Surveys have showed that these days, we spend more time surfing the net than watching TV. With televised information and newspaper stories available on the internet, you wonder whether there is ever the need to collapse in the couch and catch the news on TV, instead of sitting by the desk to see who is new on Facebook. Just as we used to flip channels on television, we flip from one website to another, pretending to read the news of the day while checking our emails. When we are sick of the routine, we try some new things, visiting websites we never imagined, including porn. Suddenly, a dating site pops up, displaying gorgeous girls looking for a date. We dismiss it and continue with what we were doing before. Okay, let's try to joke with one of those girls. We sign on, filling registration forms that require us to supply personal information about our lives, sexual preferences and smoking habits. We are encouraged to choose a user name, to ensure our anonymity. Next, we get ourselves a password. Congratulations, you have now been admitted to join a new cyber community of singles, pretenders and divorcees who are looking for love. The profiles could be as detailed as John Grisham's description of characters in the King of Torts, or as sketchy as Sarah Palin's understanding of foreign policy. Good Morning Russians, you are my neighbours. Choose your pick: from long-legged brunettes to family-oriented blondes. You settle for somebody who sounds quite unassuming. You are encouraged to send a mail to say hello. If you don't know what to say, there are free tips supplied by these dating sites on what to say for starters. You proceed to the chat room and start asking how the day has been. After a while, you agree to meet for coffee. Next, you are in a relationship, thinking of saying I Do one day to somebody who only yesterday was a lifeless cyber item on a computer screen.
Sometimes, we purposely scan through popular dating sites and decide to try it for a good reason. We go to great lengths to display our photos, genuinely looking for love. As we proceed to read the profiles of others, hoping to make a connection, we are reminded that there are too many jokers on the internet these days. So we are careful to send a stern warning to cyber pranksters that we mean serious business. Even when we eventually meet the person behind the computer, satisfied that the pictures we had exchanged are representative of the prospect sitting in front of us, we still find it difficult to see beyond the 'cyber personality' of the person. We know we are genuine and may be serious about the venture, but somewhere in our subconscious, we wonder whether the new prospect may be as genuine as we are. Somehow, we find ourselves asking: What kind of person goes onto the internet for love, anyway? We would be satisfied with each other's real profile (sometimes different from the polished profile we may have used on the internet), and decide to go to the next level, but the suspicions do not go away. What would they be like the next day, we are wont to ask. If there is enough chemistry to get the date to proceed to the next level, both parties are instantly in the know. When there isn't a good reason to consider a relationship, the project fizzles out momentarily. There is no point brewing love from the pot of the unknown. And usually, there is no room for mere friendship: we are good as lovers or bad as friends. The story ends there, often to the satisfaction of both parties. There is hardly a comeback.
Well, the story doesn't quite end there; there are always a lot of things to consider when you decide to make friends on the computer. I experienced cyber dating in London, and wrote two articles about my experiences. Those articles, written some two years ago, continue to generate interest in some readers. I still receive emails from people seeking my advice on the safety of an internet venture they are pursuing, and whether they should marry the prospect or not. I have always resisted the temptation to say anything uncomplimentary about looking for love on the internet, because there have been a lot of success stories about couples who only started as cyber items in a chat room. Besides, internet dating is now a lucrative trade serving thousands of decent love-hungry men and women around the world. From www.plentyoffish.com to www.sexsearch.com, there are too many sites advertising beautiful people looking for love. Facebook and Myspace also serve as adjunct dating sites, where friends can poke each other for starters, experiment with chatting and end up making a book of wedding pictures from that Facebook encounter. Of course, there is always good old ghanaweb.com. Some dating sites are free while others require a fee to contact an advertiser. The testimonies by users are really encouraging. Some satisfied users are happy to display photos of their children: children gotten out of internet-brokered relationships. I have seen a few real ones.
So, we know that it is possible for two strangers to meet in cyberspace and work themselves from space to earth, and even proceed to church for the big day. What we don't know is whether those couples are able to completely do away with the suspicion that a person culled from the unknown could be just as trustworthy as a girlfriend from next door groomed into a wife. Let's ask the question again: what kind of person goes seeking love on the internet? Are these soldiers in military camps who do not have free access to the world as we do? Or they may be folks who simply have been unable to find love on the streets and see an anonymous matchmaker as the last resort? Perhaps, we would also stick it out and ask whether internet love seekers are desperate people. But, then, aren't we all desperate in life for one thing or another? I guess we are; it depends on what we are desperate about. If your love is locked up on the internet, you are better off looking desperately for them than peacefully living the dreaded single life.
