The party is full of single men and women, eager to make a good first impression and perhaps catch the eye of someone special.
From across the room, a handsome man in his early 40s flashes a toothy smile at an attractive blond woman, who is immediately taken aback by his infectious grin and sparkling blue eyes.
Though she’s instantly attracted to the man, she hesitates to say hello, instead returning his smile with a dazzling smile of her own. He doesn’t give up so easily – after exchanging a few more smiles, he gets up the nerve to initiate a conversation with the woman, unaware that, within a year, she would become his wife.
While it sounds like the beginnings of a familiar love story we’ve all heard before, the party that Larry and Gigi O’Brien met at in 2004 wasn’t hosted by a mutual acquaintance.
It was hosted online by a dating website called Lavalife.
At the time they first connected, Larry was in Toronto, where he was born and raised, and Gigi was sitting at her computer in her Surrey home.
The “party” was an online chatroom, more or less, where members of the dating site could send winks, smiles and messages to other singles who were logged on.
After chatting that first night, Larry and Gigi began emailing often, soon graduating into long phone conversations.
On New Year’s Eve of that year, just a few months after first chatting online, Larry flew to B.C. and the two met in person.
“I’ll never forget the moment,” Gigi recalls. “I got to the hotel and got off the elevator and he was standing in the hallway and I dropped my purse and I just couldn’t let go of him. At first sight, that’s all it took.”
The O’Briens are part of a growing trend when it comes to seeking out a significant other, according to Surrey-based relationship counsellor Michelle Gardner, who says online dating is “revolutionizing” the dating world.
A combination of busy lives and lack of social interaction have made it more difficult to meet people, Gardner says, making the search for a spouse on the Internet a viable option for many.
“We’ve sort of lost that sense of community that we had 100 years ago,” Gardner explains. “People used to be so much more social – there would be a weekly dance at the community hall, you would meet people at church, people would set you up. You don’t see that as much anymore.”
That’s not to say that turning to the World Wide Web is an instant solution for loneliness, however.
Vancouver resident Jeffrey Helm spent years using various dating websites with limited success, before meeting his fiancée, Melanie Moore, in 2008.
“I’ve been online dating since the start of the Internet,” the 35-year-old says, recalling the launch of a site called Match.com in the mid-’90s. “It was offering free lifetime memberships to the first 200 people who signed up. And I was one of the first 200 people, being a lonely, hormonal university student. Of course, no one else was on it at the time.”
It was on Vancouver-based site Plentyoffish.com that Helm and Moore met 2 ½ years ago, and unlike the O’Briens, who had a long email and telephone courtship because they lived thousands of kilometres apart, the Vancouver-based couple met for coffee within a few days of their initial communication.
They both agree that drawn-out email exchanges can affect the impression you have of someone when you finally meet them in person.
“When you spend time emailing back and forth, you build up expectations,” says 30-year-old Moore, who had been online dating for about six months before she met Helm. “You create this person in your mind, and when you meet them if it doesn’t work out, then it feels so much more disappointing.”
New Westminster residents David Lang and Cathy Brusegard – who will be celebrating their 10-year anniversary in March – also met after only a few days of exchanging emails, and agree it’s best to get the initial in-person meeting out of the way sooner rather than later.
After many unsuccessful first dates with men she met on a site called Web Personals, Brusegard, 55, says she was ready to give up on finding love, and only agreed to a date with Lang as a last-ditch effort.
“I had gotten to the point where I had met so many different guys and had so many one-night dates and I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Brusegard recalls. “I had a couple of notes back and forth with David, and I thought, ‘Ok, I’m going to meet him and that’s it,’ and I actually signed off (the website) after I got his home email.”
Before meeting Brusegard, Lang’s experience with online dating included email exchanges of at least a few weeks – if not months – before an in-person meeting was arranged. He says he was surprised when Brusegard suggested they get together just a day or two after meeting online.
“I just wanted to get it over with!” Brusegard laughs, as Lang points out that not only was the move refreshing for him, it also worked out well, as the couple hit it off almost immediately.
Whether there is one email exchanged or one hundred, keeping safety in mind is essential when it comes to online dating, by always meeting in a public place and never exchanging home phone numbers or addresses until it’s safe to do so.
Gardner also advises her clients keep an eye out for “red flags” – someone asking for personal details such as income level or trying to set up a date without much notice.
Portraying yourself honestly in your profile is one aspect Gardner and all the couples agree is of the utmost importance.
“Don’t lie and say you’re six-foot tall and have a full head of blond hair when really it’s maybe kind of thinning hair, and you’re only five-eight,” Lang, 57, advises. “They’re going to find out anyway, and then both of you are going to be kind of disappointed.”
While each person’s experience is bound to differ when surfing the ‘net for a potential spouse, the couples who have found success wouldn’t hesitate to recommend others give it a shot.
“It’s almost becoming the preferred way of meeting people,” Helm points out. “It’s almost a cliché – it used to be ‘we met in a bar,’ now it’s ‘we met online.’”
And with dating websites becoming more commonplace with new members signing up each day, Helm and Moore – who are planning to wed in Vancouver this summer – both agree it’s important that your profile stands out from the hundreds of others that potential suitors may come across.
“It’s only going to work if you put some of your individuality and personality into your profile,” Moore says, adding that, above all, a romance can only blossom so much through the web.
“It doesn’t work if you don’t get beyond the computer.”