Smile Politely

A look into online dating: Part 2

Champaign-Urbana seems to be a hub of Internet dating and friend-finding, where people who live, work and play mere steps from each other connect online before they ever interact in person. This is not just a local phenomenon-research shows that over 40 million American singles use online dating and social networking sites to meet new people. I had originally set out to explore the experiences of fellow Chambana residents who dabble in online dating, only to find that almost everyone I know has developed some sort of connection with another human (or two, or twenty-seven) via the Internet. In the last two weeks I’ve even made a few new friends and acquaintances who happened upon this little online column and wanted to share their stories. This must be a trustworthy crowd, because all of the participants agreed to meet me in person—for interviews over dinner in their homes, no less!

The Novice

Eddie, 24, is a UIUC graduate who now works as an IT specialist in Urbana. Oddly, of all the folks interviewed for these few articles, this tech-savvy lad has had the least amount of experience in the world of online dating.

Emma Reaux: Have you ever dated someone you met online?

Eddie: No, I’ve been on a site, but I haven’t talked to anyone. It’s good to browse, shop around.

ER: So what made you check out a site in the first place?

Eddie: I had a friend sign me up on a free site. I stayed on it, just didn’t do anything with it.

ER: What do you think about the dating scene in C-U?

Eddie: A little rough. The population changes on a quarterly basis with people constantly leaving. You see someone once and you might not ever see them again. It was just a different lifestyle from undergrad to being a professional now. I feel separated, because I don’t put up with the shit I did as a student now that I’m a professional. I’d like to think I’m more mature. The whole being an adult and responsible thing is a bit of a bummer compared to the stuff I used to do. I was just curious as to what else was out there. I think like any other type of dating it’s a big risk-even a bigger risk to put yourself out there. Every day you hear about Internet predators and identity theft.

ER: Why did you never actually get around to meeting anyone on the site?

Eddie: That particular site is pretty limiting.

ER: Do you think you’ll ever give it a real try?

Eddie: Probably with a paid service. From what I’ve heard, even from the interviews in this column, it seems like you get what you pay for. I would probably try again if I needed to look for dates in the future. Photos would be helpful. It’s seems more legitimate if you go through something that’s certified, where you can see real people and know they are probably legit. Craigslist and the like seem shady, I haven’t ever heard of any real results with that, since real dating is not the focus of that website.

The Old Schooler

Joseph, 58, is an educator in Champaign. He began looking for online romance through a free site about 4 years ago.

Joseph: I met lots of people in the short amount of time I tried online dating, and I got to meet at least 6 or 7 in person. None of them worked out. It was more my fault that I didn’t keep up with the dates. I went on a few other dates, but there was no chemistry.

Emma Reaux: How so? How were these people different from those you met in other ways?

J: Some women seemed a bit desperate. Several times I just got stories about their miserable lives. Get to my age and you have to deal not only with multiple bad proceeding relationships, but with surly grandchildren.

ER: You’ve lived in C-U for a few decades, is it difficult to meet new people around here?

J: Yeah, it’s difficult in my age group because a lot of women by this age are into grandchildren, and I like to go out and actually do things. We have different lifestyles. I think if I went through a paid service I would have better luck. You get what you pay for. With free services it’s hit or miss, not anything about compatibility. I think a service with some matching components would have more potential.

ER: Did you have any qualms with looking for dates online?

J: No. There shouldn’t be any stigma surrounding it-it’s not like you’re getting an online escort.

ER: Are you going to try any paid sites?

J: No. I’ve been dating someone for a few months that I met through a mutual friend.


The CL Connoisseur

Tricia, 23, moved to C-U from a bustling east coast city about two years ago to begin her career as a professional graduate student.

ER: Tell me about your experience meeting new people on the Internet.

Tricia: I’ve actually met a lot of nice people on the Internet, mostly though Craigslist (CL) because I skim it regularly. I met a guy I tutor in English, a fellow grad student who was looking for friends outside her department, and my running partner.

ER: We’ve had a lot of comments about CL, and how it’s creepier than other online venues for meeting people. Sounds like your experiences have been different.

T: Overall, I think it’s a good way to meet people, but I think you have to be aware and careful, just like any other situation. I wouldn’t discourage it out of blind paranoia, but I would encourage people to be cautious.

ER: Did you start meeting people online because you were new here?

T: Yes. I wanted to meet other runners, so I figured putting out an ad of my own would be the most effective way.

ER: How were the responses to your ad?

