How Andrew Met Amanda: Internet Dating the New Normal for Happy Couple
By Deborah Salomon
In the immortal words of pop diva Pat Benatar: "Love is a Battlefield." Hooking up wasn't easy for Romeo and Juliet, Cyrano and Roxanne, Liz and Dick. The absence of matchmakers and strawberry socials, Sadie Hawkins dances and spin-the-bottle has changed Cupid's job description even more.
So, instead of cursing fate, singles grab the cursor.
Barely a year ago, Amanda Sawyer and Andrew Hickman were suffering battle scars from brief, youthful marriages. She was 25, he 28. Both are attractive, outgoing, grounded. Andrew is career military, a sergeant with two Iraq deployments behind him. Amanda was a special education teacher in Raleigh. Neither fit the Lonely Hearts Club profile.
Yet rather than blind dates and bars, Amanda and Andrew turned to Plenty of Fish, a free Internet dating site that employs a "Chemistry Test" to determine relationship and emotional needs.
Up pop the red flags: weirdos trollers, opportunists, predators, "catfish" (bottom-feeders who misrepresent themselves). Danger-danger-danger.
"My mother uses online dating," Amanda says, with mixed results. "One of her dates turned out to be a homeless man who lived out of his car."
Amanda's father feared kidnapping or worse. Andrew's parents worried about him getting hurt.
Yet, armed with precautions, Andrew and Amanda found each other.
Their first date was March 6, 2012 - two days after connecting online. They attended a concert in Chapel Hill, went to an oyster bar and talked until 3 a.m.
"We were having so much fun we didn't want it to end," Amanda recalls.
On March 22 they committed to an exclusive relationship. On June 1 they rented an apartment together in Aberdeen. By July 4, while lying on a blanket watching the fireworks in Pinehurst, Andrew proposed. He gave Amanda a ring on Aug. 17.
The circumstances mimic Valentine's Day commercials.
Andrew took Amanda to a jewelry store "just to browse," she recalls. He noted her selection. She, being a woman, recognized this classic charade - and played along.
"I needed a grand gesture, so every time we went out I got dressed up (expecting the presentation)."
What she didn't expect was a dash to the car in the pouring rain, without Andrew so much as opening the door.
Amanda didn't hide her displeasure. Andrew suggested she look in the glove compartment for tissues, to dry off. Inside was the velvet box - wide open.
"He waited until the only moment I wasn't expecting it," Amanda says.
They were married Dec. 28.
Andrew won't reveal his Valentine -surprise, only that it includes ... (redacted).
North Carolina romance novelist Nicholas Sparks couldn't have written it better.
Numbers support the cyberstory.
In the past decade, growth rate for Internet dating services reached 154 percent annually.
According to online Statistic Brain, 40 million of 54 million American singles have tried online dating. eHarmony alone has 20 million members. Approximately 52 percent are male, 47 percent female.
Common interests win out over physical characteristics for 64 percent of participants. Interest groups include Ivy League graduates, faith-based, vegan/vegetarians, animal fanciers, Green Personals, Geek2Geek and, for those carrying STDs, Bay Couples. In 2012, a whopping 17 percent of brides and grooms met through Internet dating.
However, numbers don't always add up to happily ever after. Ten percent of accounts were deemed scams. Of the singles who seek these services, 33 percent find a relationship, 33 percent lose hope and close their accounts, and 33 percent continue the search.
What may seem desperate if not dangerous to the grandparental generation came naturally to Amanda and Andrew.
Amanda, at 18, married her high school sweetheart, in a glamorous wedding. Andrew, who enlisted after high school, married at 24.
After painful divorces with slow recoveries, neither was looking for anything serious. Andrew left the military, then returned and was stationed at Fort Bragg. He calls Fayetteville "the wrong place for young single guys. I work with men, so I wanted to hang out with the opposite sex."
Newly single Amanda, living in Raleigh, had no problem finding companionship with or without dating sites.
"I could go out with a different guy three or four times a week, have a good time, make new friends," she says.
Both heard about Plenty of Fish - and that it was free, as opposed to $30 to $50 per month. They each created accounts and started messaging respondents who fit the desired profile.
"This takes the footwork out of it," Amanda adds.
However, she maintained strict rules: Drive your own car. Meet the date in a public place. Never divulge your home address. Always give another person (Amanda used her mother) the date's name and phone number.
To prevent misconceptions, Amanda put "not the best" photo of herself online. Not Andrew.
"I couldn't believe anybody was that handsome," Amanda admits.
They were forthcoming about their previous marriages, although Andrew had checked the Single, not Divorced, box on his profile. Amanda revealed her heart condition; without surgery, which she is contemplating, pregnancy is contraindicated.
They do confess one glitch in the dating process: too much, too soon, too intense.
"We freaked out," Amanda says. Wisely, aided by Andrew's military schedule, they cut back to hanging out afternoons.
"But I told my mom how much I missed Andrew. Then I texted him, 'Sorry things were such a mess ... come to my birthday dinner.'"
Still, for what seemed an eternity, Andrew wouldn't utter the M word.
"She talked about it all the time," Andrew says.
Amanda responds, with a giggle: "I'm old school, didn't want to live in sin."
However, after the dramatic proposal and ring presentation, their ceremony was ultra-simple, costing only $100.
At first, Amanda contemplated a vineyard wedding in the spring. Why wait?
"We wanted to start 2013 the right way," she says.
The couple spent Christmas with Andrew's family, in New Jersey. (Their parents have yet to meet.)
Amanda called nearby locations, learning that Connecticut had convenient license laws. They drove to Stamford, completed the paperwork, found a Marriott with a hall overlooking the Manhattan skyline, booked a justice of the peace and, with only a few in attendance, made their vows the next day.
Both wore street clothes.
"When you have love, you don't need a big wedding," Andrew says.
"If he deploys and something happens to him, at least I would have been his wife," Amanda continues. "I love him more than anything."
Or, in the immortal words of romance novelist Erich Segal, love - even in the time of texting and apps - means never having to say you're sorry.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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