Love At First Site

Match-making has come of age. In 2001 online dating was a mere $40-million industry. By 2008, revenues are expected to exceed $600 million. While hundreds of firms are vying for a slice of that big mouth-watering pie, anticipation is flying highest among the eager online daters turning to the industry for love, not money.

If you’re single today you’ve probably cruised at least a few internet dating profiles. Why not look at our community. Maybe you have friends who found their soul mate online. In 2006, a study of internet users revealed that 3% of people in married or long-term committed relationships had met their partners online – that’s equal to 3 million people. Among a group of 4400 cyber-daters in eight different countries, a whopping 25% found their life partner in cyberspace. Even more eye-popping is the figure released by – the largest online dating site in the world – showing that 11% of people who married after hooking up with a member say they knew they were in love prior to ever meeting their spouse face to face. The email contact and subsequent phone calls sealed the deal before a handshake even entered the picture. Undoubtedly, that 11% were lucky to have happy endings to their dating adventure. But surveys don’t tell us how many others have tumbled head over heels online, only to freefall disastrously after setting eyes on their supposed perfect mate.

Despite the successes, heartbreaking stories abound. Take Tracy and Dell, who had spent months emailing and phoning between Philadelphia and San Jose, where Dell was planning to move when her company promoted her. They each thought that they’d met the love of their life – until the day Dell’s Rabbit pulled up in front of Tracy’s house, heaped with her belongings, and Tracy wanted nothing more than for Dell to hop away on the spot.

“I hated the way she walked, the way she smelled, the way her nose nearly touched her upper lip when she smiled, ” said Tracy. “I couldn’t get past all those physical turn offs that never showed up in her photos. It wasn’t just a matter of no chemistry; it was BAD chemistry!” Dell was equally unimpressed with Tracy, whose home was her idea of hell. Not one piece of furniture matched, Dell complained, and the place hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned in a year. Dell was so “grossed out” she did, in fact, hippity hop to the nearest motel.

Tracy and Dell’s situation was extreme, but not uncommon. That feeling of “Uh oh…this is nothing like what I thought it would be,” can be the first sign of trouble and, sometimes, all that’s needed to send a partner running as fast as if a skunk had let loose in the living room. But the signs aren’t always so obvious. The absence of strong sexual or emotional connection may be an early concern that couples hope they can remedy over time, but the burning question lingers: “wasn’t all that keyboard chemistry for real?

For another couple, Zina and Michael, the online connection seemed more real than anything either had known in the past. But when they met…poof went the bubble! “Even our kissing styles were mismatched,” noted Zina, who found Michael awkward and utterly inexperienced at carrying off the sexual games he’d described in his long steamy missives. On the heels of such a build-up the letdown was crushing. Zina found herself taking a poll of her friends, asking everyone if chemistry could be kindled even if not evident to start with. And isn’t that the ultimate question for everyone whose love affair sparkled from afar, but turned grimy on close-up? How can online daters be so terribly wrong about their Mr. or Ms. Right?

Online dating always forces a collision between “fantasy” and “chemistry.” Email communiqués allow us to be the best self we’re capable of being, if only part-time. Email can showcase our smoothness, our humor, our charm, our sensitivity. We can edit and re-edit every line until it’s just right! Moving from email to phone brings us closer to the real realm, where voice quality, tone, inflection, grammar, and confidence, can be read more exactly. Yet much still remains hidden – the visual, the chemical, the impact of face to face interactions and the anxieties it provokes.

Falling in love without sight – or touch, or scent – handicaps us and forces us to transform our love object into a “compilation” person. We cut and paste scraps of truth, ideals, hopes, acts, inferences, and fantasies between the lines of text or the onscreen pixels, altering them until their resemblance to the person on whom they’re modeled is vague at best. Being in thrall to the dream of love, we may fail to grasp the implausibility of someone turning up on our doorstep as an exact replica of the collage we’ve been relating to. Meeting them – replete with “extras” like bad skin, garlic breath, encumbered finances, and dad in the spare room – can feel like being doused with a bucket of ice water. But don’t despair! You can still make choices that increase your chances of being one of the lucky 25%, and let you to play online dating roulette with far better odds of winning. Here’s how:

Get Off Quickly!

Off-line, that is. The need for a payoff, and the agony of disappointment, exponentially increase with the amount of time invested in an online relationship. Rather than develop your relationship online, go only as far as you must to ensure that you both fit each other’s “essential” criteria and feel safe meeting for the first time in public.

