Deciding to log off the Net dating scene

Dating: People who find online services and ads mean more hitts--but also more misses--say the old-fashioned, low-tech way of meeting potential mates works better.

May 13, 2004|By James H. Burnett III | James H. Burnett III,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MILWAUKEE - Ben Thompson appreciates speed and modern technology.

After all, the 27-year-old Milwaukee resident has made a good living as an Internet technologies consultant. And his interests are typical for a guy his age: fast cars, fast computers and streamlining just about everything else in life for the purpose of convenience.

But when it comes to "meeting that special person," Thompson said, "some things are just better the old-fashioned way, by face-to-face contact. If you don't just talk to people, straight on, I think you really can get out of practice."

Thompson's logic bucks the trend of singles hunting over the Internet and using planned events such as "speed dating."

But according to some singles and relationship experts, a growing number of rebel singles feel time is saved and interpersonal skills are salvaged when they toss the gimmicks.

"I'm realizing these days that I really do prefer approaching someone in a public place after seeing them for a while," said Thompson.

"I mean, spending a little time and studying them ... and how they seem and then going up to them," he said.

Thompson's friends have tried Internet dating, and, he admitted sheepishly, he tried it, too.

The one woman who caught his eye online e-mailed him a picture of herself that accurately showed a pretty face. But when he met her in person, he said, her claims of being physically fit and toned were way off base.

Thompson said that the deception cost him time and that it would have been more efficient to approach a stranger he found attractive and try his luck.

She doesn't like to say "I told you so," but New York relationship guru and queen of the daytime talk show advice circuit "Dr. Gilda" Carle is "tickled to see the shift back to real human contact."

"The Internet, the computer age we're living in now has made us a bunch of social isolates," said Carle, who teaches college courses and give seminars on building personal relationships. "We are shy and stressed out to the hilt, afraid of rejection. ... So we figure we'll do it the easy way and take a shortcut and that will get us to love a lot sooner. But even if you develop a wonderful situation online, you still have to meet face to face."

Even though the Internet is his bread and butter, Paul Glen has soured on it as a dating aid. Glen, who operates C2 Consulting in Los Angeles and is the author of Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology, said that a number of bad online dating hookups a few years ago convinced him that the Net is not the best place to find love.

Glen, who was in his mid-30s at the time, described his bad connections as "sperm donor dates." First date after first date - all from Internet dating services - questioned him about his potential as a father, he said.

"Their biological clocks were ticking, and they wanted no part of building a friendship or a relationship," he said. "These dates were clearly interviews, nothing more or less. By the end of these dates, I didn't want the job."

Thompson and Glen are noticing something that could be the dating equivalent to the dot-com collapse in the mid-1990s, said Los Angeles-based social psychologist B.J. Gallagher.

"Everybody a few years ago got on board the dot-com thing," Gallagher said. "And they forgot that business is all about human relationships. ... That's one reason we saw the crash - our hopes that technology was going to solve all of our business problems was misplaced."

Now, it's daters, not venture capitalists, who think the Internet will make life easier, said Gallagher. She likened online ads and services to a job hunter's resume as "a tool to get you in the door. ... All it can get you to is a first date."

Milwaukee computer programmer Mara Marcus, 26, said nontraditional hookups just don't work because things such as eye contact, personality and facial expressions can't be accurately gauged online.

"When you meet someone in person, you can feel a certain chemistry or vibe that will either agree with or vary from what you are looking for," she said.

Marcus found that while the Internet has increased the quantity of people she can meet, it hasn't necessarily helped with quality.

"On the computer, a person can tell you all of the great qualities they have to offer, and potentially leave out the `other stuff,'" she said. So "in most cases we end up with a distorted view of reality, and a huge waste of time."

Tina Hanneman, a recruiter from Milwaukee, agreed.

Hanneman, 27, who recently got out of a four-year relationship, said friends who were "sick and tired of the bar scene" flocked to online dating services and dating events a couple of years ago with moderate success.

But even those who found dates were "doing a lot more dates and not finding that person," she said. "So more dates and more time, and the investment was not returning."

As for her own strategies, Hanneman, who is still tired of the bar scene, said she's going to connect with people through friends and friends of friends.

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