When Eastern New Mexico University employee Dan Pilon dropped an e-mail to a woman in China the word “marriage” was as far from his mind as the country where she lived.
After all, the 48-year-old Pilon was several months into the Internet dating scene as a member of Americansingles.com. He had exchanged e-mails and chatted online with females from England, the Philippines, Peru, Clovis, Los Alamos, Russia, Denmark, Washington D.C. and Florida, to name a few. And he had even met a few in person who lived in New Mexico.
Pilon, an assistant professor for ENMU’s Health and Physical Education department, said the first e-mail to 39-year-old Gong Xian Aying (first name Aying) of China was an initial contact that sparked over 1,000 more e-mails in about a six-month period, a trip to China to meet her family and eventually a marriage proposal.
“I’m 48 and I’ve gotten to the point where I want to find someone who has the same goals as I do, so you’re a little bit more cut and dry about what you’re looking for,” said Pilon, who noted he was on for one month before meeting Aying. “We both have the same goals, we want to share our lives with someone and we got along very, very well — so we’re going to make it permanent.”
Pilon said the dating service allowed him to quickly find a partner who has his same values.
“She was only on (Americansingles.com) for four days before I started hitting on her,” Pilon said. “And I’ve been hit on from women from all over the world. It’s kind of fun.”
Looking back at the methods he used to meet his future wife, Pilon said he has no regrets and is a big supporter of the Internet as a tool for dating.
“It’s sort of like predating,” Pilon said. “It’s a new world, and if you go in with your eyes open you will find that it is a great mechanism, a great tool to meet people.
“The way things are happening these days why shouldn’t we use every tool to meet people.”
Pilon said the profiles on the Americansingles.com allow for members to sort by certain criteria: education level, location, religious background, social habits and age.
The site has about 12 million members and has grown by an average of 3 to 4 million members annually over the past four years. In 2000, the site had about 54,000 members.
Officials with Americansingles.com say both marketing and society’s growing acceptance of Internet dating are main reasons for the increase.
“We’ve had tremendous growth, especially over the last couple of years,” Americansingles.com spokesperson Gail Laguna said. “There is a number of reasons for this increase: One reason is a growing acceptance of online dating.”
Laguna noted the system does have its critics. One problem often associated with Internet dating is member photos are not always a true representation of the person behind the computer.
“You always get stories of people who say well, I saw their picture and then when I met them in person I realized that picture was 10 years old and they’re 30 pounds heavier and two inches shorter,” Laguna said.
Despite such problems, Laguna describes Internet dating as an easier way for members to find a person who meets their standards.
“You’re leaving less to chance in Internet dating,” she said. “Waiting to meet somebody by chance in a supermarket who is your same religious background or something of that nature you’re leaving a lot to chance there.
“I think people are finding (Internet dating) as a more efficient, affective way once they define their values and what they want in another person.”
Like Pilon, ENMU professor Jim Lee also used the Internet to pursue a marriage to his wife Saundra Lee.
In the spring of 2001, Jim decided to look for some old high school buddies on classmates.com. He saw a profile for Saundra, who Jim had a crush on when they attended J. W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Mich. Too shy in high school, Jim never asked Saundra out.
“I told her that all through high school I wanted to ask her out, and she told me if I would she would have gone,” Jim said.
After exchanging e-mails 38 years later, Jim was finally able to get his date when he coaxed Saundra to come from Atlanta to Portales for a visit.
A few months later they were married, something Jim admits would have never happened were it not for the brave new technology of the Internet.
“All of a sudden she’s back in my life and my life is better than it has ever been before,” Jim said.