Love in the age of the internet

"Then we met up a few times and had a baby,"

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 10:00 15/06/2013
love full
JONATHAN CAMERON

Bought togeather through internet dating , Tina and Matt Shearer Alana 7 , Andrew 6 and Samuel 3

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They reckon "she's a hard road to find the perfect woman, boy" but all Stratford sharemilker Matt Shearer, 29, had to do was send an email.

While looking at an online dating site Shearer noticed one woman's name was an email address, so he emailed her. She replied and they started talking on MSN messenger.

"Then we met up a few times and had a baby," he laughs.

Eight years, later Shearer and wife Tina, 27, have three children, a herd of cows and are in their second season as sharemilkers.

In the days of grandma and grandpa love blossomed on the dance floor. The next generation often met the love of their life in a pub. In the 21st century true love is only a mouse click away.

But the use of technology to find a partner doesn't mean the end of romance. A study done by AUT University found that snaring 'the one' is still important - it's just the way the search is carried out that has changed.

And a United States study released last week found couples in one out of three marriages had met online and they were less likely to divorce when compared to those who had met the old- fashioned way.

More and more Kiwis are looking to online dating sites to meet people, but not everyone gets the fairytale ending. Sometimes people looking for a serious relationship only meet people looking for sex. Other times that handsome man who has been getting hearts racing has a wife at home. And last year love-lorn Kiwis lost $1.4million in online dating scams.

Most people using online dating sites learn to read between the lines of a person's profile and meet for the first time in public and usually with friends in tow.

A few years ago New Plymouth woman Mary Nissen, 50, then living in Wanganui, took an unusual approach to protect herself. A single mother in her 30s, she had been chatting to an Australian man in a Yahoo chatroom, when he asked for her address. A bit nervous she directed him to the Wanganui police station. The next day he rang to ask if she got the roses he sent her. He thought she must have been a cop. But it all ended well - he laughed at the situation, the police returned the flowers to the florist, who forwarded them on and Nissen was reassured her new friend was legit.

They married, but the happy ever after was tragically cut short. Her husband, Malcolm Nissen, died of cancer two years later.

A few years down the track, when she was ready to move on, Nissen logged on to a dating site where she met her current partner eight years ago.

Most people looking for a relationship go onto a dating site - and there are many of them. Sites vary according to what people want - a serious relationship, casual sex, for those over 50, vegetarian - there's something for everyone.

But some people meet in a chatroom and sometimes on Facebook, which is how former New Plymouth couple Lisa Taylor, 24, and Daniel Ryan, 27 met.

Growing up in New Plymouth they had "heaps" of mutual friends, so ended up connected on Facebook. They chatted online for quite a long time, meeting in person when Taylor moved to Wellington.

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"We had all these friends in common and we were like, 'How did we never meet in person before now?' "

Facebook worked for Taylor and Ryan, but AUT University psychology lecturer Dr Pani Farvid says research shows people rarely use Facebook for dating and hooking up because it is not very anonymous and people have to be more honest as to who they are.

That someone has lied on their profile is a risk people take going online.

Farvid, who has researched online dating with the help of two post-grad students, Katie Hayden and David Dawn, says they only heard a few bad stories.

"There was nothing hugely terrible. There's a joke that if there is no picture, it is highly likely the guy is married. People had a lot of high expectations, especially women."

She found men and women acted differently in regards to making contact with a potential date.

"Men would really cast the net wide and send smiles or messages to as many women as they could - that they liked the look of or thought were OK - and hoped for some sort of response. Whereas the women would construct a profile they thought would be desirable and hoped to get men messaging them."

And women found if they instigated contact they didn't have as good a result, she says.

"Which was interesting. It mimicked old-fashioned dating, where the guy should ask the girl out. It's subtly implicated in this very new-age-technological way of connecting."

While online dating is a "very efficient system" of meeting a partner, it can be a difficult process, she says.

"You need a thick skin to go through it. If you really like the look of a profile and you send smiles or messages and they don't reply, there is a rejection you have to deal with. Men are more prepared for that than women." And it can be brutal.

"You can be going through a whole lot of profiles if you don't like one thing about a person. It's a lot more ruthless, whereas if you meet someone face to face you have a bit more social decorum, even if you are not interested."

Online dating is often talked about as a last resort and still has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although that is changing, Farvid says.

"There is still discomfort within society that you are desperate or that you failed at finding a partner out there."

