Vivid is the single word I would use to describe how well I remember the first person I ever met online. New to the internet, I had placed an ad on aol for someone to help me in my learning of Gaelic. In the first person to answer that ad, I found a man that will always hold a very special place in my heart; though we live several continents apart, I will always feel near to him and remember fondly our friendship.
The concept that the internet has brought the world together in a way never before possible is not a new one. In fact, online relationships is not new either – however, I still find that few people realize how strong a bond can be made when it is made online. Let’s picture it this way: How often have you felt that the person over there in the corner of the room would just love you wholeheartedly, were they only to get to know the “you” inside of you? Everyone has felt this way! When meeting someone online, people are forced to know each other intimately; their thoughts, feelings, and mental processes are all that you know until the fateful picture exchange.
Beyond this “blind” meeting, other factors come into play online that are not possible – or at least not as safe – offline. It’s possible to explore your interests online, even ones that you might not feel comfortable expressing offline yet. People who find they are interested in alternative lifestyles (BDSM, for instance, is not safe to “try out” offline), as one example, can meet others of like interests in a safe, anonymous environment. Without going that far, let’s say that you are really passionate about skiing, or writing, and want someone that will support you and share this passion with you. By being selective in where you decide to go, you can easily do just that.
So how do you get into the online dating scene? Seriously, the options are endless. Before you decide to jump in, though, sit down and answer the following questions for yourself:
* Do I know how to be careful with my personal information? (things like your full real name, phone number, and address should never be shared in a place like a chat room or on a bulletin board)
* Specifically, what information am I willing to give out about myself? (your age, physical description, and general location – like “SW Colorado” – are fine to share, but establish your comfort zone from the start and stick with it)
* What personality traits am I looking for in a partner? (thinking about these things helps you avoid scam-artists who can easily win you over before you’ve thought everything through)
* Do I need real-time social interaction to feel happy, or am I comfortable with the wait-time of things like bulletin boards and/or email?
Pros and Cons of Chat
By far, chat remains the most popular format for online dating. Partially, this is due to the anonymity factor; using a chat program, like mIRC, allows you to control the personal information that you share. There is no profile for people to view automatically, and the interaction is instant. You type, they read and type back.
Social interaction is also much easier in chat. In the years that I have spent chatting, I have met some really great friends who are in many ways closer to any that I met throughout “real” life. It is not at all uncommon to enter a new chat room and see that most of the regulars – or “regs” as chat junkies call themselves – know each other well. This is a wonderful thing for people who might not be able to get out and interact with others much, as well as those who simply love the written word. It’s like a little house in which your friends come and go constantly.
However, there are some serious problems with chat that must be considered before you ever enter a room. Because you are talking personally and instantly with other people, you will encounter people you do not like. I say this as an absolute, because it is an absolute. There are no in-betweens, just like in your everyday life. The thing to remember, though, is that it is a real person on the other side of your screen, and not just some electronic device. Everyone wants to be liked, and if you cannot like a person you can at least show respect to them. Using this as your first and foremost way of operating in chat will save you a lot of hassle and heartache.
Another problem with chat programs is computer security. Using a java chat program, the kind that you access from a web page, often feel safer – but they do not “hide” you as well as programs made specifically for chatting do. If chat is the way you want to go, do some research and get a program like mIRC. These are easy to use (a bit intimidating at first, but the community support you have access to is outstanding) and will keep you a lot safer. Also, make sure that you have a virus-scanning program and a firewall. See the resources section of this article for some places to go.
Pros and Cons of Message Boards
For people who are still wary of entering a chat room, message boards are the place to turn. There are usually hundreds of members to interact with, and if being able to see a profile of someone you are interested can be important (though I will admit to not being able to let myself look at a profile until I have really gotten to know a person). Also, on a message board you are able to take your time with what you have to say. If there is a particular person you really don’t like, you can completely avoid them and never have to read what they have to say.
Message boards are a less popular way to go, though, simply because of the “wait time”. Getting to know someone on a message board takes much longer, simply because once you have posted a message you must wait until they have had time to come back, read the message, and respond to it. Instant is not the first thing which comes to mind here. It can also be more difficult to gauge someone’s personality in this format, specifically because as much time as you take to sit and write what you have to say, they have as much time.
While message boards are inherently more computer-safety secure, they will also cost you. Most of the message boards created for dating, or meeting others online, come with a fairly hefty membership fee. Chat programs, by and large, cost nothing.
Taking the Plunge
Let’s face itÃ¢Â?Â¦. Entering a new chat room or posting for the first time on a message board is never easy. It’s perfectly understandable to be nervous, and wonder if you’re crazy for taking this route.
To make things easier, keep in mind the following things:
* Your nickname is your identity online: There is a term among chatters that you don’t want to be identified with; lizard. Lizards are the people who hang out in the dark corners of a chat room, flicking their tongues, waiting for prey to pounce on in the hopes of a quick “cyber”. The people you want to meet, if you are hoping to find a good relationship, will recognize nicks that contain sexual words or blatant innuendos (read “Hot4You”) as a lizard nick. Instead, come up with a nickname that expresses you and your interests. Many people like to use the name of their favorite movie or book character, or something that tells people immediately who they are (things like “Neo” or “TX-Blondie” come to mind).
* Have no expectations: You never know who you will meet online. If you can go into a chat room or message board with few expectations beyond having a bit of fun and meeting some great new people, you will find yourself caught up in a web of friends that you will never forget. By starting out here, just as in your everyday life, friendship is a better foundation for a relationship than anything else.
Above all else, have fun. Online dating is no different than traditional dating; if you’re not having fun, neither are they – and things can’t go anywhere without a bit of fun and a lot of respect.