Looking for love online

Love at first site?
Perhaps not, but it was definitely the Internet highway that put Chris and Carolyn Wong, married for two years in June, on the path to romance.

Air Force Capt. Chris Wong, 26, subscribed to an online match-making site in 2007, when he came to U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart to work for the Defense Information Systems Agency. He had tried online dating during previous tours, but with little success.

“The first time I was on eHarmony, there were not many guys,” said Chris. “I was flooded with a lot of matches, and overwhelmed. The second time, I was more selective. When I met [Carolyn], I stopped talking to all other people [online].”

Carolyn, 28, was then living in Chicago, Ill., and was about to drop her subscription to the site, following six months without meeting anyone she really liked. “I kind of went on it to prove it wrong, because I’m a very one-on-one person,” she said.
Then, in September 2007, Carolyn’s and Chris’ profile were “matched” on the site, and Chris started to e-mail her. 

From e-mail, they progressed into instant-messaging, telephone calls and Web-camera chats.

“We talked on the phone for six hours the first time,” she said.

For Carolyn, the first meeting with Chris was just a confirmation of what she already knew: she was in love.

The following February, they were engaged.

If their story seems like a lucky exception, take at look at the statistics:
According to an article published by the Synovate market research firm in January 2007, 25 percent of all online daters who meet face-to-face end up meeting their spouse or life partner.

In addition, 42 percent of Americans that date online take relationships offline, the article added.

For a better idea of what this number means, consider that as of Feb. 4, the top five online dating sites have millions of registered single members. According to consumerrankings.com,  20 million are registered on match.com, 14 million on chemistry.com, 11 million on perfectmatch.com, 10.5 million on Yahoo! personals and 9 million on eHarmony.com.

Like many other online daters, Chris and Carolyn’s relationship started out as two “profiles” floating around on eHarmony’s site, containing information about their personalities, religious beliefs and career plans.

Profiles are virtual first impressions, Chris said. “[Carolyn’s] profile seemed very genuine and honest, something I was looking for.”

When he and Carolyn were notified that their profiles “matched,” they had the option to get to know each other further by asking and answering questions via e-mail.

This actually helped the relationship to grow quickly, Chris said.

While most in-person relationships start out with chit-chat, Chris and Carolyn first talked their future goals, mutual Christian faith and desire to have children.
“When you date someone, you’re lucky if you get to talk about that in three months,” Carolyn said.

However, she added, getting to know people online presents hazards as well.
 “When you get matched with people, you have to be careful,” she said. “You have to discern who to talk to and how much information to put out there.”

The best way to determine whether or not to allow more contact, Chris added, is to trust your instincts when viewing profiles.

For another garrison couple, trusting their instincts on a social networking site made them do something they had never done before: talk to someone they didn’t know online.

Army Master Sgt. Chris Heidgel and his wife, Amanda, met through a Web site that allows visitors to search for other people and send them “friend” requests.
“Neither of us normally add people [as friends] that we don’t know on Facebook,” said Amanda, 26. “For some reason, we both made an exception that time.”
It was October 2007, and Chris, 23, who now works for U.S. European Command, was finishing a 15-month deployment in Iraq. While preparing to come home to Fayetteville, N.C., he searched for people living in the area. Amanda’s profile popped up. 

“He sent me a message and we started talking online a week before he came back,” Amanda said.

Amanda herself had just moved to the Fayetteville area to teach, and used the site  as a way to make new friends. “[Facebook] kind of lets you get to know a person a little bit first,” she said. “Sometimes you make a hasty first impression whenever you meet somebody, before you get a chance to talk to them.”

Chris was seeking friendship outside of his military world. “I was really looking forward to talking to a female after being in an all-male unit for 15 months,” he said.

However, the ease of chatting online helped them to pursue something more than friendship, Chris said. “It was difficult when we first met; I hadn’t been in the States for a year and a half and I was out of the loop. Talking online helped.”
In fact, he said, searching for friends online and chatting prior to redeployment is a trend with many deployed Soldiers who want to start acclimating to civilian life before coming home.

Chris and Amanda were married in April 2008. 

While she and Chris are a success story, Amanda advised other people who meet online to be careful when they first meet in person.
“Make sure that you take the time to talk to them for awhile before you actually meet them, and then meet them in a public place,” she said.

Michele Arant, 36, added another tip: talk on the phone before meeting. She met her husband, Master Sgt. Matthew Arant, 45, in a chat room, but it was his voice that helped her make the decision to visit him.

“With typing, there’s no tone; you can’t listen to the rhythm of their voice,” she said. “If you talk to someone on the phone, you can get a sense of who they are.”
This isn’t to say that the Australian native gave her phone number out right away, though. In fact, neither she nor Matthew were even looking for a relationship at the time.

“We met in a Yahoo! chat room,” she said. “We had a lot in common. We both rode motorcycles and rode horses.”

After a few months of chatting with Matthew, then stationed in Japan, she was ready to start talking via a Web cam and on the phone.

“We started talking and one thing led to another,” Matthew said. “Pretty soon, we were talking about her making the trip over.”

Two years later, the two were married in September 2006.

“I’m doing stuff now I’d have never thought [I’d do]. I’m in Germany. I’m an American citizen. I never thought I’d leave Australia,” she said. “I’m so happy.”
However, Michele added, “I’d never have gone over there to meet him if we’d never talked on the phone.”

After all, Michele is no stranger to some of the odd things people can do online. One acquaintance posed as Michele online, using her photo and hobby information.
“It was creepy,” Michele said. “I didn’t talk to her after that.”

However, she still considers chatting online a positive experience.

 “It’s a more relaxed environment,” she said. “There’s less pressure on you; you don’t have the nervousness of having to go up to somebody and strike up a conversation.

“It’s more convenient, too,” she added. You don’t have to do your hair or makeup, or get dressed up.”

Matthew, too, preferred being online to meeting someone in a bar or club. “Going out is sometimes just a bunch of games, people trying to put their best foot forward,” he said. “[Online] I think you really get more of an honest feel for somebody.”

Internet dating won’t lead everyone to matrimony, but, according to these couples, there’s something to be said for Web sites that make meeting others — down the street or across the world — easier than ever.

Besides, how else could they have found each another?