Of the people spoken to by the Taranaki Daily News, only one had been a bit reluctant to tell her friends how she had met her husband.

Hawera's Kirstin Bublitz met builder Warren through an online dating site in 2007.

"I don't really tell people how we met because I look at it like a taboo. You met online, that's a bit weird. But Warren says it doesn't bother him. Now, since it has been around for a while, people don't look at it as so bad anymore."

She was 23, when she went online just to see what it was all about.

After a couple of dates she had decided to pull her profile when she received a message from Warren Bublitz.

"I waited a couple of days. Because I'm quite a shy person I was apprehensive about talking to him."

She replied, but he didn't, so she thought he wasn't interested. It turned out he had been working out of town and didn't have the internet.

"Then we chatted online for about two days then exchanged cell phone numbers and chatted and texted for about a week. Then we met in person.

"We hit it off pretty easily. We are similar people. I think one of the driving reasons behind using the website was we are both quite shy at putting ourselves out there and meeting people."

They will have been married for four years in August and have a six-month-old baby, Dylan.

The Bublitzes and Shearers were young when they went online.

On Trade Me's FindSomeone online dating site the average age is 39, because it is known as a place people go when they are looking for a serious relationship.

In the past 18 months the fastest growing demographic on the site had been in the 18 to 25 age group, manager Rick Davies says.

On average between 19 and 20 per cent have children, but that is closer to 30 per cent for the women.

Across the site there is a 54/46 male to female ratio although this changes according to regions. In rural areas it can be more than 60 per cent male. In Taranaki 57 per cent of the profiles are male.

FindSomeone has about 300,000 members. But online dating is kind of on-again off-again - people will go on a date for a while and if that doesn't work out go back online, Davies says.

"So we work on an active number of members of 70,000. And it's growing all the time."

In the past week new memberships were up 20 per cent.

"Traditionally, things start to cool off at this time of year. We have a peak around New Year, Christmas and the site goes absolutely nuts. Then, after Valentines Day, generally things quieten down during the winter months. But last year we certainly didn't see that. It broke the trend and really continued to grow right throughout the year, which surprised us."

FindSomeone is one of the few websites where someone manually approves every profile and every photo that gets uploaded.

"We put a lot of effort into ensuring the site remains clean and focussed on helping Kiwis find love."

Not all dating sites are as safety conscious.

Netsafe operations manager Lee Chisholm says some dating sites want to know if there is someone dodgy on their site, others don't.

Her advice for people looking for love online is simple: Don't give anybody any money.

The request usually comes after the person has been talking to someone for a while and a level of trust has been built up, she says.

"They believe the person is in love with them and they have also become emotionally attached to the person they are talking with."

The scammer then tells a plausible story about how something has happened to them that requires money, she says.

"Once they ask for money it is really clear they are not who they say they are."

Former New Plymouth woman Diane Daley, 48, didn't come across any scammers, but took care who she met up with.

"I think you've got to have the initiative to read between the lines with what people say and what people talk about, whether they're up front or not. You need to play it safe and take everything with a grain of salt until you meet the person. And meet in a public place."

A single mother who had been on her own for more than eight years, Daley had only just moved to Auckland when her friend signed her up onto a dating site.

She wasn't that keen initially, but once she got into it she thought it was "quite cool," she says.

She had met about six guys for coffee when she started chatting to Paul Daley at the beginning of 2003. He proposed three weeks later and they were married three months later.

"It was out of the blue. It was a fairytale relationship."

The couple lived in Taranaki, until about 18 months ago when they shifted to Waihi.

Down in Stratford the fire is blazing in the living room and the Shearer children are bouncing around waiting for dinner.

Although only 19 at the time, Tina Shearer says she went online out of curiosity. Everyone else was doing it.

"I think the website allowed you to put your email address up, but anything else you had to pay for, so I didn't do anything else."

When they were looking there were about 20 profiles, now there are 20 pages of profiles.

"I have three or four mates who have met their girl online," Matt Shearer says.

The couple's first meeting was on the walkway by the windwand - and they both took mates with them.

They were thrown into the deep end pretty young, he says. They had a baby and got their first cows in the same year. And townie Tina Shearer had to get used to country living, miles from the shops.

"I wanted kids when I was young," Matt Shearer says.

"I didn't want to be an old dad. That's why I was (on a dating site) so young."

- Taranaki Daily News

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