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Virtually getting to know you

BY COURTNEY SPEARS | DECEMBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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Katherine Heigl used one in The Ugly Truth. Comedian Katt Williams devoted an entire movie to their use. And even some in Iowa City are getting the click of it.

Popular films often portray users of online dating sites as socially inept. But with the increasing amount of time spent on the Internet, storybook relationships formed through dating websites are becoming more common.

Approximately 40 million American singles use dating websites, which is roughly 40 percent of the single American population, according to Online Dating Magazine.

Because face-to-face communication is being supplemented by computer-mediated forms, the members of so-called “Generation 2.0” are learning new ways to form relationships.

While matchmaking sites serve as a good starting point, an online conversation cannot be a substitute for a face-to-face connection.

“You might find through an online profile that a person is attractive to you, enjoys similar things as you, and lives geographically close to you,” said Keli Steuber, a UI assistant professor of communication studies. “But you need to interact over time with a person to find out those aspects that make her or him unique, those little things you can live with and that drive you nuts.”

However, the desire to find a mate on the Internet does not pay for the high costs of memberships.
Interest in online dating might be dimmed by the cost of such sites as eHarmony.com, which charges $49.95 for a one-month membership.

But free venues exist, making e-dating a legitimate option for penny pinchers looking for love.

Erin Sodawasser, a junior from Davenport, has been using such free dating sites as OkCupid.com and True.com since she graduated from high school. The shy science-education major said it’s an easy way to weed out potential mates.

“Getting to know someone on the Internet is like a buffer,” she said. “It’s private, and you really get to know them [before meeting them].”

Sodawasser’s mother used Match.com to meet her boyfriend of eight years. But she said she has made more friends than boyfriends from the experience.

Like many people, she was hesitant to put personal information on a website because of Internet stalking and warnings put out by such shows as “To Catch A Predator.” However, she said, she has always been careful about who she exchanges messages with and is sure to connect with someone for a long period of time before meeting him.

“It’s weird at first,” she said. “It’s just the same as a blind date. It’s easier to get to know someone online … [and to] explain myself before getting to know someone else.”

For students such as Sodawasser who are uninterested in the Iowa City bar scene, dating websites can be a good option if entered with the correct attitude.

“We’ve heard both success and horror stories,” Steuber said. “I think it’s about having realistic expectations.”

“Traditional” courtships are nearly a thing of the past with shifting demographics that have changed the way human beings relate to one another, she said. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially in cases where successful relationships are found.

“We’re adapting as a society to different relational forms and alternate ways of meeting people,” she said. “And, in my opinion, if people are finding themselves in quality relationships that make them happy, then that’s a great thing.”


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