T: I had to weed through a lot of junk at the beginning. It made me very indignant because my ad was very specific with what I was looking for: pace, goals, time of day, etc. I got a lot of responses that seemed like people blatantly ignored that or didn’t listen. Lots of people who run in the gym or hadn’t run at all and wanted to get back into it. I guess I can give them credit for trying to connect. I felt like a lot of people wanted to use me for personal motivation or as an exercise coach, which is not what I was going for.

ER: How is it different meeting friends online if you’re not looking to find dates?

T: I think you can be a little less critical if you are looking for friends. I would consider being friends with someone who didn’t necessarily have the same values or beliefs as I did, but those would pose more of a problem in a romantic relationship. Overall it’s worked out really well. When my running partner or I talk about it, people think it seems weird, but I just find it very fortunate that we found each other at the same time. It’s been over a year [since we met] and we’ve trained for and run several races together. I’ve been quite pleased and almost surprised at how well it has worked out.

The Couple

Bettie, 23, and her partner Frederico, 34, both professionals in the social sciences, took online friend searching to a whole new level by posting an ad as a couple looking for other couples.  In fact, I found this quirky twosome by cruising CL after talking with Tricia (above). They win my award for lengthiest and most original post, and get bonus points for inviting me over for a yummy dinner. The only catch is they’re not looking for love, sex, or romance (or so they say). Their full ad can be seen here.

ER: Tell me a little bit about your ad experience.

Bettie: I wrote it, but it was his idea. We decided we needed couples to hang out with and cook dinner and watch movies with. People who could go out to bars, do double dates with us.

B: We waited a few weeks before we made it, and talked about it a bit. Finally on break we sat down and wrote it together.

F: We posted it in Chicago as well in case we wanted to go up there to hang out with people.

B: We discussed whether we wanted to disclose a lot about ourselves and our interests. But then we decided it’s good to be up front about our interests so we don’t get people who want to watch WWF and have to break it we’re not into those things.

F: We wanted to be more specific so the people who actually answered would be people we’d be more interested in.

B: It’s either post something vague and explain ourselves later, or be up front. It’s a pretty long ad. This also isn’t his first time posting to CL, so we kind of knew how we wanted to post.

ER: Ooh, I love hearing about first times. Tell me about yours.

F: My focus before had been in the Strictly Platonic section. One of the key things I posted was that I was a feminist and interested in experimental film and music.

B: We used that as a way to develop the description for the one we made recently.

ER: Why resort to CL? What’s been your issue finding couples out and about in town?

B: It’s just an extra way to find people. Like a cheat sheet.

F: I met a girl on CL who I ending up dating awhile back. My research interests have led me to understand the importance of the Internet in finding people to connect with. I had gone on CL to experiment in the technologies and understand my research populations better.

ER: What did you find?

F: Last year there were a few posts I responded to and I had some exchanges with people. I looked at other sites, but dating sections were connected to other engines. I found someone in the Platonic section and when I met her, she said she was open to more than just friends, so it grew more from there.

ER: So from that you felt comfortable using CL? Many people I’ve spoken with joke it’s a shady place to meet people.

F: When I was a senior in high school there were very early stages of online ways to connect to others. There were message boards that you could use to meet people. This was in the mid 90s. There were a lot of different networks and you would choose one and it would connect you to other people. People who met there would meet up in real life for parties.  So I have a long history of meeting people online, and have been able to see the technologies as they evolve, and take part in that. Maybe that’s why I’m more comfortable with it.

ER: Give me a little detail about what you posted; a Cliffs Notes version of the book-of-an-ad you wrote.

B: We started with an explanation of our shared interests as a couple, and then specifics about us as individuals. Then we described what qualities we hope the people who answered the ad would have, and what we could do together.

ER: Were there any sexual tones in it at all?

F: No, not consciously.

B: Other people’s platonic ads are sometimes very explicit that it’s not to be anything beyond friendship. We forgot to do that.

F: We received one response that was very jokey. They said something about getting together and talking about “wrastling,” and watching Adam Sandler movies. So we thought that they were joking, and inferring our ad was snobby. But when I searched for their email address online, it showed up on a swingers site.

ER: Did you continue communication with them at all beyond that?

F: No, I tried to think of a funny response back to them, but haven’t replied yet.

ER: Would you two be open to hanging out with swingers, in the platonic sense?

F: It’s difficult to answer that without thinking in terms of stereotypes. I’m not necessarily interested in swinging. I feel like they would be disinterested in hanging out with us if that is what they’re looking for. It would be a disappointment or waste of their time if we’re not interested in having sex with them.

ER: Have you looked for posts for couples seeking friendship?

B: I did for a while. I didn’t find anything. Just posts referring to a couple of guys looking for other friends.

