As recently as four months ago, Amy Pridgen, a lifelong Texan, had no plans to ring in the New Year 1,500 miles away, much less to navigate her way through Pennsylvania snowstorms to move into a new home in Pittsburgh. But love can bring lots of surprises.
Pridgen, 36, made the move from San Antonio to be with her partner, Rhea Whitfield, whom she met in a chat room in October. "We just started casually talking," Pridgen says, "and everybody else [in the chat room] disappeared."
After a week of phone calls and E-mails, Whitfield, 49, was so smitten that she took a break from her surgical residency and flew down to San Antonio in mid November.
"I thought, OK, we'll try this," Whitfield says. "If I don't like it, I can always get back on a plane and go home." Instead, what Whitfield found difficult was getting back on the plane at all.
Pridgen says the decision to move in together weighed heavily on both women, but both are absolutely certain that it's the right decision. "It's a big step for me to leave Texas," she says, "but it's worth it. I've found my all-in-all."
While not every couple who have met on the Internet develop as serious or as immediate a relationship as Whitfield and Pridgen did, an increasing number of lesbian and gay singles are finding that using the Net can increase not only the quantity of potential dates but the quality as well.
"People who meet through the Internet usually engage in substantial correspondence before they actually meet in person," says Todd Nelson, director of marketing for Gay11.com, an Internet dating service for gays and lesbians looking for long-term relationships. "That means that they already have some idea of what the person is like before they even go on a date. It gives a couple a bit of a head start."
Using the Internet also can be an icebreaker for people who are shy in social situations. "I would have never gone up to [Jeff] for the fear of rejection," says Marc Vera, who met his partner, Jeff Cervoni, through a gay social site. "Our paths would have never crossed."
Vera, 25, and Cervoni, 30, were both familiar with Internet dating before they met in September 1998. Cervoni, a Rochester, N.Y., software developer, says he's posted personals as far back as 1995. And Vera started frequenting chat rooms as a student at the University of Rochester in 1997. Still, both say they viewed the personals section of the local site GayRochester.com with some indifference. Vera says he never expected to meet someone he might have a long-term relationship with, which was why, he was less than serious when he posted his own personal ad in September 1998. Under the height category, for example, he wrote "tall enough to ride the roller coaster."
"I didn't think anybody was going to write back," he says.
Cervoni says that Vera's irreverence is exactly what caught his eye. After exchanging a few E-mails, the two saw Titanic on their first date …