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Hitting it off, virtually

Hitting it off, virtually
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First Published: Tue, Jan 19 2010. 08 39 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Jan 19 2010. 08 39 PM IST
She was Zenlady. He was Indiaahna. She lived somewhere in the US, he in India. They met online.
He liked her music: 1960s and 1970s classic rock, and jazz. So he sent her a message, “nice music”; “thank you,” she replied.
Late next evening he saw her online again, and said “hi”. She hi-ed back. After a couple of what’s-the-weather-like messages, she asked him his age. He had no idea how old she was, but was happy she asked. If you do want to chat on the Net, do it with someone your age. They chatted—she seemed okay with the age gap.
This was some 10 or 11 years ago. Google was still a Web curiosity, ICQ was the only instant messenger, Napster, the site from where half the world downloaded music, was the big technology story of the day, and everybody was worried about the Y2K bug.
At night after work (keeping in mind their ten-and-a-half-hour time difference), Indiaahna would often log in from his home and they would chat. In fact, he looked forward to that moment. He could feel the adrenalin rush; his heart beating faster. Through short, staccato messages they would talk about music (he was into Tull, she preferred Genesis), their favourite cities, each other’s work and their teenaged children. It was all very civilized (not even a hint of innocent flirting), very casual—so much so that they didn’t even exchange their email addresses. At some point they might have—depending on how it played.
One night Indiaahna switched on his desktop, went to the website where they used to chat, but did not find her. A few days later she still wasn’t there. He wondered why. And then the site was shut down for some copyright reasons. He didn’t even have her email address.
Poor man. That was the end of his brief encounter.
Connected: When you are dating online, always play by the book.
I have always wondered what it is that makes people log on and seek a connection. Is it the anonymity that makes them comfortable? Are they looking for love, romance, companionship, a shoulder to lean on? Or is it just reaching out to another human being?
It could be a little of each.
Small wonder that millions of people—young and middle-aged—join online dating sites. Recently, I came across a blog run by the people behind OkCupid, one of the most successful dating sites, where users put up profiles similar to the ones on Facebook. But before you get a response from a person you are trying to connect with, you are likely to be asked some highly individualistic questions. For example: Did mankind evolve from primates? Should burning your country’s flag be illegal? Do you like cats? The guy who gets the date must answer all these questions correctly.
The Harvard geeks who run the blog OkTrends seem to have a passion for statistics. They have analysed the “hit rates” for hundreds of thousands of users of their website, and have put together some pretty interesting trends with a few useful lessons for beginners:
• First impressions matter (so don’t start with “hi”, “hey” and “hello”; use how’s it going and what’s up), be literate (do not use “ur” and “r u..?”) and don’t come on too strong (avoid sexy, hot and even beautiful; cool, fascinating and awesome are better).
• Bring up specific interests: If your profile has words such as literature, physics, vegetarian, tattoo, zombie, metal and band, you have better chances of success.
• If you’re a male, a word of caution: Nearly half of all men think they are geniuses. So please do be self-effacing. And don’t wear your faith on your sleeve: “People who hold their beliefs lightly are much better liked, even by people who are themselves serious.”
• Finally, stay anonymous, no email or cellphone number. Till, of course, there is a comfort level on both sides.
I read somewhere that by the end of this decade most people looking for love will first look online, and chances are they will find what they are looking for.
I don’t know if Indiaahna entered any of these dating sites and searched for Zenlady. Maybe he did; after all, everyone likes closure. All I can tell him is, you played by the book, so better luck next time.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at thesmartlife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jan 19 2010. 08 39 PM IST