If there was a stigma attached to online dating when single people first began looking for love on their computers, it is diminishing. Dating websites are booming. Ask a giddy new couple how they found each other, and you are likely to get a proud proclamation instead of a whispered, embarrassed response: “We met online!”

These days, everyone knows someone who found their soul mate through a dating website. Whether it be Match.com, Jdate.com, eHarmony.com, or any of the countless other sites that bring people together, it is clear that computer dating has become a popular path to romance. Just from September, 2008, to January, 2009, eHarmony.com posted a 20 percent increase from the previous year. According to statistics from Match.com, that site grew by 20 percent in the first three months of 2009.

Yet there are still many singles who are skittish about signing up for an online dating service. They, and others who may be ready but not sure how to proceed, are the target audience of “Seven Strategies for Online Dating: A Workshop for Spiritual Singles,” being held Saturday, May 15, at the Center for Relaxation and Healing in Plainsboro. Robynn Thomas, a South-Brunswick-based certified life coach, will be the facilitator.

“What it boils down to is what kind of dating you are looking for,” Thomas says. “Do you want a long-term relationship? Are you looking for something short-term? The first step is to determine where you are and what type of dating you are ready to dive into.”

This is the second singles-related event being presented by the Center for Relaxation and Healing. Director Michele Engoran tapped Thomas for the upcoming session after the surprising success of an earlier program. “We had tried an event geared toward singles a few months ago, and it was really well received and well attended,” says Engoran. “It got me thinking that for us, at least, this was an untapped market. There is a need out there; maybe a void. And there are a lot of people who might be trying this for the first time and need some help.”

Engoran speaks from experience. “I am a success story myself,” she says. “This isn’t the reason I’m doing this, but I was out of a relationship for two years. I was looking at sites and hesitant at first. And I found the love of my life on eHarmony.”

Even before she became a life coach, Robynn Thomas was one of those people with whom others found it easy to share their stories. She was raised in the suburbs of Detroit. Her father was in the Air Force and her mother worked for United Airlines. While they divorced when she was seven, Thomas, an only child, says she had a happy upbringing and loved her step-parents.

“Through my mother I had opportunities to travel, so after college I wanted to get out and see the world,” Thomas says. “I did that for awhile and then lived in Houston, where I became a flight attendant for Continental. When you do that job, you get close to the people you work with. People would always seem to come to me when they needed relationship advice. We talked about that stuff a lot. I started thinking that maybe I wanted to do something else, maybe with psychology, which had always been a passion of mine.”

After a decade of flying, Thomas went back to school. She had settled in New Jersey by then, and enrolled at Rutgers. “I was going to go through with psychology but then looked into coaching, because I had always been on the path of self-help, self-discovery,” she says. “I decided to do it. I studied at the Institute for Life Coach Training. I got certified in 2006 and have been coaching ever since.”

The Institute for Life Coach Training is in Colorado, and Thomas did her matriculating over the phone — an appropriate method since much of her coaching, which focuses on singles and relationships, is by phone. “I do have some clients in person but most of coaching happens over the phone,” she says. “It seems to be a trend. It’s convenient for most people. I even had a client in Korea when Skype became popular.”

Thomas starts with what she calls an intake session, covering the client’s goals and information. She offers two packages: two 45-minute sessions with one optional group coaching session for $200/month; and four 45-minute sessions with two optional group coaching sessions for $400/month. Both include unlimited E-mail support.

“Coaching is a designed relationship in which I support the client in whatever they want to do,” she says. “The difference with singles and dating coaching as compared to business or executive coaching is that this is more work around you. It is self-discovery, knowing what they’re looking for in a relationship and how to get out there. The important work is done in the beginning with this self-discovery because most of what we don’t know about ourselves is below the surface.”

The workshop at the Center for Relaxation in Healing will help singles navigate the increasingly complex world of computer dating and come up with a plan of action. “The strategies for the main part will help people utilize online dating in an efficient way,” Thomas says. “You need to know when others are being dishonest. You need to know how to deal with virtual relationships that are not in person, then how to go about dating once you have met them online. We’ll talk about writing a profile, and having clarity about what you’re looking for.”

There are certain dangers to watch for when using online dating sites. “Some people will misrepresent themselves,” Thomas says. “If you’re a single woman, don’t give out personal information like your address until you have established some sort of relationship. Look out for people who are already in relationships, serial daters just looking for someone to hook up with. There are sites for those as well, so you want to be on the right site for you. It comes back to being smart, efficient, and able to notice if something doesn’t seem right. Identify the red flags and trust yourself, and it’s a fairly safe way to meet someone.”

Thomas emphasizes that computer dating is not the only way to find a mate. “It’s a great tool but it should be a tool along with other things. People get addicted to just being online. It’s all of the fun stuff without going to the bar — meeting, talking, pretending. But it’s not the only way.”

Both Thomas and Engoran hope that the workshop will be the first of many collaborations. “Robynn is very easy to listen to, very approachable,” says Engoran. “She’s grounded and credible but at the same time she’s inspiring. I want to try and do some regular things with her as support for singles and creating a social outlet.”

Unlike Engoran, Thomas has not had personal success with online dating. “My personal spiritual beliefs are when it is time to happen, it’ll happen,” she says. “But I certainly don’t have a problem with it. If I decide tomorrow to try it again, that’ll be my route. I just think when you’re ready, you’re ready. You can meet that person online or at the grocery store.”

Seven Strategies for Online Dating, Center for Relaxation and Healing, 666 Plainsboro Road, Suite 635, Plainsboro. Saturday, May 15, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. How to create a profile that attracts the right person; the four essential dating skills; and how to use online dating to get desired results. Presented by Robynn Thomas, a certified life coach who works with singles. Register. $22. 609-750-7432 or www.relaxationandhealing.com.

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