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Does online dating mean the end of ‘meet cute’ stories?

Helen Demong and Joe McPhilips, who met online, are wedded in 2010 in Paul Smiths. (Photo provided)

One day in 1998, on his lunch break, Henry Jakobe walked into a store on the Burlington, Vermont, waterfront, looking for a watch. Fortunately for him, the watch was not in stock. Though the clerk took his name and number and said she’d call him when it came in, Henry continued to visit the shop every day. The clerk thought he really wanted that watch, which had been back-ordered, but one day when Henry came to the store, he was already wearing it.

The clerk, Jesse (now Jakobe), was confused because the watch had not yet arrived at her store, but Henry told her that he had found it on a visit to Lake Placid. This led to them sharing their Adirondack connections: He had grown up in Saranac Lake, and she had spent most of her summers in Keene Valley. They both loved hiking, and one of their first dates was climbing Mount Colden. Many hikes followed, and eventually they moved to Saranac Lake, where Jesse now works as a speech pathologist in the school district and Henry works from home. They’ve been married 25 years. It’s a great “meet cute” story.

According to screenwriter Mike Bedard, “The term ‘meet cute’ originated back in 1938 in the film ‘Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife.’ Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper meet while shopping for pajamas, and it turns into a delightfully cute conversation.” There are many real-life “meet cute” stories, but will they go the way of shopping in actual stores now that online dating has taken over?

Back in February of this year, at a party, I was sitting with some friends talking about how they had met their partners. Henry Jakobe told the above story, and another friend had an equally sweet story that involved borrowing a vehicle and driving across the country. Then both men turned to me and my date and asked how we had met.

“Online,” I said. And that was that.

Henry and Jesse Jakobe of Saranac Lake met in a watch shop in Burlington, Vermont. As more couples meet online, cute meeting stories like theirs might become less common. (Provided photo — Shir Filler)

That was when I realized that sweet “meet cute” stories might end up becoming a thing of the past. Instead, we’ll just say whether we met on Match.com or OKCupid, Tinder or Farmers Only.

On the other hand, while meeting online may not always make for good party stories, it does have some advantages, particularly for people who live in rural areas like the Tri-Lakes region. It also, as Jesse Jakobe noted, can eliminate all the work of trying to figure out whether you and your prospective date have any interests in common. After all, if the watch had not been back-ordered, Jesse and Henry might never have discovered their shared connection to the Adirondacks and love of the outdoors, but on websites like OkCupid and eHarmony, you fill out long lists of questions to discover compatibilities with potential partners, and many sites even tell you the actual percentage of compatibility you have.

In an article called “How to Date Later in Life If You Live in a Small Town,” by Stacy Tornio, a woman named Tina from a small town in Oklahoma voices something I’ve heard many times from friends in the Tri-Lakes: “I feel like every few people I come across is either someone I know or work with.”

Clearly dating is not easy in a town with an adult population of 688, like Wilmington, especially when you factor in disparities in the population of men and women in different age groups. A woman we’ll call Carla was 50 years old and recently divorced when she confronted the reality that Wilmington has only 33 men aged 50 to 55, compared to 56 women. (All statistics taken from https://worldpopulationreview.com.) And that doesn’t even mention whether they are single. With a 59% marriage rate in the town, that left 13.53 men for 22.96 women in Carla’s age group. Tough odds.

So Carla decided to enter the online world. She started with Match.com, one of the best-known sites, but soon switched to eHarmony, as it had more of a focus on long-term relationships. Carla vetted her profile description by posting it on Facebook and asking friends for tips. She explained that she wanted to date online because “I like the idea of men and women having equal input into what they would like.”

This graphic shows the limitations a single person might face trying to meet a love interest in a small town such as Wilmington. (Graphic from https://worldpopulationreview.com)

Her profile said, “I am looking for a monogamous partner and friend to share my life with, care about and be cared for. To hike and ski mountains with. To go out to dinner and have adventures with; and to stay in and listen to music, cook, read and talk with. Human rights, and kindness are important to me.”

