Love at First Click?

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Alexandra Taylor, a teacher living in Maida Vale, wonders if we can still find love offline in the digital era.

"Have you tried online dating?"

In the past year I have been asked this question many times by friends and family eager to release me from my impending spinsterhood. My response is usually the same: "I’ve been thinking about that – maybe I’ll just do it."

This will inevitably follow with a search on various dating websites to which I can never quite bring myself to sign up to. It’s not the monthly costs that stop me. Nor do I think online dating is desperate or sad; I know for a fact that it is a great way to meet people. No, the thing that holds me back is the thought of actually meeting someone I quite like. More specifically, what stops me in my tracks is that now commonly used phrase that paired-up people up and down the land are using: ‘we met online.’ Because, deep down, what I’m holding out for is something that seems to becoming almost obsolete in this web based world: a relationship that begins outside of virtual reality.

One of my favourite lines from a film is from the 1996 Tom Cruise hit Jerry Maguire: "You had me at hello." Now, put aside the fact that these words are designed to make ridiculous women like myself melt. Instead, conside the message behind the words. To me, what the line says is that it is possible for you to fall for someone when you first speak to them. You shouldn’t need to online shop for a partner or write messages, texts or even ‘sexts’. Love can blossom without the help of a monthly subscription or an ‘About Me’ statement.

Love can blossom without the help of a monthly subscription or an ‘About Me’ statement.

The dating game has come a long way since Tom Cruise shouted ‘show me the money’ down the phone to Cuba Gooding Jnr. Things are well, a little more cyber today. Search for men aged 26-30 in London on MSF (that’s for the rookies among you) and you will find 325 pages of bachelors looking for Mrs Right. Type in the same criteria for women and you’ll see over 500 pages of single ladies. If this many people are wanting love, then why can’t they find it? Why does it seem so difficult to meet someone?

Whilst I’m not totally writing off the benefits of online dating, I can’t help thinking that it’s stopping us communicating matters of the heart in the simplest and most touching way: in person. Gone are the days when a couple spoke for the first time over a crowded bar or dance floor. People just don’t seem to chat over the photocopier at work or in the queue for the treadmill. In a 2011 Jerry Maguire, the aforementioned line would be edited to "you had me from the moment I logged in" or even "u had me @ hi." It just doesn’t sound the same.

Most of us are guilty of spending time ‘watching’ people (often strangers) on the web through various social networking sites. We can tweet, poke or message a potential suitor without even meeting them in person. The other day, I saw a particularly attractive man on the train. After spending the entire journey to work pretending that I wasn’t staring at him, my friend suggested that I just ‘go over and say hello.’ I couldn’t do it. After all, what would I say to him? It seemed easier to walk away rather than take a risk and put myself out there. However, this ‘sighting’ did make me realise that there are people out there to meet. Maybe it’s time I spent less time worrying about the online search for love and more time focusing on what’s actually in front of my eyes. I may just actually find what I am looking for.

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Picture credit: Rex Features