people/olders walking.jpgDo approaching holidays may make you feel lonely. No mate? Not a soul to talk to? No valentines coming your way? Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. An October 2003 Nielsen//NetRatings report found that the online friend and dating community was one of the most popular social networks on the Web. They attracted almost a million visitors in October 2003. Why not? The Internet is a great place to meet and communicate with others.

What do you want?
Like a pen pals of old, the Internet makes it easy for people from around the world to meet and become friends. Meeting people is easy. Start at places that interest you. Then look for message boards and chat rooms where you can converse with others about your hobbies and interests. The AARP Computers & Technology message boards have many “regulars” who ask and answer questions and interact with each other. Other popular AARP message boards are Grief & Loss, Health & Wellness, and Travel. If you are a movie fan, look into message boards and chats at movie-related Web sites. No matter what your hobbies or interests, there are sure to be others on the Web who share your enthusiasm. Or look for a Web site that has general topics that you are interested in. For instance, iVillage.com has a myriad of message boards that will appeal to women of all ages.

Two other Web sites, Friendster and Meetup.com are popular social networking sites.Google has recently joined the online social networks with the launch of Orkut.com, which is an invitation only friend site. (You must be invited to join by a current member.)

Looking for more
Anyone who has watched the movie “You’ve Got Mail” might be interested in a successful Internet relationship that turns into a real life romance. There are plenty of Web sites that will help you find Mr. or Mrs. Right. CyberAtlas lists the most popular online romance sites as Match.com, TheSpark, Gay.com, Matchmaker, and Date.com. You might also try dating Web sites that help you find just the kind of person you are looking for. Jdate.com is the largest network of Jewish singles on the Web. Udate has a special section for people over thirty. If you are new to the cyber-singles scene, you might want to check out the personals section of your Internet Service Provider. Many large Internet providers like AOL and Earthlink provide areas where members can get to know each other.
Profiles & Safety
Most Web sites of this type begin by asking you to fill out a profile. Before you do, make sure you read the privacy policy of the Web site. Once filled out, your profile is matched against others, finding a list of compatible people for you to contact. Being happily married for over 35 years, I have not personally tried any of these Web sites.

I will tell you that I have heard from people who have had all kinds of experiences with online dating sites. Most, it seems, will find compatible mates, but only time and experience can reveal the true personality of a person. One friend of mine moved to a different state to be with a “fantastic” “wonderfully compatible” man she met on the Internet. After a year she moved back to her home state after being bilked out of several thousand dollars. On the other hand, a friend who is a highly successful lawyer met her “dream man” on the Internet, and after several years, they are poised to live happily ever after.

For safety sake, be sure that you never give out your real name or any personal information in a message board, chat room, or dating Web site. It is a good idea to get a different e-mail address to use only on such sites. In many cases you Internet provider will gladly add an extra e-mail name to your account. Or you can use Hotmail or Juno to get a new e-mail address specifically for this purpose. Be sure to use a moniker rather than your real name for this account. Check out CyberAngels.org for more information about chat room and online safety.

No one knows
I often think of a poster that I saw several years ago about the anonymity of the Internet. It was a large picture of a German shepherd with a caption that read, “On the Internet no one knows I’m a dog.” Many people who visit Internet dating sites are not completely honest. Although I advise you to be honest, please realize that others may stretch the truth a little. Or perhaps they will stretch the truth a lot. In a recent
Nielsen//NetRatings' analysis of the online dating community, of those acknowledging they accessed an online dating service the previous day, 11 percent were married individuals.

Web sites have sprung up that actually try to keep people honest. A Web site called MyCountryMatch makes everyone pledge that they are single and unattached as well as honest and truthful. Another Web site called TRUEBeginnings, has teamed up with Rapsheets Criminal Records, to do background checks on each person they match up. Yet, no Web service is perfect. Your future mate may be somewhere on the Internet, but go slowly, use common sense, and always be at least a little suspicious.

Whether you are looking for someone to talk to or someone to love, there is no doubt that the Internet can be one of the ways for you to meet people. BTW, when Jupiter Research recently examined online dating activities by gender they found that men looking for love on the Internet outnumbered women by quite a margin. So go girls!