NATASHIA HUDSON

Her left hand tugs nervously at the wilted sunflower pinned to her ruby dress. She stares at the restaurant entrance, frowning anxiously despite the excitement in her eyes. She looks at her watch. 18:50. She tries to remember the exact message that she read on her laptop this morning. Did she misunderstand? I’ll be there @ 6pm my luv. Can’t wait 2 finally meet u.Wear a red dress & a yellow flower xxx.

At the next table sits an elderly man. He notices the flower, the empty chair and the air of rejection beginning to surround her. She ignores his curious eyes as she pulls out her laptop and starts punching aggressively on the keyboard. She suddenly stops as a big smile chases away the frown. She looks at the gray-haired fellow sitting next to her and impulsively shows him the online message she has just received: Sorry swty, stuck in a mting 🙁 There @ 7pm  xxx. The elderly man smiles a little. Oh, these young ones with their online dating and Spacebook.

According to an article by Jonathan Bishop, in the book Social Networking Communities and E-Dating Services, the forming of romantic relationships via Facebook and other websites is proving to be extremely popular and is on the rise. Additionally, people are increasingly turning to online dating sites such as Match.com and eHarmony in their search for love. Hanan Hattingh, a third-year Visual Studies student, says he can understand this trend as it’s probably easier and less embarrassing than communicating face-to-face for those who are not as socially skilled as others are.

Cato Malan, a third-year English studies student, disagrees. “It is so impersonal and dangerous … and increases opportunity for infidelity.” Which raises some questions. How safe is online dating really? According to a study done by Dr. Paige Padgett from the University of Texas Health Science Centre, women looking for love on these sites often assume a false sense of security and safety. When browsing and looking at people’s profiles, keep in mind that there is no way of knowing how accurate the information in these profiles are.

In the name of investigate journalism, I joined an online dating site and within a few seconds, I was a “very attractive and highly successful 30-year-old lawyer with a Masters Degree”. A few minutes later Sethembiso, aged 37, winked at me and made it clear that he wanted to get to know me. Poor Sethembiso was blissfully unaware that he had winked at a penniless 23-year-old journalism student. Unfortunately, I also mentioned in the profile that I am “married”. Sethembiso apparently doesn’t mind … maybe he is married himself.

In his book Love Online: Emotions on the Internet, Aaron Ben-Ze’ev researches the phenomenon of married people and online dating affairs. A majority of the people that he interviewed felt that having sex online (“cybering”) is very different from committing adultery offline. As long as the cyber couples didn’t meet up, many people didn’t mind their partners’ cybering. Some even went as far as to say that they preferred their partners to engage in this rather than virtual fantasy dating.

Virtual fantasy dating consists of meeting a stranger in a dreamy virtual setting such as a rooftop overlooking Paris, while engaging in heartfelt conversation. Virtual fantasy dating lets the desperately shy person live out their most romantic fantasies – leaving out things like cybering and extra-marital affairs.

It seems that online dating can’t be put in a box and neatly labelled. Perhaps online dating is dodgy and desperate – reserved for those that trip over themselves and mumble incoherently around the opposite sex. Or perhaps it is just a more convenient and comfortable option for those who would rather skip the sunflowers and ruby dresses.

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