“Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.” — Ann Landers

The Internet has become a familiar necessity in most of our lives today. No matter what the age, we are strung together by this thing we call cyberspace, and the more accustomed we become to it, the more we enjoy it. The Internet is a place of convenience for just about every facet of life, and that is to include finding romance. It is no longer just about utilizing the Web to facilitate business deals. With the ability to e-mail, exchange, chat and video chat, we have been launched into a global living room, sharing our lives with the click of a mouse. It is an Internet highway as we travel into everyone’s space, everyone’s face and twitter about cyberspace at high speeds.

If Ann Landers’ summation of love is correct, then it is possible to achieve much of her claim online, for multiplied thousands flock daily to sites like Match.com, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, Lavalife, Cupid.com, PerfectMatch.com and Date Hook-Up, to name a few. The list of varied meet-up sites is wide-ranging. Users around the globe who are looking for friendship, love and anything else in between are testing the waters. There is even a site specifically for married people who are looking to have an affair sporting the ad Life is short. Have an affair. The Ashley Madison Agency, which was established in 2001, offers 100 percent affair guarantee, offering a broad variety of alternatives, maintaining that monogamy is an illusion. At least there is no mystery about what you are in for with that site. They make no bones about it — the site is for married people only.

2While the idea of a Web site encouraging affairs may be a bit difficult to swallow, cyber-dating has taken the world by storm. Julie Spira, the Los Angeles-based Cyber-Dating Expert™ and author of the new online dating book The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online, says that there are several thousands of dating sites, and new ones are cropping up daily. According to Spira, “Almost half of the single population in America has visited online dating sites. I think the number is about 40 million.”

Spira believes that there is a way to use the Internet in a positive and authentic way to find romantic love. She herself was an early adopter of the Internet back in 1994, and went online looking for love. This led to more than 250 cyber-dates, four marriage proposals, one husband and a divorce. Her experiences with cyber-dating led to the writing of her book and sharing her experiences with the online dating community.

Even though there are an abundance of cyber-dating sites to choose from, there are some universal concerns with this very non-traditional type of dating. Honesty and authenticity are two of the biggest issues with cyber-dating.

According to Spira, “Dishonesty is the number one complaint.” The temptation to embellish or lie is greater online.

Ventura County resident Mike Cantos, a 63-year-old widower, had a wonderful 35-year marriage and is eager to find companionship after spending his entire adult life with the same woman.

“I’ve met a lot of women who don’t tell the truth,” he said. “But I have women friends who have said much the same about the men they’ve met online.” Across the board, honesty seems to be the missing ingredient. Much of the time, they look nothing like their pictures. He says, “I met one woman from Simi Valley who posted a picture that was over 8 years old! Most of the fish in this cyber-sea seem to be liars.”

Untruth is a lousy precedence for beginning a relationship, and at some point, lies get exposed. Spira says, “Facebook is now the preferred site for social dating, with its 325 million users. Because the information on Facebook is so readily available, those living a lie are going to be caught. In my online coaching, I encourage people to come clean, because they’re going to be found out anyway.”

Kat Knecht, a local PCC (Personal Certified Coach) who teaches classes on, The Art and Science of Romance and has a weekly radio broadcast on AM 1400 KKZZ, says, “When people are clear on who they are, and clear on what they are looking for, then they can use the Internet as a tool for finding romance. Part of the problem with cyber-dating is that it can become a marketing trap — people presenting themselves different than they really are.”

Perhaps cyber-dating has opened the door for a type of copious commercialism, much the way marketers lure buyers by using embellishment as bait. Enticing a fickle, uninformed, emotional audience is why corporations spend huge amounts of money on market-driven advertising with the hope of closing a deal, even if there is some slight misrepresentation.

Internet dating is convenient. You can browse through thousands of profiles at your leisure, decide who you want to contact based on their profiles and pictures, and get a good sense of the person, if the person is telling the truth.

Honesty and authenticity are paramount.

There are scores of people who chat for months and even years with the same person, but it never materializes. What is the hook? One may wonder why someone would invest so much time into a relationship that will never be more than a fantasy.

Marjorie S. maintained a seven-year relationship with a man online whom she never spoke with on the phone or met.

When asked why she spent that kind of time in an illusion, she said, “We fell in love. He told me things that made me feel good about myself. My marriage was failing, and I was lonely and depressed. We chatted about everything, and he was always there for me until one day … he just disappeared. I tried every e-mail address, Google-searched all his screen names, and looked everywhere, but he was gone. I never spoke with him again. I was devastated.”

How do you fall in love with someone you have never met?

Marjorie said, “It happens slowly. In fact, you don’t really see it coming until suddenly, you’re hooked. Now, looking back, I can see that I was in love with what I perceived this person to be. He projected a certain image and I fell in love with that. It’s probably not who he is at all.”

