by JoSelle Vanderhooft
Jeremy Eskelsen knows all about the social taboo that comes with meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend through the internet. “Everybody that I tell I met Mike online is all, ‘oh, so it’s going to break up in three months,’” he says, unable to keep from laughing at the absurdity of such pronouncements. After all, he met partner Mike Hargreaves via profiles posted to gayutahsingles.com, a local internet dating service. Far from lasting only three months, they’ve scheduled their commitment ceremony for their third anniversary this summer.
As Eskelsen tells it, the two met when he added Hargreaves’ personal profile to a list of profiles he found interesting. Doing this automatically sent the other man an email with a link to his profile. After looking it over, the two exchanged emails and soon progressed to talking over instant messenger. They did this for a few weeks before meeting in person.
Although some still scoff at the idea of finding romance through the internet, for Eskelsen it was the only place he could look. Fresh out of drug rehabilitation, he decided that local gay clubs and bars were all the wrong places to search for love. And, he just felt “safer” using a computer as a buffer between him and potential dates. “The good thing with [the internet] is you have the option to kind of screen people a little before you actually meet them as opposed to going to the bar… where you never really get the opportunity to know anybody because there’s loud music and it’s all chaotic,” he says. “With the online thing you can actually talk to people and see if you have anything in common or if you’re compatible at all before you meet.” Hargreaves agrees. “[The internet] is a good way to weed out the people who you won’t have anything in common with,” he says. “After a few emails or chats you get a better sense of who the person is and if there’s any common ground you can actually build on. First dates or blind dates that are set up by friends, you sit there in a coffee shop or wherever you go, and you have to kind of invent things to talk about. And if it’s not happening it’s a lot more awkward to say this is just not going to work to a person’s face. If you’re on line you don’t have that person looking at you and it’s a bit easier to say we need to move on.”
Although Eskelsen and Hargreaves were lucky in their internet search for love, they admit there are some downsides to the technology that brought them together. For one thing they’ve both had their share of bad dates. They’ve both been frustrated with chat rooms filled with people looking for one-night stands as opposed to the long term relationships they both desired. And sometimes, the anonymity that makes the internet a safe place to talk with others has also lead to disappointments. “There have been people I’ve talked to that had a great personality,” Eskelsen says. “Then we got together and, without sounding too shallow, there just wasn’t that physical attraction [though] they were very nice people.”
And though their story had a happy ending, both men encourage potential internet daters to be cautious when meeting in person for the first time. “Meet in a public place,” says Eskelsen. “Don’t worry about clichés; go and have coffee somewhere and see if the person you were talking to is really who you thought you were talking to online.”
Hargreaves suggests bringing a friend, even if doing so might hinder “one-on-one time” with a potential match. “That way you have a little bit of extra protection if you need it. For first meetings that helped my comfort level and left less room for potential problems to result from meeting someone who may be a little bit creepy.” Spending weeks or even months getting to know someone before meeting can also be helpful. “All the horror stories that you hear I think are usually people who rush in,” says Eskelsen. “They immediately start talking to someone and they say all the right things and they think they’ve found love. There have also been a lot of stories in the past couple years were gay bashers are going online and setting up fake dates. Which is I guess the other reason this long term talking is good. Someone who is just looking to beat you up to play games by making you think you’ve found someone and you haven’t, nobody wants to spend that much time doing it. If you’re investing a few weeks into maintaining the internet buffer it’s a very safe way to date.”
And a great way to meet people for gays and lesbians like them who don’t like bars and clubs.
“I think particularly, if you’re gay or lesbian and if you aren’t into the bar scene, if you don’t drink and don’t like the atmosphere, where else are you going to go other than the park or someplace scary,” Hargreaves asks. “It’s really the only other place to meet people and to find someone you have something in common with.”
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