What does romance entail? In yesteryear, it meant a classic random meeting, followed by an invitation for friendship, followed by a steady path toward passion and love.
The end of this road featured candle-lit dinners, chocolate and sweet words whispered in the partner’s ears.
That’s true today but now is accompanied by a silent yet prominent accomplice–––the Internet.
Meeting one’s future spouse on the same train, or when they’re alone at the same tavern still happens today, but it’s increasingly being replaced by online resources.
Now, instead of happening to ride the same train, two people could happen to find themselves in the same chat room. Rather than breaking down at the side of the road and seeing your future spouse pull over to help, they could be giving you advice through online speed dating.
E-romance can take many forms, but the biggest solicitors are dating profile websites and chat rooms.
The most readily-identified form of online dating comes from sites such as eHarmony, Match.com, Yahoo! Personals and several other major players. These websites ask subscribers to fill out profiles, indicating personal information such as height, weight, age, sexual orientation and location.
In addition, members also list hobbies of theirs, as well as personality traits and date ideas. This information is then used to calculate a subscriber’s compatibility with other subscribers; matched profiles are then recommended to the subscriber.
eHarmony, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., has been in this business since 2000. Last August, the company boasted 33 million members (including members who have since left) since inception, and a year earlier the company reported $1 billion in cumulative revenue. In addition, a 2010 poll by Harris Interactive estimates that, every day, 542 people marry someone they met on eHarmony.
Seeing the profitability of general dating sites, countless “niche” sites who have a single major trait in common. Online Dating Magazine, a watchdog publication that examines online dating sites, lists 25 sites for daters with niches, including sites for science fiction fans, vegetarians, golfers and deaf people. These sites frequently advertise on Facebook.
Chat rooms often are less structured and usually can allow members to stay anonymous until they want to open up more to someone. There are two primary forms of online chat: Web and Internet Relay Chat.
Web chats often use software such as Java and have chatters register a screenname as well as some information such as their country of residence. The user will then find a larger chat room, with people discussing an array of topics to the group as a whole.
IRC utilizes channels, which are often centered on a topic of discussion that brings together a whole group. Both formats allow members to break from the whole group to carry on private chats with other users. IRC, requires specific software, thus limiting its universal use.
Since chat rooms are more often used for casual chatting and “time-wasting,” statistics on which couples met in chat rooms has not been as widely tracked. However, there have been success stories: On TeenChat, an online chat room aimed at teens and 20-year-old somethings, a 15-year-old girl offered a testimonial to meeting her boyfriend on the site.
Even sites that aren’t aimed at romance can help. Experience Project, a social networking site in which (usually anonymous) members share stories, celebrated the marriage between two of its members in December 2008. The reason for the celebration: Both members, previously strangers, met on Experience Project prior to meeting in person.
Even so, the process of meeting online has not been without controversy or critics. Some online dating sites follow the “mail-order bride” model of business, where people from wealthy nations are fixed up with foreigners from rough walks of life. The use of these agencies has led to scandal, such as a 2010 case of a 47-year-old South Korean man murdering his 20-year-old Vietnamese bride. In early 2006, Congress imposed new regulations for such agencies doing business in the United States, making the standards for getting a foreign woman’s address more stringent.
In addition, the fear of children meeting pedophiles became a staple in the news during the 2000s. It even inspired a TV program, To Catch a Predator, where volunteers use online profiles to lure sexual predators to the hands of police and the view of TV cameras.
Still, it is difficult to ignore the new role of technology in relationships. Dating websites now rank as the second-most profitable source of paid content on the Internet. In 2002, Wired magazine stated, “20 years from now, the idea that someone will be looking for love without looking for it online will be silly.”
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