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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 00:57 GMT
'We found love online'
Suesie and Steve Glagow
Suesie and Steve Glagow married in July 2000

The stigma of internet dating is cracking under a flurry of confetti and the sound of wedding bells - for those with the web-savvy to avoid the pitfalls.
Graham Freeman boarded a London flight to Toronto in December 1998 to meet his future wife Deb for the first time.

The two had met on internet dating service, only four months before, but 36-year-old Graham had little doubt he was falling in love.

Graham and Deb Freeman
The Freemans' love affair overcame the Atlantic
He told BBC News Online: "I think you know in a few emails if you're on the same wavelength, and after a month or two, you're 99% sure."

His belief is supported by research from internet psychologists which suggests that getting to know each other online before meeting is a recipe for long-term stability.

The Freemans married two years later in Canada and now live in Middlesex.

Online dating boom has 150,000 UK members, up 39,000 a month
It reports 75 UK engagements or weddings a month
One third of internet users know someone who is internet dating
5,000 people resign a month from, having found a partner
Suesie and Steve Glagow, who met through internet dating site and married in 2000, were given a 98% compatibility rating by the site.

The Hampshire couple had high-powered careers and found the internet a convenient way to meet others.

Suesie, 44, said London's social scene was "a sterile environment, a bit of a cattle-market and too fast".

"You do your own selection process on the internet, so when you meet for the first time, you have a good knowledge of their interests and what makes them tick.

"You have a much more fluent conversation than if you just met them in a bar, when there is sometimes the stigma of 'He's picking me up' and those kind of concerns.

"Online, you skip that and it's much more personal."

Dr Adam Joinson, an internet psychologist at Open University, Milton Keynes, agrees online chat can be better than in a bar or club.

"You have time to get to know the other person and there aren't the concerns about shyness and social anxieties that exist face to face."

He told BBC News Online three-quarters of relationships which begin online never get to the stage of meeting face-to-face.

Internet user
Some people use the internet dishonestly
But he thinks those that do eventually meet last longer than a relationship which begins by a chance meeting in a bar or club.

"People will disclose four times as much when they talk on computer, than face to face. This is crucial to building trust."

He added: "A relationship when people communicate and get to know each other first will last longer than those who meet up and go home together."

Dr Petra Boynton of University College London, and sex editor of Men's Health magazine, added: "In the past, people spent time getting to know each other and talking, so in that sense, internet dating is quite traditional."

Some people are good at being honest and open on the internet, but we need to be aware of people who are playing games

Prof Helen Petrie
She thinks our more mobile society means we can no longer rely on community links to meet partners.

And dismissing the notion that internet dating is somehow desperate, she added: "Historically we've always had matchmakers to help us, in the local community, religious groups or within the family."

However, it would be wrong to idealise the internet, and dating websites should not be confused with chatrooms or sites for people looking for casual sex.

'Bad apples'

The seduction of the net can be used to entice vulnerable people, or to encourage infidelity.

In one such case, musician David Bagg, 41, blamed the internet for the break-up of his marriage after his wife left him for a man she met online, earlier this year.

So some commonsense is needed to navigate the hazards.

Mr Glagow, 46, said: "The majority of people are really good. There are bad apples but you can sort them out.

Dating tips
Do not divulge personal information
Tell a friend if you are meeting up
Meet in a public place
End the meeting if uncomfortable
Use the internet as one option - don't be consumed by it
"In life you have to be a little street smart and the internet is no different. It's not difficult to have a conversation with someone and ask questions to see if they're real."

Some users talk up their characteristics to impress. One female who questioned whether her correspondent liked "petite" women turned out to be three feet tall.

A good approach may be to use the internet as an introduction before using the telephone or meeting face-to-face.

Paula Blewett, 39, from London, who met her boyfriend, Douglas Pritchard, 37, on, said: "Don't get into deep relationships over the net.

"It's best to have a date fairly quickly and get to know the person that way."

See also:

23 May 02 | England
14 Feb 01 | Business
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