- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

If you’re single and lonely, consider the plight of Angelo DiMeglio. A contractor who built his own house on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., he has had hundreds of people view an Internet dating ad he posted, but in more than a year of searching, there has not been even one nibble.

On the other hand, the story of Marco Sorani, a Silicon Valley worker who was paralyzed in a 1994 swimming accident, offers a more hopeful perspective. When Siobhan Fleming saw Mr. Sorani’s ad on Match.com, the two got together, dated and were married.

These two extremes — and other cases in between — are the new face of online dating, once almost invisible, but now becoming the way more and more Americans, Chinese and people in Muslim countries are finding relationships and spouses.

While the Internet may not have replaced fully the corner pub “where everybody knows your name,” online dating services such as Match.com, which labels its offices “the love bunker,” are gaining a lot of attention and business.

Last month, Northern Virginia-based America Online said it would offer an online-dating feature for its instant-messaging customers, which will be free through Valentine’s Day.

“Online personals powered by instant messaging are a natural next step in the evolution of online-dating services,” said Steven McArthur, executive vice president of AOL Messaging, in a statement. “Everyone is looking for a way to make meeting people and dating less stressful. By their very nature, instant-messaging conversations are more casual, spontaneous and personal.”

In the next two years, author Andrea Orr predicts, online dating “will have grown more and become even more mainstream.”

Ms. Orr’s new book, “Meeting, Mating ( … and Cheating): Sex, Love and the New World of Online Dating,” is the result of her online and real-world explorations.

A correspondent for Reuters new agency who reported on numerous “dot-com” flops from her Silicon Valley perch, Ms. Orr latched on to the online-dating industry as one of the few success stories of the Internet age: “There’s not a lot of inventory” involved in setting up a dating service, she said in a recent interview, “it’s just a large database.”

Those databases contain the hopes and fears — and vital statistics — of millions looking for Mr. (or Miss) Right. Many question how truthful these online self-descriptions are, a point made by cartoonist Peter Steiner of The Washington Times, who once captioned a sketch of a dog using a keyboard and mouse, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

Ms. Orr said she was surprised at the candor of most Internet-dating hopefuls: “The majority of people are honest, and are doing this sincerely,” she said.

The exaggerations usually are slight, such as shaving a few pounds off the weight statistic, as opposed to transmogrifying a community college degree into an Ivy League diploma. She concedes that there are millions of people online, and some will be massively deceptive.

She says deceptiveness tends to surface most among the “NSHMs,” people who are “not-so-happily-married” and troll the dating services for potential playmates. Match.com and Yahoo’s personal-ads service won’t allow people who say they are married to sign up, but other online-dating services will. But there’s nothing to stop a married person from feigning single status, as one woman discovered when her married co-worker’s “profile” surfaced on an online-dating site.

For would-be adulterers, what once may have depended on serendipity now may be a few mouse clicks away.

Ms. Orr said she often has heard that 30 percent of the people on dating services are married, “but there’s no way to verify this.”

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