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Online dating search delivers laughs, disappointments and sometimes even love

Published: Friday, Nov. 8 2013 9:45 a.m. MST

Pat and Alan Bell walk through Gardner Village in West Jordan on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. The couple met online, then dated and later got married.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — Pat and Alan Bell link arms as they walk though Gardner Village, chatting companionably as they enjoy the end of autumn's changing foliage.

It's date night for the couple, who met online nearly a decade ago, well before online dating was an established way to find a partner. It took some daring then to meet a stranger online. Both had been widowed and each approached dating at all with both excitement and trepidation. They clicked, though. They wooed, then they wed.

Online dating is now more common: Some 40 million Americans have tried it, according to StaticBrain, which collects data from reputable sources. Online dating has become a billion-dollar industry. Fully 17 percent of marriages last year began with online dating.

It is a tool unthwarted by geography. It attracts older couples like the Bells, in their 50s when they met, but a new Pew Research Center Internet Project study said it's most common for people in mid-20s to mid-40s. Eleven percent of Americans are “online daters,” including using a mobile dating app. Online dating is more accepted and is gaining among the college-educated and urban and suburban residents, a tool Pew said is used by 38 percent of Americans who are single and looking for a partner.

The search

Dating websites have their own personalities and rules. For instance, eHarmony relies on a detailed questionnaire to suggest who's compatible. Match.com lets a user browse member profiles. Some sites, like LDSsingles.com, are specific to a faith. Some are free, some charge; a free version may have enhancements with paid subscription. StaticBrain said the average dating site customer spends $239 a year.

Pew said 40 percent of online daters have used dating sites created for people with shared interests or backgrounds. One-third have paid to use a dating site or app. Twenty percent have had someone review their profiles.

Adam Vedomske tried several sites before meeting his bride, Bonnie Riley. They live in Vallejo, Calif. A Mormon, he dated within his singles wards in Virginia and later Utah, and had free profiles on several sites.

Know what you're looking for, said Michelle Hall of Alexandria, Va. That includes whether you're willing to date outside your faith. Divorced, she started dating online four years ago. "Success doesn't mean I marry someone, but it means I stopped long enough to engage in at least a six-month relationship, that I spent time with someone I could rely on for a little while."

Hall works at a community college and said she loves and hates online dating. She likes three-month stints online because it's enough time to get to know a few people. Then, "you have to disengage and pay attention to a couple of people you are trying to date." Fresh faces get the most attention. "If you've been on for a whole year, you haven't been a fresh face for most of a year," she said. Hall also dates people she meets offline.

Cat Crawford jokes she built a family online. The West Windsor, N.J., woman found her husband through online dating 10 years ago. More recently, they found their son Max online, adopting him from Russia.

Online is a sometimes-strange place to date, she said. "You end up sort of meeting a lot of different people."

She was in graduate school in Michigan and hadn't met many interesting, available men. Her mom suggested online dating. She "met" lots of people, enjoying how casual it was, but not always sure when to give out her number or meet in person. Sometimes, men who appealed to her were elsewhere, which meant dating could be expensive: "Am I going to buy a plane ticket?"

Matt Prestwich, now 43, lived in Utah when he met his future bride, Rose Goncalves, a Brazilian living in Switzerland. He wasn't looking for an international relationship, but thought it would be fun to chat. They hit it off.

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