Tech-savvy singles logging on for love

Tech-savvy singles logging on for love 3/06/2005

New Britain Herald

Dating coach Ronnie Ann Ryan likes to compare Internet dating to deep-sea fishing.

The casual fishers who are not worried about leaving things to chance can stand over a pier for hours, waiting for a few nibbles. But those looking to catch a lot of fish will find a way to the deepest areas of the water where they know fish congregate.

"If you really want to get some volume going, the best thing to do is to try online dating," said Ryan, who organizes dating workshops throughout the state and last month published an advice book, "MANifesting Mr. Right."

Resident Patty Foley, 49, said she felt she was running out of options and ways of meeting people when she decided nine months ago to sign onto her first online dating site. Like casting a net into deeper waters, Foley said she hoped that the Internet, with its millions of users, could introduce her to a new and wider audience of suitors outside her circle of coworkers, friends and other contacts.

"I exhausted my Rolodex" said Foley, who has never been married. "I asked all of my girlfriends and guy friends if they knew someone, and they said "Not for you."

So Foley dove in. A little more than six months after going online, Foley had posted profiles of herself along with eight different pictures on five dating Web sites.

She had corresponded with more than 20 men, and had met and gone on dates with about 12 of them, she said. The other eight or so men never made it past the e-mail or telephone call stage.

"I’m very conservative," Foley said last week while speaking to a reporter in the lobby of the Lucy Robbins Welles Library. "If they can’t spell, they can’t talk to me."

Foley said she was browsing the Match.com Web site about five and a half months ago when she noticed the profile for an attractive, 51-year-old Wethersfield man who lived about three miles from her house but whom she had never seen before.

Intrigued, she sent the man a "wink," a flirting feature on Match.com that allows users to test the interest of possible dates without writing introduction letters that may never find a reply.

He responded, and after a series of e-mails and telephone conversations the couple met for their first date at an area restaurant.

According to Mark Habersang, Foley’s "prince charming," part of what made her profile stand out from the thousands of others online was that she provided detailed descriptions of her life, interests and what she was looking for.

"Some of (the online profiles) are just a whole lot of adjectives. Yes, everyone likes to talk about how they like to take a walk on the beach, and have a candlelit dinner with a bottle of wine. But what do you talk about at dinner over that glass of wine?" Habersang said.

The couple has been dating ever since. Their relationship has been going so well, they both decided to remove their Internet profiles so they can focus on each other.

"Supposedly you know it when you know it, and we think we know it," Foley said.

Foley is a self-employed accountant and also president of the Friends of the Library. She recalls how she was telling some library employees the story of how she met her boyfriend when one of them suggested she give a presentation on Internet dating to help those still timid about trying it.

Foley fell in love with the idea. She began planning an online dating workshop drawing upon her own experiences along with information and advice from books and news articles. She also asked friends and a retired police officer to give short talks on the benefits and possible dangers of going online.

The workshop was to happen last Monday night, but due to the evening’s snow storm, the library canceled and rescheduled it for May 9.

Some people were disappointed to learn of Monday’s cancellation, and a few were actually relieved. Foley said one of her friends who is single sent an e-mail that afternoon explaining that she was relieved to have two more months to prepare herself for posting her life online for anyone to see.

"I’m so glad it’s postponed; I’ll be ready in May," said Foley, recalling the letter.

While some men and women of the baby boom generation such as Foley and Habersang were once timid about venturing online to dates, they now represent one of the fastest-growing categories of Internet daters, according to Kristin Kelly, a spokesperson for Match.com

The most widely-used Internet dating site, Match.com claims to have approximately 15 million members, 1.1 million of which pay at least the basic $29.99 monthly subscription fee to send messages to site members.

From 2001 to 2004, Match.com users who were in the 50 years of age or older bracket grew 32 percent, Kelly said.

In all, about 40 million people a month in the U.S. are believed to have visited dating Web sites in 2004; generating an estimated $473 million in year-end revenue, according to Jupiter Research, an Internet market research firm.

So while the Internet can present a large number of opportunities, it can also create a lot of work for those trying to sort through and read numerous pages of profiles to find people they feel they are compatible with.

This is why Foley said she compares searching online for a boyfriend to trying to find a job. Both tasks take research, patience and perseverance, along with a bit of luck.

Foley said that before posting her first Internet profile a year ago, she glanced through profiles of about 100 other women to see the things people were doing and saying.

After meticulously writing and editing her own ad, Foley said she devoted several hours of each week responding to different profiles, and then waiting for replies to trickle into her e-mail box.

"I treated it like a job search. They say you need to send out X numbers of resumes to get a response, I sent X numbers of ‘winks’ out to get a response," Foley said.

Many of the men and women who visit The Relationship Company, a professional match making business with an office in Farmington, have tried online dating but threw up their arms because they were spending too much time and money looking for a match that never materialized, according to Elissa Gouge, president and founder.

"What I hear the most is that we just save people so much time. If they don’t want to spend hours and hours on the computer, then we’re a good alternative," Gouge said.

For a fee of several hundred dollars, a company representative will conduct an in-depth interview to determine a client’s preferences in a partner. After carrying out a background check, the company will search through its registry of about 2,000 clients to find someone whom they believe will be compatible with the individual.

Another advantage that Gouge said a matchmaking service has over the Internet is that its real-life screening process precludes people from lying about physical attributes. Someone can add a fallse photograph to an online profile, and no one will know until that individual meets someone in person.

"If a woman tells me she’s 140 pounds, she’s 140 pounds — she’s not 300," Gouge said.

Foley said she had been contemplating a visit to a matchmaking service at about the time she discovered Habersang’s online profile. But she believes that if she did, she might never have met him.

Although she finds Habersang extremely attractive, she admits he does not fit the long-established "blond hair and blue eyes" concept of what she once thought she was after. A matchmaker could have easily ruled him out.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the arbitrariness and mystery that are unique to Internet dating, Foley and Habersang might never have met.

"I would have never have looked at the person I’m dating now. I would have walked by him on the street," Foley said.

©The Herald 2005