Rashi is like any other teenager. She has a lot of friends and loves talking to them. But it came as a surprise to her when one of her male friends asked her out for a movie. She said she'd think about it. A few months later, another friend asked her out on a date. Her reply was the same.
Most surfers find chatting on IMs (instant messengers) like Yahoo, MSN or ICQ the most convenient way to communicate online. They find themselves spending a large portion of their time using messengers. Most netizens chat with strangers initially and then add them to their 'buddies' lists. They start learning more about their online friends. Usually, one thing leads to another, and in many cases deeper friendships develop. Now, surfers are even finding suitable dates using IMs.
Rashida met Vikram on ICQ. They were soon good friends, exchanging pictures, chatting regularly online and talking on phone. On Valentine's Day, Rashida received an ecard from Vikram. They met a few days later and were soon dating regularly. Vikram turned out to be everything Rashida had imagined.
"We had smiles on our faces when we saw each other for the first time. It was like meeting a long lost friend," says Vikram. The relationship blossomed and Vikram even introduced Rashida to his parents. But after 20 months of a good relationship, Rashida and Vikram mutually decided to part ways. The reason is a common one - religious differences.
Puneet met Lucky online, and discovered they were in the same classroom, but hardly spoke to each other in person. They began to know more about each other through chat messengers. And before they knew it, a great friendship developed. Puneet recalls, "We spoke for a year before we met, so we really got to exchange our views without meeting."
Lucky says, "While chatting with him, I would forget all problems and just have fun. We made each other smile then. Today, we do more than that. We share our secrets and problems."
But are IMs the ultimate place to make new friends and to find dates? Vikram seems to think so: "I am an introvert and don't mix well in a crowd. Besides, I am shy when it comes to meeting girls. For me chatting was great because I am more at ease and can express myself better." Rashida agrees, "While chatting, you usually have no preconceived notions. It is better than meeting someone in a discotheque."
Sheetal met Aditya online in 2001. She didn't meet him for a year, but spoke regularly on phone. Fate stepped in. Sheetal once spoke to Aditya's friend Rishi when she called the former on phone. Soon they became good friends and have been dating for almost a year. When she finally met Aditya, she found him very different from what she thought of him. "He spoke very less online and usually answered in monosyllables. But when I met him I realised he was very open with his friends."
There are drawbacks in nurturing friendships using instant messengers. Sheetal says, "Many people lie about themselves and turn out to be very different from what they seem to be." Most agree unanimously with her. Puneet adds, "There are many desperate people around and they just want to talk dirty with others."
Rashida also points out that one tends to get addicted to chatting. Vikram pipes in, "People sit in front of the monitor all day long, and they don't go out and interact with people."
About chatting with strangers online, Lucky says: "You have to be very alert, and not be fooled, nor get too attached to the person you are chatting with." Vikram adds, "Get to know each other via emails and phone calls. Never give your real name and address until you are absolutely sure about the other person."
Sheetal goes one step further in exercising caution. "If you want to date someone you meet on the Internet, don't commit to it for at least a year. And do so only if you know them through someone else or are 100 per cent sure that the person is not taking you for a ride."
Puneet says, "Take a friend along, and do not make a plan for meeting directly on the Net. Get in touch and speak on the phone for a while."
Though it has its drawbacks, for the shy and awkward teenager, the instant messenger seems to have become an almost-perfect tool to find a date!
Numerous portals, that lets users create and view profiles, rate pictures, send instant messages to other users, and participate in message forums and event listings.