Log on for love

Once upon a time, lovers courted each other with flowers, poems, and good manners. Maybe that’s a little simplistic, but still — there was a time when people went out of their way to show each other how much they cared for one another, and this usually required meeting in person. Of course, people still do go on dates — to Fuel and Fuddle — after they have been dating for a few months. With the advent of modern technology, specifically the Internet, people have begun to surf the web and join social sites, such as facebook.com, xuqa.com, match.com, craigslist.com, and matchmaker.com to meet their future mates.

Despite the increasing number of users, there is still a stigma around Internet dating: Only desperate, balding 40-year-olds or ladies with dozens of cats and spoon collections go online to date. College students desperate for a date to a wine and cheese party certainly don’t want to resort to dating-specific sites, such as match.com, matchmaker.com, or eharmony.com. That would seem, well, desperate. Instead, there are more socially acceptable sites that aren’t all about hooking up, at least on the surface.

Facebook.com considers itself “an online directory that connects people through social networks at schools.” No mention of dating there, but admit it: if you’ve ever used Facebook, chances are that you’ve checked the relationship status of someone you are interested in.

Virtually connected

Computer science major jokes aside, there are plenty of students from all majors who are on the shy side at Carnegie Mellon. And with the rigorous academic load here, it is difficult to find the time to date, let alone the courage. Sophomore history and policy major Becky Armady described how Facebook has changed dating on campus: “I think that it has helped people who are shy and would not speak to the person they liked otherwise.”

Does online dating help or hurt relationships? “My friends, both male and female, get almost as excited about online flirting as they would about real flirting. But I think that the craze of Facebook and Myspace and others like it has caused problems in relationships. I’ve heard many stories from my friends saying that their significant other saw that someone left a flirt message on their wall and then they got into a fight about fidelity and trust. It’s really insane how the lines of reality and virtual reality affect something like love relationships,” Armady explained.

Brian Leary, a first-year mathematical sciences major, agrees with Armady that Facebook is still no substitute for real relationships. “As far as dating and relationships go, I see little advantage to Facebook. It doesn’t help you meet people in the traditional sense; it simply informs you of their existence,” Leary said.

All about the image

And then there is the question about how much you can tell about people from their online profiles. Since people can project any image they want online, it is hard to trust any of the information they post about themselves.

Leary founded the Facebook group “Facebook: Helping Stalkers Watch You from Afar Since 2004” with a very clear goal in mind: “to disprove the notion that females care more about personality than appearance.” Leary “created a high school Facebook [account] easily” and “did a Google image search for ‘cute boy,’ and selected the one who my girlfriend found to be cutest. Using this as my picture, I randomly selected about 30 to 40 girls and attempted to add them as my friend. Nearly everyone confirmed me, and before long I was being asked to be the friend of dozens of girls who did not know me at all, and I can only assume they chose to add me on the basis of my appearance alone. Some even decided to message me to tell me how cute ‘I’ was,” Leary recalled.

Protecting yourself

Leary’s experiment brings up another important point: When the Internet enters the realm of dating, protecting yourself means more than just practicing safe sex. Since it is easy to fake an e-mail address and create an online profile, you can never be too sure who that “cute” guy or girl you are talking to is.

Leary realized, “It is not that difficult to see a face on campus, sort Facebook entries by some distinguishing characteristic (a known class, major, residence hall, etc.), and locate the person you are looking for without the person knowing about it at all. I find it all to be a little bit creepy, so I created the aforementioned Facebook group to call attention to this fact.”

Sometimes, it can be hard to see the writing on the wall when you are interested in someone. The writing on the F acebook.com walls can be a lot clearer. But as with any online social site, there are dangers to meeting people online and huge privacy issues at stake. So go ahead and monitor the relationship status of your crush, but be sure to take their profile at face value.