|Sampson tried to explain that online dating seemed safer than newspaper personals because she could keep her telephone number secret and stay anonymous as long as she wanted. Anonymity also encouraged her to be honest; she never had to communicate with anyone she didn't want to, and she didn't have to worry about face-to-face rejection. "If a guy liked me, fine. If he didn't like me, fine," she says. "It just cut to the chase quicker."
Within weeks, Sampson's and Corey's anonymous messages gave way to more personal information. They exchanged real e-mail addresses rather than Web site-supplied ones. They told each other their last names. They exchanged phone numbers. On Easter, after two months of e-mail communication, they picked up the phone and talked. And talked. And talked. For eight hours. "We had to split it up into two calls," Corey confessed. "Dakota could only hold it for so long." By the time the couple decided to call it a night, the conversation had cost Corey more than $80. Both say the phone call felt like talking with an old friend because they'd already gotten comfortable with each other online. Match.Com manager Trish McDermott says Internet couples often feel this way because online dating helps them "zero in on qualities that are beyond the physical."
However, the mystery of their physical appearances remained. McDermott says couples can explore that realm by posting their pictures on matchmaker Web sites. But Aron believes that's not enough. Computers don't allow people to read a facial expression or hear the emotion in a voice. "At a bar, at least you can see a person," he says. Neither Sampson nor Corey posted photographs online. "If we had met in a bar, I don't know if he would've been my type. I don't know if I would've been his type," Sampson says. "But neither one of us is complaining now."
Although her friends teased her about the relationship at first, Sampson says the jokes stopped when the flowers started coming. Her dormmates soon got curious and asked how they could start dating online. Sampson encouraged them to try, and several even went on dates with people they met online. Then, in May, it was Sampson's turn.
A month after their Easter conversation, Sampson flew to Boston and met Corey for the first time. Initially, it was awkward because they had "talked" for months but never looked into each other's eyes. That wore off. Three weeks after meeting at the airport, the couple rented an apartment in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Nine months later they picked out their rings and set a tentative wedding dateone of about 600 Match.Com couples to do so since 1995.
Aron says the premise of Internet dating is surprisingly simple and common in the search for love. "People want to meet other people, and they'll use any available resource to do so," he says. "Ideally, they want to have it happen magically, but if they can't, they'll have it happen any way they can."
Jonas Allen, a senior magazine journalism major, met his girlfriend of more than four years in high school. His mom met her current boyfriend on the Internet in 1997 and will be marrying him this June.