Twitter's now a dating tool

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      Meg Fowler never thought she would find romance on the Internet. If anything, the 36-year-old Vancouver writer and blogger had always found the idea of on-line dating intimidating. For her, traditional dating Web sites hold little appeal.

      “I never thought that you could figure out much about someone from a profile and a picture that was specifically tailored to be attractive to your ideal mate,” Fowler told the Georgia Straight by phone. “I just thought that that was kind of innately artificial.”

      In 2007, Fowler joined Twitter as an early adopter of the now-popular social-media service. It was on Twitter that she first communicated with her boyfriend, Gradon Tripp, a Boston-based social-media strategist, in February 2008. Their first exchange provided little indication of what was to come.

      “He just randomly sent an at-message to me on Twitter saying that he liked my blog, and we started conversing back and forth,” Fowler said.

      Meeting a romantic partner on-line isn’t a new phenomenon, as dating sites like Lavalife and eHarmony have been around for years. However, social-media services like Twitter and Facebook are opening up new avenues through which people can make on-line connections.

      Monica Magnetti of West Vancouver–based Luna Coaching sees these services as being the dating tools of the younger crowd.

      “While Internet dating was at the top of the list of most outrageous things that baby boomers could do, the younger generation has taken that up a notch and are getting to know possible partners by Twitter,” the life and business coach told the Straight by phone.

      The advantage of social-media services, Magnetti explained, is that they “connect you to a wider world of people you wouldn’t know otherwise. So it expands the possibilities to a totally new level.”

      According to Ronald Lee, social-media services offer a degree of authenticity and intimacy that traditional dating sites do not. The founder and lead coach of the Vancouver-based dating-coaching company Man Meets Woman pointed out that while profiles on dating sites may offer only select details, social media can enable people to gain more insight into other people’s personalities.

      “Twitter and Facebook can be more intimate, and you get to know a lot of a person’s real details and what they’re really thinking or feeling,” Lee told the Straight by phone. “Even with Twitter, even though it’s only 140 characters, people, when they converse, they really get to the root of who they really are.”

      Fowler noted that the increasing role social-media services are playing in helping people connect romantically is tied to how these services are bringing people together for other reasons. Apart from introducing her to Tripp, Twitter has also been a place where she has met new friends and made career contacts. For Fowler, all of these connections solidified because these on-line relationships were eventually taken off-line.

      “I think [the reason for] the rise in Twitter dating, if you can call it that, is that there’s more and more tweetups being organized, and so people are just meeting more people in general in places that aren’t bars and aren’t typically date-y situations,” Fowler said.

      Tweetups—real-world social events organized by Twitter users—and other opportunities to turn on-line connections into off-line relationships can be important dating steppingstones, according to Magnetti.

      “People have to understand that finding a partner is just step one to being in a relationship,” she said. “A relationship is based on personal touch, talking face to face, and daily experiences to some extent.”

      For Fowler and Tripp, their relationship moved from Twitter to e-mail to phone calls. Then Fowler decided it was time to take a trip to Boston. “We just kind of noticed that we had an unusual amount of chemistry, and I thought, ”˜Hm, maybe I should get on a plane and go see,’ ” she said.

      Despite Fowler’s experience, social-media services are still a rather unusual setting for meeting people, according to Lee.

      The rise of social-media services doesn’t worry Kate Bilenki, the operations manager for PlentyOfFish, a Vancouver-based dating site. Bilenki told the Straight her company is confident that its service remains the best way for people to make a romantic connection on-line.

      “We find that people go on our Web site with the intention of dating, with the intention of finding a mate,” she said by phone. “Social-networking sites are not necessarily for that.”

      Bilenki asserted that, for the purpose of looking for love, Twitter is inefficient, as it connects users with a vast number of people, of which only a small percentage are possible romantic partners. “A lot of people on social-networking sites are married, they’re in relationships, and they’re not looking to date,” Bilenki said. “On our site, they’re looking for a relationship.”

      Even Fowler, who is moving to Boston this month to advance her relationship with Tripp, isn’t fully convinced that social-media services are the best way to meet someone. She acknowledges their meeting on Twitter was an unlikely event.

      “I think the randomness of our story is what’s interesting to people, because there’s really no reason we should have met or it should have worked, but it does,” Fowler said.