F: Or couples looking for a girl, where a wife wants to be with another woman. I didn’t necessarily expect to get many responses. I’m not sure if anyone uses that site in the way we’re trying to use it. I don’t think it’s common to use it in the honestly platonic way we are.

B: I found couples in Chicago. Maybe because it’s such a big city, there are so many more people using CL for different reasons. I’ve been a CL junky for the past year and the one here is highly sexualized. All of the other sections are for sex, not even for dating. It’s all very “I want to fuck tonight.” The population here is smaller, so there’s not as much diversity as far as how people use it. In Chicago, the platonic section had a lot more to offer-like people asking for help with painting the living room, or taking a cooking class.

ER: Do you think you’ll wait this out, or try again?

B: Reposting the same ad might help, so people don’t have to scroll to find it.

F: Other websites have town-based discussion boards and forums. A friend of mine found some social events through the city-based couch surfing sites. It seems like there are people into couch surfing culture. For example, there was a post for a roommate, but the requirement was that the person had to be open to couch surfing events. So I’m paying more attention to that as a venue for meeting people socially.

ER: What experience have you had with C-U’s actual physical social scene?

F: One of the main things about being in a college town is that there are chances to meet cool people, but it’s such a transient population, so you meet people and they go away. That’s one of the major difficulties.

B: [To Frederico:] Where did you hang out before you met me?

F: I socialized with student groups when I went to school. Feminist book reading groups, religious groups, etc. There’s not a centralized place to meet people here.

B: Most of the folks my age graduated and moved away. Even though it’s a widespread community, there is a pretty distinct difference in the types of bars; campus bars, townie bars, hipster/subculture. So even though there are all these different social enclaves around town, I would still run into the same people-be it cafes, bars, events, etc. There’s a culture of the same people going to the same places. It was almost a guarantee I could go somewhere alone and know someone who was there, but then meet others through those friends. Now that I’m not in school, CL and other online options work for me. I met my best friend on the Internet before I even moved here. Another benefit to using the Internet is that we can screen people. We googled that one response to our and discovered they were swingers. That’s not necessarily something you can do when you meet someone upfront.

ER: In your ad you refer to yourselves as heteroqueer. Explain what that is and why you included it.

F: I found the term, but don’t remember how I came across it. It’s rooted in trying to find a term that succinctly captures my sexual orientation. In college I used bi, but over time I didn’t feel like it fit as well, so for the past few years I’ve used “mostly straight.” I think “heteroqueer” captures our experiences very well.

B: We share a lot of experiences about gender and sexuality. It’s someone who is predominantly straight and in heterosexual relationships.

F: But they feel comfortable in and identify with queer people, culture and spaces.

B: Someone who doesn’t date for someone’s sex or gender, but rather has a more post-modern approach to sexuality.

ER: Do you think people will respond to that term, or do you think it might turn otherwise interesting couples away?

F: I don’t think it’s a very common term. I even had to google it to really understand what it meant. Since the ad is online, and there is a google search mentality, someone reading it could search to figure out what it means and then have a positive response.

B: It’s really important to identify as people who aren’t looking for just another hetero couple to hang out with, and that their gender and sexuality don’t matter. So adding heteroqueer was a step further to say that not only do we not identify purely heterosexual in our own relationship, we identify with the queer culture. This is another benefit of posting online-you probably couldn’t tell this about our relationship and identities just by looking at us. Plus, it’s not like couples approach other couples at the bar. The ad has been up less than a week, and Strictly Platonic isn’t the most-looked place on CL. So we’ll see what happens!

ER: I was such a pleasure meeting you. I would say good luck, but this interview and delicious seitan tell me you’ll have couples wanting to come over for dinner in no time!


So there you have it, C-U. My limited research tells me that even in the online communities, there are different strokes for different folks. Do you enjoy the thrill of entering potentially disastrous situations with completely nameless and faceless strangers? CL might be your place. Want to test the waters of online dating without throwing down any real money, time or commitment? Try a few free sites. Looking for an actual connection with someone other than your favorite downtown bartender? Time to restructure that budget and save your beer money for some monthly online memberships. What better way to pass these last remaining weeks of winter than staying in, warm and cozy, and putting that overpriced Internet subscription to good use? Whether you’re looking for a few new friends or the love of your life, many locals find online dating worth the effort. If anything, you can have a little fun perusing what Chambana has to offer outside the bar scene from the comfort of your couch. Safe and happy searching!

Photos by Ross Floyd (laptop photo) and Emma Reaux (couple photo).

More Articles