd not only meet someone over the Internet, but fall in love with them. If I still held any lingering reservations about online dating, it's safe to say they've been completely blown out of the water. I won't get into details that no one (save myself) is interested in recounting; suffice to say that I was lucky enough to meet an amazing young women who makes me very happy. Ninety days may not a lifetime make, but I'm extremely happy with my 'Relationship the Internet Built'. Admittedly, part of me wouldn't mind forgetting the fact that we met online, but I have to remind myself that we wouldn't be together otherwise.
Initially, when people would ask how we met, I was prepared for all kinds of reactions- shock, disapproval, perhaps even laughter. While the fact that I'm dating a kickass girl was what gave me the confidence to tell the truth, I was surprised that eDating seems to be more socially acceptable than I thought. After all the hand wringing and worrying I went through when I first signed up, I'm amused to see that most people I've told are pretty indifferent to the whole thing. (You might very well feel the same way reading this article).
In conclusion, anyone who'll send money in good faith to someone called 'the_dinger' for a used digital camera over eBay should have no qualms posting a picture of themselves on a reputable dating site. You've got nothing to lose, and you might potentially meet a really great person. Alternatively, you could meet a real psycho, but your chances of that happening are just as good anywhere else in society.
Oh, and just a quick endnote--if I thought I'd never be dating someone I met online, I was positive I'd never date someone who was over four years younger than I am... but that's a different story entirely.