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Do You Believe in Love at First Web Site?

February 08, 2001|CHRISTINE FREY |

After he and his girlfriend of more than seven years broke things off, Joseph Noriel tried everything to win her back--flowers, candy, balloons.

Nothing worked.

Then, the 28-year-old accountant made one last-ditch effort and turned to a Web site that shot off an anonymous e-mail to his ex saying she had a secret admirer.

That did it.

"He's always been romantic," April Goltermann, 28, said after receiving the message from, "but I thought he really put some thought into this."

All new technology--from the printing press to the telephone--has changed how people communicate and mate. As people increasingly use the Internet to seek the love of their life, some, like Noriel, are logging on for help with existing relationships.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 15, 2001 Home Edition Tech Times Part T Page 3 Financial Desk 1 inches; 14 words Type of Material: Correction
Incorrect age--An article in the Feb. 8 issue incorrectly stated the age of Joseph Noriel. He is 34.

Web sites can scold a spouse for leaving the toilet seat up, compose breakup letters, even deliver marriage proposals. And as the impersonal nature of technology invades the most personal aspect of our lives, it might change much more than the way we communicate.

For Clark Benson, it already has.

The 33-year-old thought he had something special with a woman he was seeing. He thought wrong. After getting the brushoff, Benson came up with the idea for, which allows users to send anonymous e-mails to individuals with whom they'd like to be "crushed." Since its launch two years ago Valentine's Day, the site has made more than 300,000 matches.

"With the Internet, you can break the ice without any chance of getting rejected. . . . Most people don't make the first move because no one wants to be rejected," Benson said.

Unlike other forms of communication, e-mail enables people to discuss matters too embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about in person. But all this openness might actually lead people to communicate too much, said William Dutton, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication.

"Sitting there with the computer tends to have a dis-inhibiting effect," he said.

Established norms of behavior, which determine how we interact in social situations, are less defined in the online world, Dutton said. Because there are no fixed rules as to what's appropriate, some might choose to use their computer to tell loved ones how they really feel.

Which is exactly what Robert Welton did.

The 49-year-old was dating a woman who "committed every relationship no-no and faux pas that you can think of" when he decided to create the Love Police. The site, found at, lists about 150 love crimes--from not having enough sex to forgetting to call--with which victims can charge significant others. After receiving a citation, offenders can visit the site to enter a plea and post bail, which is set by the victims and can range from an apology to dinner to a conjugal visit.

Welton's girlfriend didn't stick around for the site's launch a year ago, but he estimates that more than 100,000 love offenders, mostly men, have been caught. "It sort of gets the issue in black and white. And once they sort of cross the divide, it's easier to make up," he said.

Such sites might be a cute way to catch someone's attention, but couples must be cautious that they do not supplant personal interaction, said Thomas Bradbury, a psychology professor at UCLA who works with young married couples.

Although it is difficult in the early stages of a relationship for couples to address certain issues, they should become comfortable enough as the commitment matures to deal with disagreements face to face.

"Communication is hard enough," Bradbury said. "I'm not sure if dumping it on your hard drive and sending it to your partner is solving any problems."

But for those who simply want to dump, the Internet can help with that too. Cyrano Server offers pre-written breakup letters that the disenchanted can customize for their soon-to-be ex. But co-creator Fraser Van Asch said that most people--about 5,000 to 10,000 a month--send them as jokes. The site, at, also offers Mad-Lib-style love letters.

Such mushy e-mails simply complement a couple's other exchanges. Noriel can attest to that. Though an e-mail finally won his beloved's heart, he knows that it would not have worked without a little something else.

"I still wouldn't forget about the flowers," he said.


Christine Frey is a freelance writer.

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