Dear Renita,
I met my boyfriend online, but I'm nervous about telling my parents. My folks are traditional, and they keep trying to set me up with people from church-or friends and relatives of church members. It has never, ever worked out! How can I explain to them that the internet is a valid way to meet someone? Or maybe I just shouldn't tell them the truth.
-Found Love Online

Dear Found Love,
Why do I get the feeling that other issues lurk beneath the surface of your question?

So, you're nervous about telling your parents that you met your current boyfriend through an online dating service. Why should you be nervous? If you fear their reaction, then simply put off telling them how you two met until they've had a chance to meet him and to discover for themselves what a great person he is. That's one way to solve the problem.

But there's something deeper here, isn't there? It's the fear that your family and others will see turning to an online dating service to meet a man as something a desperate woman resorts to. For lots of folks distrustful of technology and who jeer at the virtual world of cyberspace socializing, online dating carries with it a stigma.

The world of online dating is, in my opinion, a perfectly acceptable way to increase one's circle of contacts and to increase one's chances of finding a mate. In the fast-paced world in which we live-where work is endless, the commute to work exhausting, and the demands for our attention constant-there isn't always the time and opportunity to socialize widely enough to meet lots of different and interesting people. Online dating services makes that possible. They offer third-party intervention into our mating dilemma by putting us directly into conversation with people whose interests and values are similar to our own.

Look at it this way: Your parents probably met each other through friends who told each one about the other and who swore that the two of them would make a great match. Online dating is not all that different. A third party that knew both your interests brought you two together. Or if your parents met at church, school, work, or a social function, or bumped into each other at the laundromat, meeting in cyberspace is the modern equivalent-in that it can offer us a viable way to "bump" into new friends without the awkwardness of spilling punch on each other.

Of course, with this new technology come some precautions to follow. Your parents are right to worry about your friend's background. If you and your cyberspace mate have yet to meet in person, take it slow. Don't be in a hurry to rush out to a romantic, candlelit dinner for two. Take the necessary precautions, and invite him to meet you in a public place. Take a friend along with you, if that will make you comfortable. See if there's a real, special, decent human being behind his screen name. Give him a chance to meet and see the real you that's on the other side of your screen name. See if the relationship between you two is real or imaginary. If it's not, there's always the guy from your mom's church who's waiting by the punch bowl. And if not, there are undoubtedly plenty of other interesting folks waiting online at the dating service.


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