MANILA, February 13, 2006
 (STAR) By Mike Frialde - Is true love in the time of the Internet possible? While the jury is still out on this one, more and more Filipinos are logging on in the hope of hooking up with someone.

Francis (not his real name) is a 27-year-old online news writer for a large broadcasting network based in Quezon City. In his spare time, he logs on to a popular dating website as he searches to find the girl of his dreams.

Having recovered from at least three break-ups of "traditional" romances, Francis says it "is now easier to look for possible girlfriends online because they are also looking for boyfriends."

"It is so much unlike hanging out in a bar where you have to try your best effort just to catch the girl’s attention and start a conversation," says Francis.

For the past three years, Francis has been an active member of "Filipino Friend Finder" (, a growing free-membership online community of Filipinos looking to meet new friends or find love.

As of yesterday, the site said it has 421,969 active members worldwide.

Francis says he finds it more comfortable to meet women through the website’s chat room because everyone’s anonymous, identified only by their "handle" or the name a chatter chooses to go by. Some take the option of uploading photos to put a face on the alias.

Inhibitions are shed and chatters are more expressive because of the anonymity, Francis notes.

Filipino Friend Finder is just one of about 67,800 dating websites which pops up on the computer screen when you type "online dating+Philippines+Filipinos" on an Internet search engine.

Francis has so far met at least three women for dates or "EB" — short for "eyeball" — after chatting with them. But not all were the person they claimed to be.

"We would often meet for dinner. But most of the time, it would just be a one dinner date affair. I would soon lose interest after meeting them in person," Francis says.

During the dinner date, Francis recalls finding out that the women he met online had lied about the personal information they placed in their online profile.

"They would often lie about their age and other personal information. This is something that you should be careful about. Even their online photos at times do not come close to what they really look like in person. Minsan nga, close resemblance lang, (Sometimes it’s just a close resemblance of what they really look like)," Francis says with a laugh.

Reality bytes

Pretending to be someone you’re not — online, at that — is common but still a turn-off. On the other hand, there are worse incidents like what Francis experienced.

Francis recalls the time he met an 18-year old girl through the website. They chatted for a while and then decided to finally meet one Saturday night for an eyeball.

Francis became uneasy when the girl kept changing venues for their meet up.

First, it was Novaliches then she later sent a text message saying they should meet at the Gateway Mall in Cubao, Quezon City. Finally they settled in Libis also in Quezon City after getting a text message from the girl.

"I found it quite unusual that she wanted to change meeting places," Francis said.

Reaching the meeting place at Libis, Francis met his date, a slim girl with Indian features. The girl was with a lady companion and asked Francis if he could first accompany them on an errand.

"She (his online date) told me that she first has to go to a friend’s house nearby and get a cell phone which she had bought. I said okay and I went with them," he said.

To his shock, the two girls took him to a nearby squatters’ colony and through a maze of dark and narrow alleys that led to a small shanty.

Inside, Francis saw that his online date’s friends were having a shabu sniffing session.

"It turned out that we were really not going anywhere. They just wanted to drink beer and sniff shabu there. Buti na lang, hindi nila ako pinilit gumamit ng shabu (It’s a good thing they didn’t force me to take shabu)," Francis recalls.

"I just drank two bottles of beer and politely told my date that I am needed at home. It was all a blur, I cannot even remember how I made my way out of there," he said.

With that experience in mind, Francis is now being extra careful when meeting women online.

From virtual to something real

Despite the dangers of meeting strangers online, there are also encounters that actually end in blissful marriage.

Danilo Arao, a professor, is one of the lucky ones.

Arao, who teaches journalism and is an activist at the University of the Philippines, met his wife Judith "Joy" Lopez Balean through the popular Friendster.

Though not really designed for online dating, Friendster is also a virtual online community that "connects" people through networks of friends whether you’re looking for long-lost pals or to make new ones, or to start possible romantic relations.

In recounting his "wired" journey to the altar, Arao wrote in his personal essay entitled "Finding Joy in A Time of Crisis" that before meeting Joy, he was "already resigned to a life of single-blessedness."

"I was already resigned to a life of what Joy jokingly calls ‘single-blessedness.’ Nothing wrong with being single, I once thought, given the state of low wages and high cost of living, not to mention the possible distractions of being married in pursuing one’s advocacy," he said.

Arao recounts he and Joy were previously introduced when they were still studying at UP Diliman in the mid 80s. Soon after, however, Joy transferred to the UP Miagao campus in Iloilo on her fourth year where she became chair of the student council.

Upon graduation in the early 1990s, Arao stayed in Manila to work as a teacher and journalist while she returned to her home in Tabaco City in Albay to help in the family business and work for a government bank.

"At first glance, the prospects of meeting were bleak not only due to the physical distance but also our common disinterest in marriage and having children. In the age of new media, however, distance is never a factor in communication," Arao said.

"While we earned different college degrees — hers is fisheries while mine is journalism — and engaged in diverse professions, we had a common interest: the Internet. We both opened an account on Friendster, an online community, after being coaxed by our respective circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances — hers by a well-meaning cousin and mine by some faculty members and students," Arao recounts in his essay.

Arao said that in the second quarter of 2004, Joy found his Friendster account by accident when, out of curiosity, she checked out some profiles in the gallery section.

"Intrigued by what I wrote, she sent me a message asking if we knew each other. The correspondence started there, and soon enough we used other forms of communication like SMS, e-mail and landline," he said.

They eventually met again on the first week of May 2004 and started dating. And after "going steady" for the rest of the year, the couple decided to set a wedding date.

The couple exchanged vows and tied the knot on Dec. 28, 2004 at the UP Diliman chapel on the very same campus where they had met several years before.

"Soon enough, we agreed on a life changing decision that reflects the change in our mindset as regards mutual responsibility and children. We agreed to end 2004 by saying adieu to our being single!" Arao said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved