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Site Seer: Getting romance in gear for V-day

February 14, 1997
Web posted at: 4:00 a.m. EST

From CNN Interactive Writer Kristin Lemmerman

(CNN) -- For you, is Valentine's Day about as much fun as attending a wedding by yourself, or getting your wisdom teeth extracted without anesthesia? Does the holiday serve only to feed your fears that your infrequent attempts at finding true love will leave you alone, or worse, marrying an axe murderer?

Pine no more! There are no guarantees in real life or on the Internet, but according to the founders of several Internet dating services, you do have a better shot at finding your soul mate online. The theory is that by filling out a mere questionnaire, you can meet people all over the world who are compatible with you, and also ready to get their lives in gear.

Internet Computer Dating

There are as many "pay" services on the Web as there are in your mailbox; the online equivalents of Great Expectations and its ilk are not hard to find. The Internet Computer-Dating Service, on the other hand, is unique in that (at least for now) it's free. Yaron Mayer founded the service as part of his Ph.D. dissertation research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, basing it on an earlier model that eventually accumulated more than 25,000 subjects (that version was never put online).

The current version requires you to fill out a 155-question "Smart Interactive Questionnaire" in which you describe both yourself and your desired match in detail. You fill out the questionnaire either online or off, then send it in, and the site e-mails you back a list of compatible people. Having tried both the online and offline versions, I'd say if you can afford to hang out online for an hour it's worth it. The offline version took me about five minutes to download with a 28.8 baud modem, and when I ran it the screen was small, dark and the text was in colors that made it difficult to read.

The online version has exactly the same questions but is easier to read and use. What sorts of questions? There are several dozen on what hobbies you like and how much you like them; more questions on lifestyle -- for example, are you still living at home with your parents, do you have your own car, how much school have you finished? If the guy should be the breadwinner in your household, this is the time to say so. And if a large bust or firm legs are in your requirements, just say so. (Sadly, there isn't an option to say "I don't want anybody for whom physical features were of crucial importance!")

In the end, of course, the overriding question is, "Does it work, already?" David and Xiaomei Schiff of San Francisco, California think so -- they met on the service. Less than two months later, they got married.

Xiaomei filled out the questionnaire twice. "From the start, I was just playing with the computer," Xiaomei says. "I didn't hope I would get any response." But after filling out the questionnaire the first time, she was matched to 30 people. "I started to write some of them and it got interesting. The second time, I got more serious.."

While Xiaomei, then a graduate student in microbiology in West Virginia, would not have paid for the service, David would have -- he had already paid for a subscription to Match.com, reviewed later in this article. "In fact, I wrote Yaron back and offered to pay him for this service he had provided," David says. Instead, Yaron asked that he spread the word about the site. "Because we're spreading the word, we know of at least one couple who met through the service," he said.

He was matched to 10 people after filling out the questionnaire, including Xiaomei. David: "We were both number one on each others' match list."

When relationships curdle and spoil

Problem Solver

If you're still bitter over your last relationship, now may not be the time to go hunting for Cupid. Instead, check out Joe's Amazing Relationship Problem Solver, also a great place to check when your online romances turn sour. Call him cold-blooded if you will, but Joe is a good source for both laughs and a hard dose of common sense. By the way, the meat of his site is not in the relationship problem solver, although that itself is pretty funny. The stuff that will really make you grin is in Joe's Amazing Relationship Problem Solver Mailbox.

Joe Carpenter started the site after his girlfriend dumped him and he needed a place to vent. According to his own site disclaimers, he, doesn't mean for people to necessarily take his advice seriously. Nonetheless, much of it is remarkably on target. For example, to a woman whose fiance spends most of his time on his computer and won't talk out major issues that could create problems once the pair has married: "Walk up to your fiance and tell him that you aren't going to marry him unless you two work out the issues that you feel are important ... Don't be afraid to postpone the marriage if you don't feel comfortable going through with it." You're welcome to write Joe yourself, but he doesn't promise to answer every letter.

For the record: His spelling isn't perfect. But that isn't really the point.

Meeting someone who shares your beliefs

Jewish Singles

I tend to think that it is too easy for companies to take advantage of lonely people. They set up dating services, they charge exorbitant fees, then, if their members manage to find someone they like, the services act like they were doing them a favor. Is the credit card company doing you a favor, lending you money when you're short on cash? No! it's a paid service! That's why I found it refreshing to find a few services that actually wanted to help, not just to make a profit.

Among them was the Jewish Singles Connection. The site includes links to Jewish singles groups, Jewish college organizations, home pages, and Jewish and Israeli media. It also posts, gratis, your personal ad, and makes available all the ads sent in -- searchable by geographic location and age range. At least six couples who met on the JSC have gotten married in the last six months. The only caveat: Because it's volunteer-run, when the web master goes on vacation (as he will from February 14 - 27) the site stops updating until he returns.

Services that take themselves very seriously

I gather from my web surfing that there are only a handful of for-fee online dating services that get enough traffic to be taken seriously (the more people that register with a service, the more likely that the service can find someone compatible with you). TLC Plus and Match.com are two of the biggest. Both allow you to browse for free (just so that you can satisfy yourself that there are, indeed, people living near you who look interesting), but charge for the privilege of posting a notice about yourself.

Match.com

There, the similarities end. TLC Plus's fees are difficult to sort through -- after registering, women can access the site's chat rooms for free, while men pay $25 for six months' access to the chat rooms, BUT posting a profile costs both men and women $40 for two months. Getting access to profiles on Russian women -- apparently a big draw on much of the Web -- is available for an added fee.

Without registering or paying anything, you can browse other people's TLC Plus profiles. However, since the service originated in Toronto, Canada, it is much, much easier to find profiles of people living in Toronto than in specific parts of any other country (for example, any area within the United States). Since some of the site's users were recognized by coworkers and friends in their area from their postings, photographs are no longer posted on the site. For those of you who are keeping track: in the year since TLC Plus went online, at least one couple who met there has announced wedding plans.

Meanwhile, the organizers of Match.com give every new user 10 days of free access, during which you can set specific preferences for your would-be dates (height, age, hair color, location etc.) and browse entries fitting your criteria (photographs included where provided). After the 10 free days, a fee kicks in, ranging from $4.95 to $9.95 per month, depending on when you join and for how long. Although it can cost more than TLC Plus, it also appears to have substantially more listings and a better-organized service. (The site doesn't say whether any couples have gotten engaged after meeting at Match.com.)

Even if you don't join after the trial period, you can still browse entries in your area (without setting any preferences) and you can read the site's magazine, "Matchbook." Articles in the current issue of the ''zine are remarkably reminiscent of the romance-related articles in mags like Cosmo and Mademoiselle -- sometimes amusing, but rarely more than entertaining. If you've dated at all, they certainly aren't going to change the way you think about getting your romantic life in gear.

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