At a time when technology seems to draw us farther apart, a growing number of adults are using the Internet and social media to find new friends and partners. An eHarmony poll by Harris Interactive indicates that nearly 1 in 4 newly married couples now meet online, which means that more people who got married connected through a dating website or social media than through work, school, family or friends.
When done with caution and a sense of humor, it's possible to find the perfect match online. Read on for three stories of local couples who found friendship and eventually love through the Internet.
"We do a lot
When EddieJo Bunker, 63, divorced more than 10 years ago, she knew that she would be looking to start a new relationship.
"I was waiting for something to happen, but nothing happened. I decided to take the initiative," she said.
As she was evaluating her options, she knew that our area would limit her search.
"There aren't a lot of places nearby to meet people. I didn't want to go to bars to meet people," said Bunker, who lives in Mahoning Township.
With the support of her friends and family, Bunker set up a profile on eHarmony. She dated two men, but those matches didn't work out. Then she met Ralph.
Ralph Herbst, 68 and living in Berks County, was also divorced and searching for a partner online. The two quickly clicked online and agreed to meet.
"We didn't talk long on the Internet. I wanted to meet in person quickly to gauge their personality," said Bunker.
They met at a small coffee shop to talk in person, and immediately hit it off.
"I felt really comfortable with Ralph and how he presented himself. I knew I wanted to see him again."
That first date led to a second and third date lunch, then dinner and a movie. Then Herbst, a fly fishing enthusiast, invited Bunker to a fly-tying convention. It was an unusual move on Herbst's part, but he wanted to share his hobbies with Bunker. To her surprise, Bunker had a good time at the convention.
The couple is now engaged and plans to get married in the near future, perhaps this summer. They advise singles searching for a partner online to have reasonable expectations and realize that online dating has all of the perks and pitfalls of searching for a date offline.
"The Internet is a good way to meet new people, but it's just a start. It's like trying out for a movie role, like an audition. You have to be yourself," added Herbst, noting that it's important to put your interests out there on the website to increase your chances of finding a good match.
"We had fun right off the bat. We do a lot of laughing."
Ten first dates and then they met
When Joe Solt Jr., 40, and Kate Solt, 38, exchanged vows last month, it was the culmination of a years-long journey that began online. The couple met in 2007 through eHarmony after watching friends find success with online dating websites.
"It's a lot better than waiting to find the perfect someone in the grocery store or a bar in Palmerton," said Joe. "I knew it wasn't going to happen in a bar, or by running into someone in a park."
Both played it safe, exchanging little personal information online and talking online for several weeks. eHarmony allowed them to converse without sharing phone numbers or email addresses. Finally, it was time to meet. Kate had set a few standards for first dates, and knew that it would need to be in a safe, public location.
"I had to meet them in a coffee shop, and they had to impress me. You have to be safe about these things," she said.
They chose a neutral location, meeting at a coffee shop in Slatington, halfway between his Lehighton and her Whitehall home.
"We just sat outside and talked," she said, noting that chatting online had already helped to set the foundation of their relationship and gave them a few topics to discuss during their first dates.
"It's like you go on 10 first dates, and then you meet to see if you click. He earned a second meeting."
"I didn't talk to strangers online"
JenniLynn Hanitsch, 28 wasn't looking for a relationship when she logged onto MySpace one day in 2007. It was a case of mistaken identity a stranger mistook her for a friend, and asked to "friend" her on Myspace.
"When I got his friend request, I deleted it. I didn't talk to strangers online," she said. "For some reason I went back into my trash and saw a photo of him in his Army uniform. I thought I must know him from the Army, and sent him a message saying 'Where do I know you from?' When he realized I wasn't the friend he was looking for, he didn't even reply until almost a month later."
She quickly became online friends with Chad Hanitsch, now 30, talking on MySpace and then on the phone. She had no interest in meeting Chad and rejected his first request to meet in real life. After some persistence on Chad's part, she finally agreed to meet to celebrate her birthday.
"I don't know what changed my mind. I guess I kept wondering, what if this is 'meant to be' and I don't go meet him?" she said. "I knew it would have to be a public place, because I did have that fear of him not really being who he said he was."
Hanitsch finds it ironic that she met her husband online, given that they might have run into each other in real life before dating. They both attended Northampton Community College, and served in the Army reserve at the same drill hall in different units.
Just two weeks after they began dating, they learned that Chad was being deployed to Iraq. They spent the next year in a long distance relationship, and Chad returned home on Dec. 24, 2008. The couple married and had a son, Benjamin, in 2010.
For Hanitsch, meeting her future husband online was a positive, though unexpected, experience. It allowed her to become friends with Chad, and gave her time to get to know him without the adding pressure of dating.
"I got to know him before I was physically attracted to him, and that made a big difference to me since relationships shouldn't be built on pure attraction," she said. "I liked knowing that he was kind, considerate, and a good person before taking that step into actually dating."