Better dating through circuitry: Gay singles looking for relationships rather than just sex are finding success via the Internet - Love & Sex On The Internet.
As recently as four months ago, Amy Pridgen, a lifelong Texan, had no plans to ring in the New Year 1,500 miles away, much less to navigate her way through Pennsylvania snowstorms to move into a new home in Pittsburgh. But love can bring lots of surprises.
Pridgen, 36, made the move from San Antonio to be with her partner, Rhea Whitfield, whom she met in a chat room in October. "We just started casually talking," Pridgen says, "and everybody else [in the chat room] disappeared."
After a week of phone calls and E-mails, Whitfield, 49, was so smitten that she took a break from her surgical residency and flew down to San Antonio in mid November.
"I thought, OK, we'll try this," Whitfield says. "If I don't like it, I can always get back on a plane and go home." Instead, what Whitfield found difficult was getting back on the plane at all.
Pridgen says the decision to move in together weighed heavily on both women, but both are absolutely certain that it's the right decision. "It's a big step for me to leave Texas," she says, "but it's worth it. I've found my all-in-all."
While not every couple who have met on the Internet develop as serious or as immediate a relationship as Whitfield and Pridgen did, an increasing number of lesbian and gay singles are finding that using the Net can increase not only the quantity of potential dates but the quality as well.
"People who meet through the Internet usually engage in substantial correspondence before they actually meet in person," says Todd Nelson, director of marketing for Gay11.com, an Internet dating service for gays and lesbians looking for long-term relationships. "That means that they already have some idea of what the person is like before they even go on a date. It gives a couple a bit of a head start."
Using the Internet also can be an icebreaker for people who are shy in social situations. "I would have never gone up to [Jeff] for the fear of rejection," says Marc Vera, who met his partner, Jeff Cervoni, through a gay social site. "Our paths would have never crossed."
Vera, 25, and Cervoni, 30, were both familiar with Internet dating before they met in September 1998. Cervoni, a Rochester, N.Y., software developer, says he's posted personals as far back as 1995. And Vera started frequenting chat rooms as a student at the University of Rochester in 1997. Still, both say they viewed the personals section of the local site GayRochester.com with some indifference. Vera says he never expected to meet someone he might have a long-term relationship with, which was why, he was less than serious when he posted his own personal ad in September 1998. Under the height category, for example, he wrote "tall enough to ride the roller coaster."
"I didn't think anybody was going to write back," he says.
Cervoni says that Vera's irreverence is exactly what caught his eye. After exchanging a few E-mails, the two saw Titanic on their first date ("so cliche," Vera moans). By the following autumn they were living together. The romance, however, was not without its challenges. Cervoni and Vera spent two years apart while Vera pursued his master's degree at the University of Michigan. The couple credit the Internet as one of the main reasons they've stayed together. "We would have E-mail conversations," Cervoni says. "It's the little things that keep the interest alive." Vera is working in New York City now and Cervoni plans to join him this summer.
Brian Battier, vice president for business development at Spring Street Networks, a company that works with online and print publications to create personal ad services catering to their specific readerships, says Internet dating sites are especially useful either for gay people who live in locations without bustling gay communities or for those whose daily lives don't necessarily revolve around being gay.
"When you meet someone through a gay dating service or a chat room, it cuts through the red tape," he says. "You know that everyone there is also gay. It's an alternative to going to bars. Dating sites are a fast, easy way to meet people with interests similar to yours."
Frankie Frimberger agrees. "I wasn't really into the bar scene anymore," she says. Frimberger, 47, and her partner, Lori Neumann, 41, took two months to meet in person after first connecting through PlanetOut Personals in February 2000, even though they both lived in Vancouver, Wash. Frimberger, a health care records administrator, was just looking for a friend after a "six-year, kind of dysfunctional relationship."
Neumann, meanwhile, had come out only a few years earlier. "After being married and having two kids," she says, "I'd kind of given up, saying `I'm probably never going to meet the perfect one.'"
When the two women finally met face-to-face, for a breakfast in April, they hit it off so well that Frimberger invited Neumann to dinner at another restaurant that night. The women had such a good time together that they didn't want the date to end. "We were asked finally to pay the bill so they could close," Frimberger remembers with a laugh.
In June 2000 the two privately exchanged commitment rings at sunset on the Oregon coast, and the following November, Frimberger, Neumann, and Neumann's two teenage sons moved into a new home. Last summer the couple had a larger commitment ceremony with friends and family in attendance.
So do they recommend the Internet as a way to meet potential wives or husbands? Well, yes and no. Neumann recommended PlanetOut to one of her coworkers at a utility company customer service call center, and she found "the love of her life" online soon after, she says. Frimberger, however, is more cautious.
"You may or may not find the one you're supposed to be with," she says, "but [Lori and I] would never have met, so I'm very grateful for the Internet."
Vary also writes for Entertainment Weekly.