On-Line Romance Travel writer seeks dinner date in Milan through the World Wide Web of lonely hearts.
It's Valentine's Day and you're stuck in a hotel room 3,000 miles from home. You don't want to go out to dinner because every restaurant is full of cozy couples, and when you went for a walk, a street vendor tried to sell you a single red rose. So you resign yourself to yet another evening of room service food and cable TV and wish you knew how to change your life.
Loneliness gets to most long-distance travelers from time to time. You may be on the road so much that you have no time to form a relationship, or the time you spend away from home may have driven you and your partner apart. Either way, the World Wide Web looks like the answer to a lonely business traveler's prayers. If you will be visiting a city on business, you can get in touch with someone beforehand through a local dating site. If you just want to talk, there are thousands of chat rooms where geographical distance poses no barrier to friendship, and anonymity is possible. Introduction agencies are also flourishing on the Web. Just type in your credit card details, and you can post your photograph and message, as well as viewing those that others have posted.
But beware. You may be looking for love in all the wrong places. There are thousands of dating sites and chat rooms on the Web that cater to every group from Christians Together to Zack's Love Shack. How do you know that you are not going to be ripped off financially or emotionally? The best way to find suitable sites is by using a search engine. Yahoo, for example, lists sites under the heading Society and Culture: Relationships. These are divided into categories from Dating to Marriage by way of Extramarital Affairs, Pen Pals, Hugging and Cuddling, and Romance.
If all of this choice is confusing, there is plenty of advice available for the neophyte. Wildxangel (www.wildxangel.com) gives straightforward and rather unnerving advice on how to protect yourself from undesirable virtual friends. The handy hints on how to tell if the sultry siren whose messages are steaming up your screen is old enough to vote are worth a glance. On-line dating agency Match.com boasts that 600 of its members have married after meeting partners through the site. Match.com has its own agony aunt, Trish McDermot, who dishes out advice on cyberdating etiquette be genuine, relax and enjoy yourself. So who knows? Next Valentine's Day you may still be alone in your hotel room, but at least you could be sending virtual roses (www.virtualflowers.com) to someone. Safe cybersex Maintain anonymity until you are ready to reveal your identity.
Never give your own e-mail address. Use a free e-mail service such as Hotmail. Do not give out your last name, address or phone number. Site Lines. When choosing a dating site, there are a number of points to consider: Cost. There are a lot of free sites, but the high-quality ones charge. Prices should be reasonable and clearly explained, and you should be given a free trial. Membership. How many members does the site have, and where is it based? There's no point in joining a predominantly Australian site if you never go there. Questionnaires. How detailed is the information you provide upon joining? Some sites have only very basic standardized questionnaires, which means that the profiles of your fellow daters are unlikely to give you much idea of their personality. Security. Is your anonymity protected?
A good site will offer a postbox service so you don't have to reveal your e-mail address. Is the site policed to prevent obscene or unwelcome messages being posted? Some sites allow you to automatically block messages from particular people, useful if a cyber-relationship has gone sour. Top Dates Match.com (www.match.com) One of the largest dating sites on the Web, with up to 600,000 members. All correspondence goes through Match.com, thus protecting your anonymity.
Cupidnet (www.cupidnet.com) Access to a wide range of singles-related sites. Worldwide Singles (www.worldwidesingles.com) Anyone can place a free ad on this site. Dates and Mates (www.datesandmates.com) This site offers a one-week free trial, and then charges $7.95 per month. The detailed profile takes about half an hour to complete. Browse other people's profiles and photos, or join in a chat room. FriendFinder (www.friendfinder.com) This is a good site to browse since you can read ads and join one of the chat rooms without registering first. People post ads similar to classifieds in newspapers. Everyone is broken down by country, state and city. There are more than 25,000 entries in the U.S. alone.
True or False. The Internet is swarming with people who are not who they say they are. Horror stories abound, but most of these disasters would never have occurred if a few simple precautions had been taken. Good basic advice is to beware of someone who seems too good to be true, and always trust your instincts. If you really want to play it safe, you might consider running a background check. Companies such as DateSmart.com will oblige for a reasonable fee ($200 to $300).
Warning signs that your cyberdate is not on the level include: Reluctance to meet in person or give a home phone number. This may suggest that the individual in question is already attached. If he or she places restrictions on when you can call, phone unexpectedly and see who answers. Refusal to give a current photo (some very mistrustful people insist on a photo of the candidate holding a recent newspaper to verify the date). Being secretive or elusive about the past. Spinning a hard luck story and asking for money or use of credit cards.
1998 Perry Publications Ltd.
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