Chat and Mouse:

Chasing down love on the Internet

By Carrie Grigg, Panya Monford, and April Wright

SEX, SEX, SEX!! Now that you're paying attention, find out how to have the safest kind there is. Make love over the Internet. Or if you're not ready to go all the way, how about an intriguing chat with a potential love interest? You never know where it may lead--virtual flowers, late night emails, engagement, marriage? You'd be surprised.

Internet dating is the "Love Connection" of the '90's, especially for many college students with 24-hour-a-day access to computer labs and modems. For example, students at the University of Virginia have proved that computer relationships have gone beyond simple chat rooms and often move from virtual to actual human contact. With computer couples, marriage is not out of the question.

The availability of on-line dating services provides easy access for an easy match. No longer do people have to go to bars and risk taking home the wrong mate. Nor do net surfers have to take a shower and look their best for a date. It is possible to sit in front of the computer with stinky breath and ratty clothes while talking a possible soul mate. There is no risk of wasting money on a bad date, and if a relationship doesn't work out, it can be deleted with the tap of a key.

Maybe this is why Internet dating has been so successful. Internet users can avoid anyone who doesn't fit their personality type. No time is wasted on the break-up; a personality profile can quickly be posted on the Web to find another candidate for a perfect match.

One third-year student at the University of Virginia has found more intimate friendships over the Internet than in person. Despite her friendly smile and affable nature, Sue's* shyness kept her from meeting people when she first arrived at school. Her only social outlet was playing the MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), an Internet role-playing game. Through the game, she developed close friendships with other players--and it wasn't long until several prospective suitors began emailing her. The emailing quickly developed into phone calls, visits, and long-term future plans. Nathan*, one of Sue's many computer beaus, flew from California to spend a week with her in person. From her perspective, the visit wasn't a success. "Before he came, it was interesting--we could imagine his visit..." Yet once he arrived, she realized they didn't have enough in common; she now deletes his emails.

But Nathan wasn't Sue's only prospect. "Email and MUDding are interesting ways to meet people--you don't see bad things so you want to get to know everyone," she said. Getting to know people has cost her a lot of time and money; over a period of three weeks, she spent $780 on phone calls to several other guys from the MUD who had expressed interest. Sue is currently pursuing a relationship with Kevin*, another Californian, whom she feels is a more suitable match. And she credits the Internet for keeping them connected: "It makes it seem like California is right next door," she said.

So what begins as a simple computer conversation can evolve into the beginning of a serious commitment. Sue is not seeking her love in the traditional college fashion by going to parties and attending classes--but perhaps Internet dating is changing the connotation of traditional. Online romance is emerging as a social norm; it's not just for computer geeks and cyber freaks, anymore.

And, of course, not just for college students. In the quiet town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Sean* and his parents were hit by the computer dating craze. For twenty years, his parents had been happily married--or so he thought. During Sean's sophomore year in high school, he was devastated to learn that his father had been conducting a secret email relationship with another woman. After a few months, the couple began to rendezvous. Intimate thoughts and feelings were shared long before the two ever met--his father felt that he had met the "woman of his dreams." Only when he decided to leave Sean's mother did he reveal his infidelity.

While computer dating has proven to be a welcome boom for some, it has been detrimental to others. Sean's father found happiness with another woman, but his mother suffered from the stress of the divorce. In any case, this new technological trend has facilitated relationships because of the ease at which users can make a connection. Sean's father didn't have to step one foot outside of his home or office to get a chance to cheat. Going outside of one's home is no longer a necessity in the modern dating scene. All it takes is access to the Internet and an idea of what you're looking for. Thousands of free, on-line services are available to those who wish to post a personal ad; these ads can be seen by anyone who ventures to the corresponding Web site. So what will become of Sue and Kevin? And what about Sean's father? Are they getting what they expected out of their cyber-based relationships? A computer dream could turn into a nightmare. Already people have been lured into danger, even death, after connecting with people online. But such potential risk has long been the case with any form of dating, true?

Computers are creating a new, if unproven, way to communicate and develop intimate relationships. If you're ready to give it a try, put away your fancy clothes and expensive fragrances. Get down. Get dirty. And get in front of the computer.

*names have been changed to protect identities

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