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Sun, Nov 10, 2013
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Even ugly people can find love on the Internet
by Margie David Collins

You, yes, you: what if I ignored your call? Or we passed each other by in a crowded room? Isn't it disturbing that Cupid's arrow could be so hit-or-miss?

And yet these days, two complete strangers could be thousands of miles apart, but with a click of a mouse, light a flame of love. They could be fat, old, disabled and have STD; they could be anyone they want to be-married, single or widowed-and embark on journeys of love.

"There's a saying old, said that love is blind, still we're often told, seek and you shall find," so the song goes. Searching for love (heck, looking for sex)-if it isn't yet an epidemic, it will soon be.

Sometimes I let myself out of the 19th century and wonder: what's happened to serendipity, the preambles of courtship?

Remember the thrill of getting ready for dates: the outfit, the movie, the restaurant; the chaste kiss at the end of an evening which was never really long enough for falling in love; so, you, breathless with bewitchment, arrange to meet again.

That was then. Today we're in a postdating world of infinite opportunities. Maybe it's all the same. Maybe the past was better, just slower. Maybe today is better, just faster.

Sure, couples from well-matched castes can find happiness in traditionally arranged marriages, complete with eye-watering dowries. In the time-honoured fashion of dynastic alliances and endogamy, couples still court and marry within their tribes: an Astor marries a Churchill; a Marcos an Araneta; a Fariñas a Singson.

What if you go off-grid? Today, no longer is there a stigma attached to online dating, a multibillion-dollar industry which has opened up many ways for meeting new people.

More satisfied

In the United Kingdom, one in five relationships now starts online, with more than 10 million Britons registered on dating sites.

A recent University of Chicago research found that more than a third of couples who married in the United States, between 2005 and 2012, met online, and that they were more satisfied and less likely to break up than couples who met in the traditional manner.

Oh, the mass and volume! (17 million users a month); MatchAffinity; eHarmony; thegaggle; craigslist; DatingDirect, to name a few. Because the Internet is a vast and transgressive market catering to all kinds and kinks, it even has a site for ugly "Ugly people," said the site's founder, Howard James, "are easier to please; they have lower expectations."

Surprisingly, people in their 50s and 60s are the fastest-growing demographic in the online dating pool. Retrosexuals-fleeing loveless beds and carcasses of sex-drought, failed or stale marriages-are logging on to reheat relationships with childhood sweethearts, first loves or old flames.

Beware, for as many as there are sites, so, too, are the risks. Many have been duped and fleeced of their money by online fraudsters creating fictitious profiles with photos of attractive men and women. A spark is ignited and a scam usually starts with a request for a small sum of money-to pay off a debt, or for a relative's medical treatment.

Philip Hunt, 58, went online for love after two failed marriages. He met Rose, a "young and beautiful woman living in Nigeria." Over eight months, through e-mails and texts, Rose bled Philip dry. He remortgaged his house, took out loans, and when he put himself on the path of an express train that killed him instantly, he had debts of £82,000 (S$163,744).

Millionairess Carole Waugh, 49, described herself in her online profile as "posh totty fun," promising "true girlfriend experience." Two gambling addicts hooked up with her, stole her identity, sold her home and stripped her of her bank accounts and assets. She was fatally stabbed in the neck, her body stuffed in the boot of a car.

Leaky sieve

You could find yourself in a fever of love with Emma, a hot doctor practicing in Toronto; only it turns out Emma's an Uzbek tosser with a mustache. And he wants your credit card details.

Websites, always in danger of being hacked into, often fail to protect their customers, with information about them falling into the hands of stalkers, convicted rapists and sex offenders. "The Internet is a leaky sieve, so keep your emotional credit balance low," warned psychotherapist Phillip Hodson.

Personal ads and lonely hearts columns in newspapers and magazines still hold their charm. "Fifty from the neck up and 14 from the waist down"; "sixty but still rather nifty." Sometimes you have to view lies as the building blocks of good manners, but people who crow like cocks for all they're worth usually hide something.

People have forgotten so much about wooing that they're paying dating coaches to teach them the art of courtship-flirting with intent, chat-up lines, flowers and small gifts, what to say on a date. In Vegas, coaching from Same Night Seduction Bootcamp will set you back £2,000.

But it's elite matchmakers which are creaming off the dating scene. These are go-to agencies for highly educated, professional men and women who do not have the time or the inclination to indulge in traditional courtships.

For huge fees, high net worth individuals with specifications of their ideal would-be partners brief exclusive dating agencies who search and screen candidates, and enable introductions and dates.

Duncan Cheatle is a successful entrepreneur who has been on several agency-enabled dates. He told The Times: "Why would I not invest eight grand in someone I trust to help me find connections when I'm busy?"

Eight grand? Peanuts! Berkeley International, with offices in key global cities (i.e., where the money's at), has 3,000 crème de la crème members who think nothing of paying $75,000 for a one-year membership. This is "headhunting" for trophy wives and husbands on a rarefied scale.

Stubbornly single

Have a heart then for China's "leftover" men-so-called because, in their advancing years, while desperate to get married, they remain stubbornly single. Every Sunday at Beijing's Temple of Heaven Park, hundreds of parents hawk their sons' CVs to potential wives who, because of their scarcity, can afford to be picky: does he have an apartment, a car, a permit to reside in Beijing?

The gender imbalance is marked, with an average of 150 men to 100 women. China's Academy of Social Sciences predicts that, by 2020, there will be some 24 million marriageable men without wives or partners.

This is not a problem for very wealthy Chinese alpha males who outsource their search for brides to exclusive marriage bureaus with their armies of "love hunters."

Before you sally forth into your amorous adventures, remember that nobody's perfect, not even you.

Don't hope for too much, but don't settle for less

Don't settle for someone with the personality of a bread mould, the IQ of a pot plant, or the manners of a lowlife bottom-feeder. Private lives can be rumpled and messy, and some of us are damaged goods carrying heavy emotional baggage.

Don't be an intellectual slouch, but don't be a howitzer, either. Don't frighten them away on your first date with talks about having children or the diagnosis of a disease, or launch into boastful sexploits. Desperation is like body odour: it is rank, unpleasant and unsexy. Agree to split the bill. And take care of your personal safety.

What an utter desert, Charles Darwin said, is life without love. That we can ache and fret in places of our hearts we didn't know existed.

So, maybe, go, give it a whirl. A low-expectation encounter might just result in fireworks and a ring on your finger.

But, it's not always simple; if it were, everyone would be doing it.

Apps to meet your match

A free app for iPhone and Android, Tinder is the 21st century's take on "cruising."

It's a matchmaking service linked to a Facebook account. The app registers your current location, asks who you'd like to meet and then flashes up photos of potential matches near you.

You swipe "Like" and, presto, you could meet more people in one evening than in a week or year of waiting to hook up with someone. Ditto Foursquare.

Facebook's new Graph Search helps you find your "perfect match" and sets up potential dates. For example, type in "Who are single in Metro Manila and graduated from The Wharton School?" Boom!


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