The Collegian
Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Members of Richmond community signing on to online dating

Neal Holly sent slightly different versions of the same e-mail to about 30 women who caught his eye when he joined Match.com during the summer of 2003.

Of the 10 responses he received, one was from a woman named Nicki. The two have been married since July 2005.

Neal Holly, area coordinator for Richmond College, joined Match.com with a few male friends in order to help one of them get a date. "If I hadn't done it, the others wouldn't have," he said.

Nicki Holly, an elementary school teacher in Chesterfield County, said she just had not found anybody through traditional dating. She had been a member of Match.com for about six months and said she was almost ready to cancel her membership when she got the e-mail from Neal.

About 20 million members have created online profiles, according to Match.com. Although many of Web site's members are looking for romantic relationships, Nicki wasn't especially looking for love. "I was very leery about [online dating]," she said. "I wasn't looking for a relationship. I was looking for more like a friend thing."

Neal and Nicki began e-mailing each other back and forth for about three weeks and then moved to instant messaging. After a few more weeks, the two began talking on the phone for four or five hours at a time, according to Neal, who readily admitted he disliked talking on the phone, but found it different with Nicki. He said he had never had that type of connection with a person before Nicki.

Nicki said after about a month and a half, they decided to meet up and go on a date. Because they had communicated a great deal, they said it wasn't really as though they were meeting for the first time.

"I already knew her before we physically met," he said. "I thought I had a chance of actually really liking her."

Nicki also said she thought there was a good chance at a relationship with Neal.

"He's totally different than anyone whom I had dated before," she said. "I decided to see where things went. There were no preconceived notions."

But as their relationship progressed, Neal and Nicki had to decide how to tell their family and friends about how they had met. "We used to not tell people [how we met]," Neal said. "I used to joke that we met in a club."

They said they mainly didn't tell the truth about how they met because of what their families might have thought, but eventually they told everyone, and there have been no problems -- only questions -- Neal said.

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"People ask a lot of questions about it," Neal said. "It's the same story you have to tell over and over again."

One of the people the couple told was Patrick Benner, associate dean for residence life for Richmond College.

Benner, his wife, Katie, and Neal and Nicki went out to dinner the summer before Neal started working at the University of Richmond.

Benner said although the Hollys told him how they met, the fact that they met through a Web site did not appear to make their relationship different.

"Once you have gotten to know the Hollys, you really get to know the Hollys," Benner said with a laugh. "It is what you see. They are a lot of fun -- never a dull moment."

The Hollys are not the only people on campus who have explored online dating. Richmond students have also become involved in the Internet dating scene.

A Westhampton College senior, who asked not to be identified, wrote in an e-mail that she had joined Match.com last summer.

"I was in Roanoke cause I was working nights and living on my own, and it was [southwest Virginia], so I didn't know anybody," she wrote.

Her profile informed other members about her, including her habits, education, religious beliefs and turn-offs.

Although online dating might seem to be a simple way to meet people, Neal and Nicki cautioned people to be careful while traversing the Internet for dates.

"I would recommend [online dating], but I would say go into it with realistic expectations of things that can happen," Nicki said. "And women need to be careful."

Neal said he wanted people to remember that first and foremost, dating Web sites are businesses, whose first goal was to make money.

"This is not a magic bullet," he said. "People should do the traditional way and the new ways of dating.

"If you are doing it because you are an introvert, when you meet in the real world, you are still going to be an introvert."

Neal said that although they met online, he and Nicki are no different from other couples who met through traditional methods except for one aspect: the story of how they met.

"You just don't have 'the story,'" he said.

"There's the, 'I spilled coffee all over her,' story but we don't have that.

"One day I'll be able to tell my kids, 'I spent $12 to find your mom."

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