Are you feeling discouraged about your last blind date? Searching for the mate of your dreams? Don’t fret – finding your soul mate is right at your fingertips.
Forty million Americans use online dating services, according to Match.com, one of the world’s leading online dating websites, launched in 1995.
At the time, online dating websites were scarce and only 14 percent of American adults were using the Internet. Today, the web includes a plethora of online dating sites, including OkCupid, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, and much more – and the number keeps growing. One of the newest trends, Tinder, released in 2012, is a mobile dating and networking application that facilitates communication between mutually interested users.
A newcomer to the online dating world, 26-year-old Desiree Demo of Old Orchard Beach was skeptical at first. But after meeting her current boyfriend, John Kenny, also 26, on the dating website Plenty of Fish in mid-October, she would encourage other women to give it a shot.
The couple immediately clicked.
“A co-worker of mine mentioned it and told me to try it out,” said Demo, who has no complaints about the free dating service, used by more than 3 million people daily. “It was very helpful because you can meet a variety of people that you normally wouldn’t meet.”
Demo set up her online profile about a month before meeting Kenny. However, the couple waited at least two weeks to meet in person because they “wanted to get to know each other on a personal level” first, she said.
For years, Demo vowed she would never try to meet someone online. But following a bad breakup in early September, she had a change of heart.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m getting older, I work a lot, and I am a single mom,’” Demo said. “I (didn’t) want to meet my future husband at a bar.”
She and Kenny first met when he sent Demo a polite and brief email. Demo then read Kenny’s profile thoroughly before scrolling through his pictures, and she was impressed by how Kenny portrayed himself. She also admired his honesty.
“He was just himself. I also like that he started out with a simple conversation instead of trying to use a pick-up line, or hit on me,” Demo said.
Demo, however, was cautious – and also nervous. She knew that with online dating, “sometimes people aren’t who they say they are.”
Now, after her positive experience, she “highly suggests” online dating because “you get to know someone on a personal level before a physical one. You also have a lot of options, and can choose who you talk to,” she said.
Her advice for women interested in online dating is to “be yourself. Keep it simple and honest, but also have some personality.”
While online dating pushed Demo outside of her comfort zone, it forced the couple to get to know each other before taking the next step. Demo and Kenny moved in together in April.
“I got to know him on a different level, and when we finally met, it was like we had been hanging out for years,” she said.
‘An emotional investment’
Tinder uses a person’s Facebook profile to gather basic information, and matches candidates based on common interests, geographical location, and number of mutual friends. It allows users to “like” another user’s profile anonymously by either swiping right or left on their screen. If two people like each other, then it’s a match, says a Portland-based health and relationship coach, Emily Straubel.
“It’s super to-the-point,” Straubel said. “It helps you get to know someone very quickly. Some people use it just to hook up, some people use it for long-term relationships.”
While sites like eHarmony, OkCupid and Match.com include a large database of single people that allow users to customize their profile and use certain filters to find their match, Tinder is less labor-intensive, and it’s also available in 30 languages.
“I used it a lot when I was traveling,” Straubel said.
She encourages women to avoid writing impersonal “cut and paste” messages when reaching out to a potential date. Among other tips, a bulk of Straubel’s advice comes down to setting up a dating profile effectively, which includes carefully choosing what you write, the photos you use, and how much information you share.
“Read a person’s profile and comment on something you have in common with them,” said Straubel, who is in her 30s, “and ask them a question about (whatever it is) to get to know them better; you should never just talk about yourself. Show that you’re interested in the other person.”
In terms of images, “the primary photo that people see should be of your face,” she added.
The online dating industry also includes a crop of niche sites targeted toward certain groups, like vegetarians or Christians.
Straubel supports her clients through the dating process and gives them “real-time feedback about what’s working and what’s not,” she said. “I hope by the end of the process they feel really confident in themselves and show up as their best self on a date.”
Ultimately, finding the perfect dating site “depends on how old that person is and what they are looking for,” said Straubel.
She calls online dating “an emotional investment,” and encourages women, despite their age, to take a “non-emotional approach” to the experience “and look at it with a sense of curiosity.”
Love at first sight
Mariteresa Jackson, 54, who lives in Casco, met her husband, Mark, 52, online in 2004 on the largest dating site for Mormons, LDSsingles.com.
“He wrote me on Nov. 16, 2004, and gave me his phone number in case I wanted to chat sometime,” said Mariteresa Jackson, who lived in Massachusetts. “He called every night around 8 p.m. and we spoke for a minimum of three hours each night.”
On another occasion, the couple spoke for five hours.
“We fell in love during our many hours on the phone,” said Jackson. “He drove (from Maine) down to Boston, where I was living, and we spent the day together.”
Their first date was on Nov. 27, 2004. It was love at first sight.
“A one point during the date, I looked at him and said, ‘We are going to get married, aren’t we?’ He said, ‘Yes,’” she said.
According to Jackson, it’s possible for two people to fall in love online, but the couple needs to be able to communicate.
The Jacksons were engaged on Valentine’s Day 2005 and married in the Boston Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on July 30, choosing “I Knew I Loved You Before I Met You,” by Savage Garden, as their wedding song.
“The main reason I even tried online dating was because I only used an LDS (Latter-day Saints) site,” Jackson said. “We are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My faith is very important to me, and I was only interested in dating and marrying a man who had the same belief system and standards.”
Her advice is that “if you are religious, try religious sites. Whatever your passions are in life, try to find a dating site where others who share your passion can be found.”
In addition, she advised, “Do not give out too much personal information, meet in public places, (and) let friends and family know who you are meeting and where.”
‘Be up-front and ask questions’
According to Erin Oldham, owner of Local Flames in Portland, which offers relationship consulting services, dating 20 years ago is “totally different than dating today” especially with regard to online dating.
“If you’re older, you may assume dating is related to having a relationship, but a lot of the time when people are dating, it’s about sex,” said Oldham.
Oldham offers several pieces of advice related to online dating. Her first recommendation is for women to ask men if they are interested in a long-term relationship or a casual hook-up.
“Most people are interested in dating multiple people at the same time,” a big change from the dating scene years ago, Oldham said. “My advice is to be up-front and ask questions. It’s a much more sexual world than it used to be.”
She not only reminds women to use protection, but to guard their hearts, as well.
When setting up a dating profile, Oldham said, women should be “careful about what they advertise,” and get someone else’s opinion before making their information public.
“When you first get into online dating, be prepared,” Oldham said.
The harsh reality is that “you will face a lot of rejection – very few people are going to return your emails, and people may or may not email you. Just like you don’t find everyone attractive, not everyone will find you attractive, and that’s OK.”
Therefore, she urges women, especially in their 40s and 50s, to stay away from dating apps like Tinder because of its “super judgmental nature.”
And she also encourages women of all ages not to take the online dating experience too seriously – to have fun with it and take it slow.
“Keep it simple,” Oldham said. “Take time to get to know (others) without judgment, and without worrying about if they’re (right) for you.”
Mariteresa Jackson of Casco and her husband, Mark, got married on July 30, 2005. The couple met online in November 2004 on the Mormon dating site, LDSsingles.com.Desiree Demo of Old Orchard Beach and John Kenny of New Hampshire met through the online dating site called Plenty of Fish in mid-October 2014, and have been dating seriously since Nov. 1. The couple moved in together at the beginning of April. Courtesy photos