Dating in the digital age

MINNEAPOLIS - Dating. It starts out awkward; so much so it has to be documented by our parents or our date's parents on that first dance date. We have all been there.

Belinda Jensen started breaking hearts in hoop dresses back in 1986.

Shaver claims he had two dates in his teens, albeit with the same girl (so that is really just one, Shaver.)

And Julie clearly figured it all out when she met her prince in middle school.

But not all of us were so lucky.

For the last several years co-mingling has moved from the happenstance of fate to a cornucopia of matchmaking websites.

We create our perfect single-self avatar and then start looking for the perfect match behind the safety of the screen.

"We say we are looking for somebody that does this, doesn't do that and as soon as we go through those shopping lists we go click," relationship expert and assistant University of Minnesota professor Dr. Tai Mendenhall says.

The perfect profile photo married to your list of must haves and never woulds.

It's worked for many people and now there are sites for singles in every nook and cranny.

There's even a hook up site for Packer fans only and single farmers looking for love.

Too lazy for that? Try Tinder. It's an app for smart phones that is basically the buffet of singles in your area at any given time with photos for you to check out and swipe right if you don't like, swipe left if you do.

If the person you swipe to like on Tinder does the same for you, you are then allowed to chat on the app.

Pretty romantic stuff. But the best way to latch onto your match is as old school as the rotary phone.

"I think that your best friend is 99% of the time going to be the better judge," Dr. Mendenhall said.

Friend's and family still rank as the expert's number one choice for playing cupid.

For good reason. "Our friends and family often times know us better than we know ourselves and they are also able to be a bit more objective," Dr. Mendenhall points out.

This is why an idea by a couple of savvy Uptown folks to make that old school concept hip again makes perfect sense. The Singles Exchange, invented by The Grown-Up Club held its first swap meet a couple of months ago.

Its premise is pretty simple; match-making by best friends.

It works like this: The best friend presents the person available to date to a room full of the best friends of others wanting to date as well.

The result was that the best friend's choose who works for their guy or gal and they exchange information at the end of the night.

Why? Because the actual dater is taken out of the game and that is good because the actual dater doesn't usually see people objectively.

They just see a pretty face or a cool job and pay less attention to other attributes, or faults, that could be deal breakers. Friends don't do that for you. Friends see you and then they see who you should date.

Another Twin Cities couple had nearly the exact same idea, they just did it online. "The concept of meeting through a friend is nothing new. We just made it a little bit easier through an online system," Tony Kramer, founder of the website and soon to be app, SparkStarter.

SparkStarter is the internet version of the Singles Exchange. "On the single side you can search through friends of friends. Kind of like the LinkedIn concept for dating. And on the matchmaker side you can go in and set up two friends," Kramer said of the site.

SparkStarter uses your Facebook profile information for photos and "likes" so you have to be a Facebook user for it to work.

But the point we all know is, online isn't new for mating and dating.

We singles just need to keep in mind to stick to it as a means to an end, not depend on the web gods to do everything for us.

"Get the heck off of your computer and go meet each other," Dr. Mendenhall said as his final cautionary advice to would be daters.


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