First Date: Assess “Baseline” Chemistry

Think of “chemistry” as having two dimensions: a baseline level and a deep level. You can assess baseline easily. Ask yourself: is your date pleasing to look at. Do you like the sound of his/her voice? Grooming good? Does ANYTHING gross you out or give you the heebie jeebies? Your answers should be yes, yes, yes, no – in that order. If your answers differ, don’t date them. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been relating online for a year or a day – you’re finished. The odds of discovering deep chemistry if these baselines are not met is probably a million to one.

Opt In For a Two Date Minimum

If the chemistry of attraction is operating at baseline, give yourself two dates to discover more. Even if your chemistry is palpable and penetrating from the get-go, you do know that sex isn’t everything – right? So, give yourself those two dates to discover whether your take on life, your values, your sense about the future, your way of moving through the world is potentially compatible before escalating chemically. Especially if the attraction is red hot, avoid overemphasizing sex so that you can keep your head clear enough to weigh other factors. On the other hand, if all you have is baseline chemistry, and don’t feel any more magnetism building after two dates, call it off – unless you are so well matched in life-style and values that you can’t fathom letting go so soon. In that case, go to the next step.

Follow the Three Strikes Rule

I could describe case after case of couples who felt they had “so much in common” or were “twins separated at birth” – but had no sign of the flammable chemistry that underlies a lasting romance. Nevertheless, because of their easy familiarity and genuine regard for one another, they chose to pursue a relationship and trusted that the chemistry would grow. Fast forward five or ten years and there they were, two very uncertain people in my consulting room, hoping to at last stoke the flames of passion, and praying their only options weren’t self-denial or divorce. So, trust me when I tell you that if you care deeply about having passion and romance in your life, if you care about building chemistry, you should give yourself a total of ONLY THREE more dates (note: this makes a grand-slam total of five dates, maximum) to get some sparks flying together. If you haven’t lifted off after the third date, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get of the ground. Either split now, before you get stuck – or enjoy your tame relationships while actively searching for your big romance.

For Long Distance Daters

If you don’t live within a reasonable driving distance of a dating prospect, you face extra obstacles, and should keep these points in mind.

Use Skype or video-chat soon after initiating telephone contact. Conversing with video isn’t quite the same as being right there, but it’s better than flying blind. Many of the qualities that you uncover face to face are also accessible through video: body language, eye contact, vocal tone, grooming – not to mention, realistic impressions of current age and weight. If you can’t arrange to meet within a short span of time, slow down the phone/video contact so that you aren’t over-investing in someone who could still fail the big test.

In the final analysis, falling in love online may be as easy as projecting all of your fantasies and ideals onto someone else’s canvas – but facing reality is much harder, and staying in love is tougher still. However, if statistics don’t lie, then some 300,000 people have fallen in love with a stranger…and their romance has lived on to tell the tale.

About the Author:

A psychologist and sex therapist based in New York City, Dr. Joy Davidson has been involved in the development of internet-based sexuality education for much of her career. Convinced that the internet has the capacity to revolutionize intimate connections, she has been actively researching and writing about the internet as a vehicle for sexual expression, education, and therapy for nearly a decade. Dr. Davidson was a key contributor to MSN’s pioneering online magazine for women, Underwire, as well as a sex and relationships columnist for MSN’s,, and Offline, she was for 8 years the sex columnist for Playgirl magazine and Men’s Fitness magazine. In addition to her current articles on, she hosts a sexual enhancement video series, The Joy Spot, which can be viewed on other major video sites as well. Dr. Davidson’s personal website is

Dr. Davidson is the author of Fearless Sex: A Babe’s Guide to Overcoming Your Romantic Obsessions and Getting the Sex Life You Deserve (2004, Fairwinds Press), which, in hardcover, was a selection of the Literary Guild and the Venus Book Club. As an expert on sexual issues in popular media and culture, she is also a contributor to four of Benbella Books’ acclaimed “Smart Pop” anthologies and the editor of an upcoming fifth release.

Her astute insights and warm, vivacious personal style have made Dr. Davidson a sought-after speaker at seminars and conferences, and a guest on hundreds of national television and radio shows, including Oprah, 20/20, CNN News, Entertainment Tonight, Montel, and Bill O’Reilly. She was the host of 36 episodes of the Playboy channel’s series, “Secret Confessions and Fantasies,” and the writer/creator of the Playboy/Sharper Image home video series, “Secrets of Making Love to the Same Person Forever.”

Dr. Davidson is a frequently featured expert in national magazines and press, including USA Today,, Redbook, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, and Cosmopolitan. She holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and a member of AASECT’s Board of Directors.

Article: Dr.Davidson ©

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