Some of her friends were afraid she was jumping into the dating world too soon; others thought she might be limiting herself too much by saying she wanted a monogamous relationship. But she went for it and met the man of her dreams on Match, right when she had just switched to eHarmony. It turned out “Jason” had seen her picture on Match just before she closed her profile, and he paid extra to be able to contact her but not be seen by any other women on the site. Two years later, Carla and Jason are still together: hiking, skiing, having adventures, listening to music, cooking, reading, talking and basically sharing everything. Yes, they live almost three hours apart (he’s in Vermont), and each has half custody of their high-school-age children, so they won’t be moving in together anytime soon. But they find time for each other just about every week, and they’ve already decided that when their nests are empty, they will find a place in the middle. So it’s about as much of a “meet cute” as you can get in the online world.

Carla and Jason’s story is a happy one, but it does illustrate one big issue with online dating — potential distance. Even when you enter in your profile that you are only looking within a 50-mile radius, you will often be offered matches from more than 100 miles away. That’s what happened with Helen Demong and Joe McPhillips, who met on eHarmony and are about to celebrate their 10-year wedding anniversary.

Both Helen and Joe had limited their search to a 50-mile radius of where they lived — which for Helen is Saranac Lake and for Joe is South Glens Falls. Joe had recently gotten out of a long-distance relationship. He was tired of traveling and had no plans to leave his community, but, “One day I went online, and up pops this picture of a woman on a porch with a blue shirt, playing guitar.” Joe was intrigued. Because of the parameters he had entered, it didn’t even occur to him that she might have been more than 100 miles away.

Meanwhile, Helen had also limited her radius, but she says, “I met a couple of people who said things like, ‘You should see my fancy car,'” or who bragged about their yachts. Not being into material things, Helen was not impressed.

“Then all of a sudden this interesting profile photo comes up,” she said. “Usually the woman initiates — eHarmony is very protective — but Joe had an upgraded profile, so he asked me a question.” She laughs because his question was whether her profile picture was really her, and if she could really play the guitar. It was, so they started chatting, and eventually moved on to phone calls, and finally an in-person meeting for lunch in Lake Placid. Lunch turned into a walk, which turned into Helen being late for a Peggy Lynn concert at BluSeed. Joe invited himself along, which led to a very small-town situation.

Heads were turning; voices were whispering. Helen is quite well known in Saranac Lake as the former music director at the high school and current director of the Northern Lights Choir. Everyone wanted to know who the gentleman was who had accompanied her to the concert.

Joe made it through that gauntlet and was impressed with how connected Helen was in the music and arts community. “I was swept off my feet,” he says. “I thought, this is really a special person.”

Somehow the fact that he lives 116 miles away (usually a two-hour-and-15-minute drive) is “not a problem anymore.” Joe still works as an attorney in South Glens Falls Monday through Thursday; then he drives up and spends long weekends with his now-wife of 10 years, Helen.

“EHarmony must have incredible algorithms,” says Helen, “and when so many common interests line up, they probably put a priority over distance.” It was definitely the right priority. Even though the couple is separated for half the week, they talk on the phone every night, and every call begins with Joe asking, “How is the love of my life?”

For anybody who wonders about online dating, Helen says, “Yes, there can be horror stories, but (a relationship like) this doesn’t just happen. We never would have met in any other way. We have nobody in common.”

It might have helped that eHarmony is particularly thorough in how it matches people up. There are numerous questions to answer. Helen explains that she was halfway through the 200 questions and thought, “Oh my gosh, why would anybody go through all this?” But then she started thinking, “Well, if you’re going to buy a car, if you’re going to buy a house, you have paperwork.” She finished the paperwork.

“We’re both strong individuals. We could have continued being single,” says Joe, but “I feel like I wake up in the morning and I’ve won the lottery every day.”

On the other hand, just like in the real world, not every potential relationship is a winner. Another woman, “Marit,” from Saranac Lake, had an online “meet cute” that did not work quite as well. She had been chatting with a gentleman on OkCupid, but she had backed off after meeting someone else. The gentleman, who we’ll call Thomas, worked in IT and could work from anywhere, so, taking a chance, he rented a house in Tupper Lake for a month and contacted Marit to let her know he was in the area. They got together, and it seemed like their story would also have a happy ending, but alas, no. Still, Marit has not given up. She switched to Hinge and met someone new. Who knows what will happen next?

And that’s the bottom line with online dating. Unlike dating in a small town, where not only is there a small pool of people in any demographic you might be interested in, online you can always swipe to the next prospect.

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Next installment: Dating in a small town for LGBTQ people. If you have an interesting story about dating in a small town that you would like to share, email Shir Filler at shir.filler4@gmail.com.

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