 “It seemed like true love,” said 29-year-old Brooke M. from Thousand Oaks. “We had so much in common. We both took the personality test on eHarmony.com, and we were a 97 percent fit. Of course, eHarmony wasn’t responsible for the fact that this guy conveniently forgot to mention that he was still married and had no intention of getting a divorce because of his three kids. Oh, yeah, we met, and carried on for five months, until one day he accidently answered a cell phone call from his wife! I was having an affair and didn’t even know it!”

There are some cardinal rules that anyone pursuing an online romance should apply:

Follow your instincts. If you feel the slightest hesitation about the person, move on.

Pay attention to the pictures they post. Do they look authentic?

Ask a lot of questions.

Look for red flags.

Take it slow and guard your anonymity.

Always exercise caution and use common sense.

Never allow yourself to be pressured or manipulated into meeting.

Meet in a public place.

“I fell into an online relationship that lasted for two years,” said Barbara T. of Ventura. “It was pretty innocent at first, but it didn’t take long before I was ignoring my house, my kids, my husband and my responsibilities. I couldn’t wait for everyone to get out of the house so I could run to the computer and chat with my male friend.”

Barbara’s story is not uncommon. There are scores of people who fall prey to online relationships. Barbara admitted to treating everyone differently. “I don’t know when it shifted, but after about nine months of this, my husband confronted me about the time I spend on the computer and I snapped. I shouted at him and became very defensive and offended by his confrontation.” Two years later, Barbara and her husband, Joe, were in marriage counseling, on the fringe of divorce.

“At first, when the counselor told me I had become emotionally and sexually addicted, I was shocked, but after time, I began to realize it was true. I was pulled into a world that I couldn’t get out of, and it nearly destroyed my family.”

Barbara and Joe’s marriage was restored, and she said she never goes into chat rooms or uses the Internet for anything other than research and e-mail.

“I am one of the fortunate ones,” she said. “There are so many whose marriages are ruined because of online relationships. I got played, but I allowed it to happen to me, too. The man I was chatting with lured me in. God, he was smooth. I was needy, and I fell for it. I am just amazed at how far I fell.”

Menstuff.org ran an infidelity statistic alleging that one-third of divorce litigation is caused by online affairs. Dr. Michael Adamse, Ph.D., co-author of Affairs of the Net: The Cybershrink’s Guide to Online Relationships, maintains that “approximately 70 percent of time online is spent in chat rooms or sending e-mail; of these interactions, the vast majority are romantic in nature.”

Licensed psychotherapist Chris Bjornstedt M.A., M.F.T, of Ventura said that she has not professionally dealt with anyone who hasn’t met the person they were chatting with online. She said, “I would think they could definitely use my services, however, because that’s too isolating and fraudulent. Certainly would be difficult for the person on the receiving end.”

Even though it seems there are a gazillion nightmare cyber relationship stories, there are some who do find lasting love online.

Spira has an entire section on her Web site called The Wedding Album, devoted to couples who have met online and married. There are many stories of people who have found love via Internet dating.

There is probably some distinction with age groups. In your 20s and 30s, chances are that people are looking for fun and sex. By the time people hit their mid-40s and 50, they are generally more established and looking for companionship. This is why Bjornstedt believes that there are generational issues. She says, “The younger are more savvy, and most over 40 are more leery. The Internet opens up a lot of avenues and opportunities. It can be a great place to meet if you are ready, if you know yourself, and don’t get your hopes and expectations up.”

Doubtless, the Internet is a much easier place to be deceptive, and the reasons people choose to lie are varied, but true connections can only be made if there is a commitment to honesty and integrity, whether online or not.
Knecht says, “When a person is really willing to put their heart out there online, and be bold enough to put it out, then honesty makes room for fulfilling relationships. People get into trouble when they want to believe something (someone). They override their intuition and don’t read the signs correctly.” They need to protect themselves by not giving too much information out and following a personal vigilance.

The age-old adage A leopard cannot change his spots might hold true for those who are seeking to play games on the Internet and live a lie. When Spira was asked if she thinks lying is more prevalent online, she boldly stated, “A liar is a liar, online or offline.”

Admittedly, the Internet makes lying easier, but there are plenty of people who are truthful, and they legitimately want to have a meaningful, lasting romance. Across the board, Spira, Knecht and Bjornshedt all share the same opinion. The Internet can be a great tool for finding romance if honesty and authenticity are paramount.

The Internet can be a breeding ground for liars, cheaters and imposters, but those kinds of people can be found sitting across from you in a local cafe. Dating is never risk-free, whether online or offline, and there is always the potential for deception. Being educated, prepared and cautious will reduce your risk in matters of the heart, and you can hope that when you seek, you will find what you are looking for.