LIFE – The Net Effect

Just about everybody seems to be meeting potential partners online. Even middle-aged friends are trawling the net because their social circles are shrinking faster than cheap tights, and they don’t want to hang out with geriatrics in the park.

In fact, I haven’t met anyone lately who’s not made a connection through the ether.

The cyber world of social networking websites is a wonderland for the time- and opportunity-challenged seeking to widen their social circles, but as my former colleague, Audrina Gan says after chatting with acquaintances, if you’re new to i-dating, enjoy the wandering while being aware of the pitfalls.

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Finding love online

Of course, many have found their soulmates through the Internet. Forty year old entrepreneur Siti Osman met her husband of six years through a dating website. After chatting online for about two months, the two decided to meet for dinner.

“When he came to pick me up, I wanted to hit the lift button and head for the exit. He looked so old and was very different from what I had imagined even though he had told me he was in his 50s.”

It was a good thing she decided to look beyond appearances because soon, she was charmed by his intellect and wit. “I knew he was keeping his options open and dating another woman when we first met. But he contacted the girl and cancelled his date with her for a musical when he decided to go steady with me,” says Siti. “I think one of the main reasons why our relationship worked was that we were very candid with each other about our past relationships and our concerns about the future.”

Clinic assistant Joyce Teo, 34, also met her husband through an Internet chat room.

“He was sincere and different from the guys whom I met through the Internet. The others were either only interested in casual sex or wanted to meet me in pubs and discos.”

They tied the knot after one year but things were difficult. “We hardly had time to communicate as both of us worked irregular hours. Also, being in our early 20s, I guess we were too self-centred to accommodate each other.” Fortunately, things eventually worked out and they have now been blissfully married for 12 years.

Looking for someone special

Like many professionals, account manager Laureen Tan, 29, found herself hanging out with the same people and settling into a routine. “Making new friends can be tiring – you need to look, feel and be your best. At the end of a long frenzied workday, you just want to vegetate and hang out with familiar faces,” she says. So,she signed up with OkCupid.com, an online dating website last year after coming out of a long relationship. “I thought it would be good to explore my options and see what is out there.”

Although Laureen’s social life is far from lacking – she has many friends and parties to attend as well as work events and networking functions, she prefers to keep business and pleasure separate. “Online websites like these provide a neat platform, which can be accessed at your own convenience. If you find someone interesting, just drop a message and say hi! Everything starts off from friendship.”

“I am looking for a special connection that I’ve not quite found yet. The idealist in me says it’s out there, while the perfectionist in me refuses to settle for second best. I dated a lot in my younger days, and now I’m ready for something truly special and meaningful.”

Laureen is selective about whom she messages. “I try to reply to all the personalised messages. Even if the person isn’t your type, sincerity still counts. Usually I’m more inclined towards someone who has a photo and a profile written in good English. A person’s profile is usually telling of his world view, attitude, mindset, character and personality.”

Sifting the predators from the weirdos

Getting acquainted through the Internet is a bit of a gamble. Siti recalls a divorced man who suggested a hawker centre for their first date. “I was outraged as I expected him to pick a decent restaurant,” she says. After several dates, the man brought her to his house to meet his teenage daughter but she did not feel comfortable as she felt the man was hiding things from her and dating other women.

Some time back, Laureen received a message asking if she was keen to appear in a new talk-show featuring eligible single females in Asia. She also had a “talent scout” enquiring if she was keen to provide “lady companion” services to his foreign clients when they are in Singapore on business. “He noted I played golf and seemed like a well-travelled lady who could be a good host. He asked for my vital stats and how proficient I was in Mandarin,” says Laureen with a laugh.

There are men who openly declare they are married but are looking for sex partners. There are also married men from overseas who want a lady friend for a no-strings attached relationship when they are in town. Laureen recently received just such a proposal from an American businessman.

Nice people too

Don’t look to the Internet to for romance, and you might very well find new friends. Laureen has met interesting people eg an American music professor who relocated to Asia to teach, a former banker turned social entrepreneur and some talented people in the photography and art circles.

Just be wary, and the Internet can be a wonderful tool for reaching far beyond your circle.

Necessary Precautions

It’s commonsense to be on your guard when interacting with strangers.

  • If you respond to someone’s ‘friend’ request, he or she can bother you in the future.
  • Adding a stranger as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site allows the person access to all your details, which can be misused.
  • Avoid disclosing everything about yourself when emailing, chatting online or meeting in person. Instead, listen and chat about general topics rather than share information about your family, income or assets.
  • Meet new friends at a public place familiar to you. Do not allow the person to pick you up from your home or office. Drive your own vehicle, take public transport or have a friend or family member drop you off at the meeting place. When dropped off, ask the person to come in for a minute and meet your Internet date. Make sure family or friends know where you are.

Property management officer Ginny Yu, 30, recalls with hindsight that she may have placed herself in great danger when she adjourned with a guy that she met online from a bus interchange to a condominium that she manages for a site inspection at night.

“The place was very secluded and nobody would have known if anything were to happen to me,” she says. She called off the friendship after a colleague commented that she seemed tired and haggard, which was a result of chatting with the guy on the telephone through the wee hours every night on his relationship and work problems.”

Also, a person’s online personality and photos may be very different from real life. “People can put photos they took 10 years ago when they had muscle and hair. Similarly, a man who describes his body type as athletic or fit can be delusional,” says Laureen.

 Photo: bigfoto.com

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