Well, it turns out that being desperate for love is not such a bad thing; it is searching desperately that gives concern. When you are desperately looking for love, any unknown person who calls your phone is a potential lover. This, perhaps, is the case with women than men. Men, on the other hand, misinterpret a gorgeous smile from every beautiful woman to be an invitation to make the beast with two backs. And they often end up like beasts, because very few decent women turn their backs that way. I have had my moments of desperation these past few weeks, and I would be honest to share them with you, as always, even if they are a product of my license. I have been looking for love on the internet. And I have found one. I posted my profile on www.plentyoffish.com, a free dating site, to see if I can catch some fish. I was quite honest about what I wrote: A 34 year old African journalist seeking a professional woman with a good sense of humour for friendship, and maybe more.' I was not so keen on good looks or race; just any woman who would be Desdemona enough to fall for a Moor, even if it means rejecting the curly darlings of our times. You see, the good thing about this internet thing is that you can pretty much say what you like without feeling guilty. I needn't be intelligent to advertise for an intelligent person. I could well be a buffoon or a complete twit.
I was spoiled for choice: hundreds of pictures of very beautiful women from across the globe openly inviting gentlemen to try their luck. It is much easier than going to the club to buy a drink for a woman, who would later reject an invitation to dance. Here you chat for free, and if you are lucky, meet to make things happen. After scanning through the impressive offer on the screen, I sent a mail to a very good looking woman, describing how lovely her profile was, and how cute her photos were. She replied that she had been fished out the previous week, so wouldn't be interested in me. At least, she was very polite about it. Her profile had said that she was a policy analyst. The next two ladies I tried my luck on did not have the courtesy to reply my email. Then I tried a fourth, a very well built 36 year old white Canadian, who was willing to chat with me. We ended up chatting for hours that day. It was incredible how exciting our first online meeting had been. We continued the next day, sharing with each other some private details about our lives. She was impressed with my profession; she works for a charity as a fundraiser. Somehow she wondered how I could be so slow on the keyboard and be a journalist. After the second day of chatting, we were comfortable with each other, and had arranged to meet for coffee at Tim Hortons, a popular tea and coffee place in Canada.
We had agreed to meet the following week, but both of us were getting impatient: If we feel a connection, why wait for that long. So, when a text sailed through, asking to meet the next day instead, I knew the deal was done. As I made my way to the venue, a few thoughts crowded my mind: Should I wait for her to enter first, so that if she was as ugly as the girl I had met in London, I quietly sneak back home and pretend it never happened. Or, I should meet her all the same, and see what will happen. I was easy to spot because I was the only black person in an all-white gathering of coffee drinkers. “Hi Benny, have you been waiting for long? “No, just about five minutes,” I replied. After a sip of coffee, we exchanged the usual pleasantries and got funny with each other. “Okay, I promised you a power-point presentation of what I was going to say on our first date but I forgot to bring my laptop,” I joked. “Oh I have a laptop in my bag”, she said. “Did you really fall for that”, I quizzed? “Do you also believe that I have a laptop here,?” she asked, laughing heartily. I joined in the laughter. She was sold. I liked her too. We are now an item, loving every bit of the new romance, but the nagging questions about the quality of a lady culled from the internet, keeps coming to me. How many men has she found that way?
Interestingly, she also wonders how reliable a man found on a free dating website would be. “How many women did you meet on the site before me?” she recently asked. “Oh I deleted my profile the day we got serious,” I lied. I had changed my profile, thinking that she wouldn't know my whereabouts in the cyber world. But she had been on the site for years, and knew the tricks. She had been monitoring the changes on my profile, including the alteration in my race. Eventually, I had to confess that I only did that for a little joke. “I haven't visited the site for a week” I added. “A week, you have been on it today,” she revealed. She had applied some investigative journalism, using a photograph of her sister to create a different profile. Unbeknownst to me, I had been chatting with the two ladies. With my honour abused, the reality of internet romance is dawning on the two of us.
Benjamin Tawiah is a freelance journalist; he lives in Ottawa, Canada.
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