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Sleepless in Cyberspace Couples who met on the Internet by Christina Kirsh

If you believe in love at first sight, check out what some people have discovered online-love that goes deeper than mere sight.

Call it dating in the '90s, call it cyberlove-people are using the Internet not only for business, entertainment, and productivity, but also to seek out the love of their lives. They "meet" in chat rooms, post personals on message boards, sign up for online dating services, and fly across the country just to meet their online friends.

But is it possible to develop an intimate, secure relationship with someone you've never seen?

Is This Seat Taken? One of the most popular features of Internet and online services is their chat rooms. These rooms provide computer users with a place to enter and type out their conversations to other people in the room. They receive responses to their questions and comments within seconds. Many compare the atmosphere to a coffee shop, social club, or restaurant. Ken, 49, and his wife Lori, 29, of Florence, Oregon, met while chatting in an online church fellowship hall.

Ken and Lori had been regulars in the Christianity Online Fellowship Hall chat rooms on America Online for quite some time when they "ran into" one another in November, 1995. On that day, Lori had wandered in seeking the friendship of fellow Christians. Ken, a follower of the Bahai faith at the time, came in seeking answers to his questions about Christianity. Neither of them anticipated meeting their life's partner online, but apparently God had different plans.

After chatting repeatedly in the Fellowship Hall, they found they had a mutual interest-the love of theater-and became friends. Ken became intrigued by the unconditional acceptance shown by Lori, despite their different faiths. Lori was impressed by Ken's seeking heart and deep questions about Christianity, and soon they began talking by phone. The more they chatted, the more things they found in common. But Lori told Ken she could never marry a non-Christian, and Ken wasn't sure he was ready to remarry.

Talking by phone made Lori, a speech communications major in college, more comfortable. "Chatting online makes it very hard to get a feel for who a person really is," she says. "If I can hear the voice, I can read the person better." But it also made life more complicated for Lori. Just as she and Ken began calling one another, she had another online admirer on his way to meet her in Richmond, Indiana. Fortunately for Ken, that relationship didn't work out. Meanwhile, Ken became a Christian on February 7, 1996, due in part to the help and encouragement he received from Christians he had met online. It wasn't long before Lori recognized her romantic attraction to Ken, and they agreed to meet in person.

Lori picked out a place for Ken to stay near her apartment. It was an old, Victorian-style hotel with three-story ceilings and a giant staircase descending into the lobby. Ken and Lori exchanged pictures so they would recognize each other when they met. Lori sat nervously in the lobby, sitting with her back to the staircase, and waiting to meet Ken face-to-face for the first time. Suddenly, she heard a familiar voice behind her say, "Hello." That's when she knew she would marry Ken.

The couple exchanged wedding vows on September 7, 1996.

Match Made in Cyberheaven Although their married friends met each other through Bible studies or church-sponsored activities, many Christian singles just can't seem to hook up with Mr. or Ms. Right. They know what they want, but they can't seem to find it. Since online resources make it possible to search for specific information on just about any topic based on the words, phrases, or numbers you type in, why not find your soul mate the same way?

"It was something exciting and different to do," says James Smith, 35, of Atascadero, California. James signed up for Christian Singles Online, an Internet-based matching service (http://www.christsingles.com). "I thought it would be fun to meet people via e-mail, along with the possibility of meeting the right person," he says. "It cost only $10 for 10 matches-where could I go wrong?"

Gigi Aguiar, creator of the Web site, runs the matchmaking service out of her home in Miami, Florida. She launched the site in April 1995 as a way for Christian singles to meet people with similar beliefs, morals, and values. At the site, members fill out an extensive form, stating their preferences for a potential mate. Profiles of other singles are available in a special "members only" area.

Through the service, James met Candace Devika of the Seattle area. Her online profile caught his attention because she said she was looking for someone "analytical"-one of the descriptive words he had used for his profile. After just a few e-mails, James could sense that Candace possessed qualities he was looking for.

James called Candace soon afterwards. He told her he wanted to fly up to Seattle to meet her. They decided to wait a few weeks until they could exchange scanned photos by e-mail (to "give it a little more mystery," James says). Six weeks after their initial online contact, James was in a rental car driving from the Seattle airport to meet Candace. Unfortunately, he got lost. Very embarrassed, he had to call Candace to rescue him.

"When she showed up, I felt like I knew her," he says. After three dates, James felt quite comfortable with her. "After returning home, my phone bill skyrocketed, and my frequent-flyer miles have increased constantly!"

"I think any time you meet someone who is right for you, God is involved," James says. "I guess I had my doubts about meeting via the Internet. But when I came across Candace's profile, something actually clicked inside. I thought she was different and special. And she is."

James and Candace are planning an August 1997 wedding.

Letter-Writing Isn't Dead After Mark Littleton first met his wife, Jeanette, he jumped into his car and said, "Lord, I'm going to marry that woman."

Both Mark and Jeanette are freelance writers and met while teaching at a writers' conference. Before one session, Mark said to Jeanette, "I understand you do a lot of freelance editing. I'd like to talk to you about that." Later, they talked for more than an hour and never touched the subject. They were obviously attracted to one another, but what would happen next? Mark, 46, went home to Columbia, Maryland, and Jeanette, 36, returned to Kansas City, Kansas.

Four days later, Jeanette received a letter from Mark (he had started writing it as soon as he got home) via the U.S. postal service. Jeanette waited a week before she replied and used the time to "check up" on Mark-reading some of the books he'd written, asking other editors what they knew about him. "I was at a stage where I was tired of expending energy on relationships," Jeanette says. "For the first time in my life I was resigned-not necessarily happily-to the fact that maybe my work was all God had for me."

Mark sent Jeanette some more letters and called her a few times. Then, he faxed her an article he thought she could use for a magazine she was editing. She told him, "It's too bad you don't have e-mail so I wouldn't have to have this article retyped."

Mark said he could be online in a matter of minutes. From there, Mark and Jeanette's relationship took off. They exchanged more than 800 e-mails within three months. "There was a safety in e-mail for us," Jeanette says. "We could be vulnerable in a way that was harder to express on the phone or in person."

The couple talked in their e-mails about their pasts and their aspirations. They got to know each other's hearts and minds. Both big movie buffs, they'd quiz each other about their favorite flicks. Mark wrote poetry to Jeanette that melted her heart. "After meeting Jeanette, I'm sure I would have found some way to communicate," Mark says. "However, e-mail made it cheaper, easier, faster, and more intimate. I think God was definitely behind (our relationship), but in another time and place I doubt I'd have tried to build a relationship with someone so far away."

Because of e-mail, Jeanette says, she and Mark were able to discuss many important issues within a short period of time. Their e-mail relationship made her feel confident that she knew Mark well enough to consider marrying him. It prepared her for leaving her family, her friends, and part of her job to move across the country, marry a man, and live where she didn't know anyone. And she wasn't apprehensive.

"I've had several long-distance relationships," she says, "but I think e-mail is the reason this one worked out. That, and because I believe Mark is God's will for my life."

The Littletons were married on August 10, 1996, six and a half months after their first meeting.

Express Yourself What's the prime advantage of e-mail romance? "I think a lot of people in the world are so hung up on outward appearances," says Lori. "They don't give someone who might look different than their ideal a chance to prove what they are on the inside." Lori's not the only one who feels this way. All those mentioned in this article agree that e-mail was an effective tool that helped express their true identities to their future spouses.

Can people find true love online? These did. All it took was honesty ... and a password.

Christina Kirsh is Interactive Coordinator for Christianity Online in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Christianity Today, Inc./COMPUTING TODAY magazine. March/April 1997. Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 42


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