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Monday, November 19, 2007

Digital dating

With social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace now in the digital dating mix, there are plenty of new chances to meet the right -- and wrong -- people online.

Grayson Currin, 24, of Durham, North Carolina, who describes himself as a "big, burly guy," posted his band's photograph on his MySpace account and started getting messages from a girl in Canada who had a thing for large, hairy guys. "It felt a little unnatural to me," says Currin. "I don't send messages to random girls. I think that's creepy."

Jennifer Kelton, a Los Angeles-based writer and creator of the social networking and dating site BadOnlineDates.com maintains that social networking sites offer an attractive alternative to more established online dating sites like Match.com or eHarmony.

"People are fed up with the online dating world," says Kelton. "They realize that there is a lot of misrepresentation out there. On a social networking site you are interfacing with people on a different level. Facebook and MySpace create more of a safe and loving environment," she contends.

Between MySpace and Facebook, there are thousands of dating and relationship groups that give people a chance to commiserate, learn the ins and outs of dating or scratch a particular itch -- like in Facebook's group, "Have You Loved An Engineer Today?"

There can also be a certain seal of approval that comes with approaching someone in your friend's social network -- almost like a blind date arranged by your buddy -- assuming your friend is discerning about linking to others online and game to let you try. That's not to say, though, that issues of online security aren't just as pressing on a social network as on more established dating sites -- especially for kids and teenagers.

On October 16, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement with Facebook to enhance safety practices on its site, particularly for teenagers and younger children. MySpace followed Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's criticism of its protections against sexual predators by removing 29,000 convicted sex offenders from its database in July.

But is online dating on social networks or even more established dating sites any more dangerous than connecting with people in more traditional ways? At least one expert thinks maintaining perspective is important.

"I just think that (the media and society) can create a constant sense of paranoia to the point where it's paralyzing," says Evan Marc Katz, author of "I Can't Believe I'm Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating."

Map out the entire date. When meeting face-to-face for the first time, make sure to meet in a public place, and don't accept a ride from the other person. Let your friends know where you are. Plan a low-pressure activity with an easy "out," like a coffee date. "I never go on a first date that is longer than a drink or coffee," says Behrens. "You can always extend the date, but it's harder to shorten it."

Jocelyn Voo
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