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This article by Deb Cooperman was prepared for the June 2, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

How to Dive Into the Virtual Dating Pool

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, people were loathe to let on when they were using an online dating service in their search for a prince/princess. And, says Internet dating expert Roman Griffen, “if they did get involved with someone they’d met online they’d usually say: ‘Let’s not tell people how we met; let’s say we met in a bookstore or something.”

Griffen, an early pioneer in the land of online dating, is teaching a noncredit continuing education course, “The Safe and Smart Way to Build a Relationship Through the Internet,” at Mercer College, Thursdays, June 17 to July 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. Cost: $90.

“In the beginning, people were kind of paranoid about trying Internet dating,” says Griffen, who lives in Trenton and is the author of self-published “Internet Dating: Tips, Tricks, and Tactics” ($11.95 on Amazon.com). According to Griffen, many people had the perception that those who sought a date via the Internet were “all a bunch of freaks and goblins and rapists out there preying on people. But it’s no different than regular dating. The people on the Internet are no better or worse,” says Griffin, than the ones you’d meet at your office or a cafe‚ or bar. He asserts that these days the stigma of Internet dating is all but gone — over 30 million people are using Internet dating services.

Griffen came by his expert’s chops the old fashioned way — he logged some time in the virtual dating trenches. His course at Mercer reveals all the do’s and don’ts he gleaned from his experience — and the experiences of people he interviewed for his book. “Why learn from your mistakes when you can learn from other people’s?” he says.

Designed to help people who have been thinking of diving into the virtual dating pool but are a nervous or afraid, the course is also perfect for “the grizzled veteran who is looking for an easier way,” says Griffen, who grew up in Trenton (where his parents, married over 40 years, still live). He took some courses at Mercer, but his varied interests were spread out over several disciplines. “I have 112 credits but can’t seem to come up with enough in one area to create a major,” he says. He currently owns and operates Thunderoad Sports, Cards, and Comics in Hamilton Square, and he’s written several essays that have been published.

While stores like his usually do a nice business, and being a published writer isn’t chopped liver, Griffen admits that spending most of your time in a sports/comic store and writing in front of a computer are not the choicest ways to meet the ladies.

Online dating seemed like as good an option as any. “I was curious, single, and it didn’t seem like a bad way to meet people,” he says. “I figured you’d already have something in common. You’re looking to meet someone, they’re looking to meet someone, right?”

After a long-term relationship with a women he met online, Griffen is currently single. Still he knows, (and tells reluctant Internet daters) that if nothing else, you’ll expand your social life if you take the plunge. By putting yourself out there, he says, you have no guarantee that you’ll find true romance, but you certainly increase your chances. And if you follow Griffen’s suggestions, you can make the experience less stressful — and a lot safer:

1. Create an E-mail and instant message account that are exclusively used for Internet dating contacts. Yahoo and Hotmail offer E-mail service for free. AOL, MSN, and Yahoo have free instant messaging services. Make sure the names you use are generic like “joeonline” or “suzieathome” (avoid such names as “hotboy” and “luvrrrgrrl”).

2. Give your cell phone number instead of your home phone number, and dial *67 before placing a call — to block your number on caller IDs. If you don’t want to use your cell, engage call forwarding (about $4 a month) so you’ll be able to talk on your home phone, and you won’t have to give out that number.

If you don’t have a cell phone, arrange to be the one who makes the call, and be sure to *67 before you do.

3. Instant message if you can. “Anybody can seem witty and charming on E-mail,” says Griffen. “When there’s time to think and compose thoughts” even a snake “may sound like a prince.” Instant messaging is more like a real conversation, and when people are on the spot, “sometimes the wheels fall off the wagon.”

4. Don’t let E-mail conversations go on too long. “You can’t get to know someone exclusively through E-mails,” Griffen says. “If there are deal breakers like smoking or an allergy to cats get that out in the open soon, but don’t make your E-mails a questionnaire. Keep things brief.

5. When you finally decide to meet in person, as you would with anyone you’ve just met, make it in a public place, drive there yourself, and bring your cell phone.

Griffen’s advice to men: “Don’t show up with flowers or candy. It’s not the prom. She’ll be more impressed if you’re on time and clean. And anyway, if everything works out, you’re going to need that money for Valentine’s Day.”

“The Safe and Smart Way to Build a Relationship Through the Internet,” June 17 to July 15, 7 to 9 p.m. $90. For more information or to register, call 609-586-9446, visit www.mccc.edu, or E-mail ComEd@mccc.edu.

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