FEATURE: Curious US dating forums boom on the internet
WASHINGTON, Jul 10, 2011 (dpa - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The internet dating market in the United States is varied, and it is booming: more and more websites are targetting particular social groups, and such specialization brings with it many curiosities.
For a long time, Kim sought a partner in vain in the country's rural areas.
"As a super-brainy girl in the Midwest, I was having trouble meeting a guy who wasn't intimidated," she says.
Being a geek has its problems, she notes. Fortunately, however, she found a dating site for people like her: Geek2Geek.
"I knew immediately my brains and my geeky side would be accepted, even celebrated, by anyone I met here," she says.
Geek2Geek.com is one of the countless US dating websites aimed at a niche.
There is also Ivydate.com, named after the academically elitist Ivy League. It offers to make "outstanding romantic connections a reality for highly driven men and women who value intellectual curiosity, love of learning, drive, and determination." They only welcome, however, those who have studied or worked at elite universities in the United States or Britain.
The site Horseloversconnection.com is not quite so demanding. Even owning a horse is no must, although profile photos often show one. The site's promoters make their intentions clear from the start.
"You are now at a place that brings serious country horse people together," the site says.
The dating industry in the land of opportunity appears to leave no one out, be they bearded men, bicycle-lovers, overweight people or pet fans.
And yet there is more to getting couples together than just special interests or hobbies. There are offers for specific ethnic groups or religious communities. Blacks can look for blacks, whites can seek out whites, Arabs can look for Arabs and Catholics can choose Catholics.
"Sometimes we wait for God to make the next move," says the website ChristianMingle.com.
And it warns: "The next move is yours." JDate.com, aimed mainly at the Jewish community, is one of the oldest niche-targetting sites.
Like the personal columns in old-fashioned newspapers, romance is a thriving sector, and the internet has long been a major player in the dating industry. The US market research institute Chadwick Martin Bailey estimated in 2010 that one in six US couples had met over the internet.
As of last year, there were "more than 1,500 dating sites" in the country, according to Mark Brooks, an advisor to several such sites.
"Many of the new sites are niche dating sites," Brooks says.
Spark Networks is one of the largest promoters of such businesses. It owns over 20 niche sites, including JDate.com. Developers around company boss Greg Liberman are not surprised that people pre-select their partners with a click.
"Most of us barely have time to eat lunch, let alone meet new people we want to spend time with," the company says to explain its philosophy on its own website.
Communications scientist Catalina Toma, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that the phenomenon is a normal social development, including the targetting of ever-smaller groups.
"The overabundance of people online (...) makes it difficult to navigate through all the options they have," she notes.
Narrowing down search criteria allows people to establish what they actually think is important. In general, "people prefer to be in romantic relationships with those who are very similar to them," the expert says.
Ideally, experts note, "super-brainy" Midwest girl Kim should get together with someone with equally geeky tastes. And Kim's own experience appears to support that theory.
"The first guy I chose to contact is the one for me," says this satisfied customer.
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