The Funny Odds of Online Dating
June 10, 2004
By Michele Gershberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rick, a Web site developer from Columbus, Ohio, remembers his divorce nearly four years ago with an extra tinge of bitterness: His ex-wife remarried the same day, to a man she met via the Internet.
"After we decided to split, we were still living together for awhile and she got online," Rick, 29, said. "They ended up meeting and two days after that, she was wearing his ring."
Rick later tried his own luck at a Web dating forum, but said a promising flirtation with a woman turned sour after several weeks of e-mail contact. He finally met a new love online, but not at a dating site -- the unsuspecting sweetheart sent him a message to compliment a music disc he had recorded.
"It's blossomed very naturally as opposed to anything else I've experienced online," he said.
While the Internet has arguably increased the chances of meeting potential mates, it carries its own share of heartbreak and growing complaints about false profiles, bad behavior and ill-suited matches.
A number of online daters and Internet sites are taking matters into their own hands, critiquing these services and warning their peers of the pitfalls of Web hook-ups.
Some review sites, like http://www.dateseeker.net, compare the attributes of dating services, give tips for online dating safety and recommend ways to tweak a profile for better results.
They distinguish between sites like Match.com (http://www.match.com) or eHarmony (http://www.eharmony.com), which purport to seek meaningful matches for the single gal and guy, versus more casual encounters at Lavalife (http://www.lavalife.com) or ethnically targeted sites like JDate (http://www.jdate.com) for Jewish singles.
Reader polls on favorite dating sites can be seen at http://www.datingsitesreviews.com. A breakdown of broad and specialty sites are listed at http://datingreviewsonline.com, while personal testimonies are collected for all to read at http://www.edatereview.com.
At least 29 million Americans, or two out of five singles, used online dating services last year, and that market is expected to keep growing over the next five years.
But amid the triumphant tales of e-mails that end in wedding bells, a growing number of online daters are voicing complaints. At eDateReview, some of the most popular match-up sites garner lukewarm ratings.
The most frequent complaints are that there are far more men online than women and a lack of protection against sexual predators or cheating lovers, said Michael Kantor, an information technology project manager in Arlington, Virginia, who runs the site.
"Men lie about their availability, whether they have a steady girlfriend or wife, and women tend to lie mostly about their looks," Kantor said.
One of 27 critiques of the site comes from a reviewer named Rich, who gives Match.com a two-star rating out of five potential stars.
"I've come to this conclusion -- there are not a whole lot of good-looking women on these dating sites," he wrote. "'Average' (in a profile) means fat, 'extra pounds' means bring a defibrillator to the date."
A reviewer identifying herself as Natalie closed her account at eHarmony after a match that didn't click, saying: "I'll take my chances on meeting my next date the conventional way."
Online dating sites say their membership rules require honest representation and prohibit harassment or abusive behavior. Some recognize that credibility problems could harm a business estimated to grow from $398 million in 2004 to $642 million within four years, according to Jupiter Research.
"We employ a lot of people that spend a lot of time reviewing the content posted on the site," said Tim Sullivan, chief executive of top dating site Match.com. "We're a brand that tends to attract people seeking a serious relationship."
Sullivan said that each month, as many as 3,000 profiles are rejected right off the bat, while another 2,000 are removed because of complaints from other members of dishonesty. A 6-person "fraud and abuse" team investigates more serious breaches.
Sullivan said that Match.com was testing a pilot program in Dallas this month offering members a chance to get a professional "certified" photo posted online, bearing a Match.com stamp with the date it was taken.
Nate Elliott, Jupiter Research's analyst of online dating, said the grievances were just a sign of how mainstream the practice has become.
"The things people do online to deceive people are the same things they do offline," Elliott said. "The point of connection is on a Web site instead of a bar or a gym."