FORT WORTH, Texas, January 31, 2013 — It seems that old- fashioned courtship has gone the way of rotary phones, analog TV and dinner made without a microwave oven.
With the advent of the Internet, online dating has become an intrinsic part of our society. So much so that the use of these services no longer labels a person “desperate” in the quest for a partner. Computer generated matchmaking is nothing new though.
Jeff C. Tarr and Vaughn Morrill founded the very first computer dating service while undergraduates at Harvard in 1965. They named it Operation Match and distributed questionnaires to Boston-area colleges. Respondents filled them out and sent them back. The cost was $3 and a stamp.
Aided by David L. Crump and Douglas H. Ginsburg (a Cornell University dropout who went on to become a Harvard Law School professor and judge and was a Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court until he withdrew his name) data was transferred to punch cards, which were fed into a rented computer the size of a small room. Times certainly have changed.
There were some marriages as a result of this service but Crump doesn’t necessarily believe it was because of their method. He explains, “…statistically, if you match up a million people, marriages are likely to happen.”
Back then, as now safety doesn’t necessarily come to mind in the quest for love. Safety and love go hand in hand, right? And if matched by a computer, wouldn’t both people have the same morals and values?
Of course that thought doesn’t take into account the honesty of the dating-site participants. Match.com and others know this and the former even has a Safety Tips page. Here is what it says about criminal background checks:
“We don’t conduct criminal background checks on our users, so if you would like more information about someone, we recommend using the Internet and government resources available to everyone.”
How many people stop to think about how safe they will be in their quest to meet “the One?” If people would consider that when meeting in person why wouldn’t they do that when meeting on the Internet?
One dating site consumer found out the hard way. Mary Kay Beckham alleges that her Match.com date Wade Ridley nearly killed her. She has filed suit against Match.com citing the site lulls customers into a “false sense of security,” and is suing the company for $10 million. She feels the safety tips provided are not enough and that warnings on the site should be more plain and clear.
Should dating sites provide criminal background checks? Or should the responsibility remain with the subscriber?
Jennie Cesario, 46, of Los Angeles, says she used Christian Mingle’s online dating service and found she was not matched with the outgoing guys she had requested but shy, hard to get to know men.
She adds, however, the responsibility lies with both the dating site and the subscriber: “I do believe they [dating sites] bear part of the burden to pre-screen a bit better, for red flag issues like a tendency to become a stalker, with the intent to commit violence, to the softer issues like making sure that once you’ve stated your preferences, those who contact you actually fit that description.”
She goes on to say that as for safety, she feels a person should treat online dating the same as offline dating. This includes background checks and not getting into a compromising position where a woman can’t reach law enforcement if needed. Yet Cesario concedes that you cannot be 100% safe and that criminals are very, very good at covering their true intentions. There is always risk as a certain amount of trust is necessary to begin a relationship. “It’s a Catch-22.”
Common sense tells us to not expect anyone or anything to be in charge of one’s own safety. And initially Match.com said it would be too difficult to do background checks on all its subscribers. But if it’s easy for the average Jo or Joe to go to a website to find background information, why is it too difficult for a multi-million dollar company to do it?
Since then Match.com has started doing background checks. A representative for the company says new technologies and databases make it easier to investigate members. But they warn that while it will help in some instances, the system is still flawed and they don’t want to give out a false sense of security to members.
Does this mean one should never look to the Internet to find love?
Patrick Hansen and Carrie Dodd met on the Internet while playing online games. Over the course of five years, their relationship developed into more than friendship and they now plan a future together.
[Read more about them in my next article about how they came to be together, moving from online acquaintances to soul mates.]
The dating world has changed dramatically with the advent of online romance. But some things haven’t. Some good advice is to realize that to ignore gut instinct and common sense can lead to tragedy, just as before.
It seems like the best course of action is to go slowly and tread carefully. You never know if the person at the other end of the Internet highway is your dream come true or your worst nightmare.
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