The process of dating changed dramatically in 1995 when the first online dating service launched. Match.com invited users to sign up with their likes, their dislikes and their interests. Users could then pay a fee to view the profiles of other users that "matched" them. The development of Match.com took place during the dot-com boom of the 1990s and played a role in paving a way for romantic connections on the information superhighway. Soon, other Internet dating services followed Match.com's lead -- taking a page from online BBS (bulletin board services) popular on college campuses as a place for students to hook up.
On the surface, Internet dating is an accepted practice of 21st-century America, although not all couples are willing to admit they made their first love connection online. Dating services like eHarmony.com, for example, rely on blind dating to match their couples. The blind method means users do not get to choose what profiles they are interested in, instead, they are presented with "matches" the Internet service has found for them based on their own profiles and criteria. Some daters find the pre-vetting of possible love interests through Internet dating removes some of the stumbling blocks of romance. For others, it's a safer way to meet like-minded adults (see resources).
Many different types of Internet-dating options are available to adults of all interests. From niche market websites (men seeking men, Christian-only matches, couples seeking couples) to mainstream love matches (eHarmony.com) to "adult" friend locator services, the Internet-dating pool can be complicated and deep for novices to navigate. With the wide variety in types of Internet dating, there is something for everyone. Some dating services are free, some are not. Some people make love connections without ever joining a service as they meet and develop "cyber" friendships, relationships and liaisons.
The benefit of Internet dating, especially during the "getting to know them" phase of a relationship, is that it is all cerebral interactions. Instant messages, emails and even voice chat keep both parties at a safe distance as they explore possible conversational topics. These early interactions are often safest because anonymity between the two still exists. Most contact takes place online and via a third-party provider, which allows some assurance that if the couple wish to cease contact, it is relatively easy. Couples who spend a lot of time chatting together can form a mild bond and develop conversational comfort with each other before that first physical meeting, reducing potential awkwardness while at the same time heightening anticipation of that first meeting.
Individuals interested in using an Internet dating service or meeting someone online should be advised to never exchange personal information during initial contact. When arranging a first meeting with an Internet friend or date, choose a public location during daylight hours for security reasons. While most websites and online dating services offer photograph assurances, what people post online is not always an accurate depiction. All interactions leading up to physical meetings in real life should proceed with caution.