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Guest Editorial: Overcoming the Stigma of Online Dating - What Are We Embarrassed For?
by Rachel Lawrence

(October, 2004) We all have a friend like Janine, who is perfectly happy to discuss her experiences of online dating without any embarrassment or restraint. The in-depth analysis of any meeting with the opposite sex is a natural conclusion to the date, so when Janine calls me up one Saturday night to talk about Paul 31/M/Southampton, I am not particularly surprised - and interested to hear her story. She tells me: “We had the most wonderful time. We really connected.”

“That’s great.” I reply, “How did you two meet again?”

"Over the Internet!”

And, of course, there is a silence as I try to gather my thoughts and hide my confusion.

“Is it really safe to go out with a ‘virtual stranger’?” I ask. I sound concerned, but essentially I am personally reinforcing the stigma of online dating and wondering why such an attractive, outgoing girl as Janine would need to resort to these drastic measures.

“Oh, I always tell someone where I’ll be. It’s no different to going on a blind date or meeting a man by the coffee machine at work, and agreeing to go out for a drink with him,” she says breezily.

And I start to wonder if she’s right. For isn’t it me at home on a Saturday night, testing out ‘The Rules’ on a man who never called me back?!

“But - online dating, Janine? Surely it hasn’t come to that!”

A year later, at Paul’s birthday party, I find myself re-evaluating my prejudices and wondering what it was that I considered so demeaning about meeting like-minded people of a suitable age, with similar interests, and having some fun.

Inevitably, the Janine’s of this world are very adept at remaining dignified in any situation. But could this dignity really transpose itself to me? When people ask Janine – as they always do – how she met Paul, she smiles sweetly and says:

“We met online through an Internet dating service.”

And the response she gets is always positive and congratulatory – never the derision I anticipate. It was my old-fashioned view of the dating world (a world that I am exceptionally well acquainted with) that stood in the way of me having my own experiences and accepting the Internet as a satisfactory way to meet people.

So – never one to shy away from self-improvement - I did it! I joined an Internet dating service, chose my most flattering picture (a holiday snap of me in Spain with a very slimming tan) and wrote my most glorious review. I put myself out there into that scary cyber singles bar, and was thrilled when my Inbox blinked with new messages every day. Soon those Saturday nights of 'doing sit-ups and watching Seinfeld' were a thing of the past.

To my surprise, the process was tremendously enjoyable and very familiar in its subject-matter: after all it is a mere sub-section of the courting manual I know so well. And, although slightly disillusioned by some disappointing early dates, I reworked my personal advertisement, selected a more honest photograph; and I met Mark. I am reminded of Janine when I say that we ‘connected’ instantly, but it’s true. It was the best and most relaxed first date I have ever had, being permitted all the time in the world to perfect my witticisms and send them to him with a smiley face attached at the end. When we were both ready to meet up, we did so, trying hard to recreate the flirty conversations we had enjoyed those first months, with varying success.

We dated for awhile. Mark was kind, generous and attractive – his primary reason for using the dating service was his busy work schedule - and although it didn’t work out, my uncertainties about trying to make friends and (dare I say it) "fall in love through the Internet" have disappeared. I consider it no more of an embarrassment than being a liberated, modern day woman prepared to make the first move, to ask a man out; to make something happen.

I remember vividly the anxiety of my first real date with Mark, remember afterwards calling my friend, Emily, to post-mortem the evening. She asked the inevitable question: “So how did you two meet then?”

And I told her, in my most dignified manner: “We met online through an internet dating service.”

“Really?” she said, “that’s how I met my James!”

Rachel Lawrence

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