Living

Local couples find love online

By MELISSA FOLLOWELLmfollowell@bradenton.com

Tami Mannel knew exactly what she wanted for Christmas in 2005. "I told my friend, 'I want a boyfriend,’ ” Mannel said. Having tried several online dating services to no avail, Mannel decided to give it one last shot with eHarmony. John Pollock also had been discouraged after trying several online dating services, but something about the eHarmony commercials made him give it one last shot. Using a Christmas bonus, Mannel paid the monthly fee so she could e-mail Pollock and the two met just three days before Christmas. "He was my Christmas present to myself," Mannel said. The couple is now engaged and living in Sarasota. In the age of instant gratification, more and more people are going online in hopes of finding love these days and, believe it or not, a lot are finding what they're searching for. When eHarmony decided to sponsor the Tampa Bay Rays' Kiss Cam and rename it the eHarmony Cam, the company decided it should find successful local couples for each of the team's 81 home games. They had no problem doing so. Mannel and Pollock will be featured at the May 13th game. With eHarmony having logged 19 million users, the company says that 236 people are married each day after meeting each other on eHarmony. Getting on eHarmony means having to take the time and answer more than 250 questions about yourself because the service looks to match people based on compatibility. "You also have to be honest with yourself, otherwise it's a waste of time," Pollock said. He is still amazed every day how many things he and Mannel are compatible on, he added.

It's a match Todd Walters' identical twin brother met his wife online, so when the dating scene proved more frustrating than fulfilling, Walters turned to Match.com. He didn't know it then, but the third woman he went out with would become his wife. "We already knew before we met face to face that we were compatible," Todd Walters said. Kelly Walters received so much mail on Match.com that she had to make her account inactive, but Todd's sense of humor came through in one of the e-mails and caught her attention. Having both been married before, the Bradenton couple knew what they were looking for in a mate and life partner. They were honest about what they wanted and made a connection. The two married less than a year after meeting and had a baby girl named Sienna in August. Kelly Walters' 9-year-old son, Nicholas, lives with his his mom and stepdad, who are quick to encourage singles to give online dating a shot. For Kelly Walters, the biggest attraction to online dating was the speed at which you can get to know someone. "If you meet someone out and are attracted to them, when you start dating it takes you three months to get down to the nitty gritty," Kelly Walters said. She recommends it to people who are pressed for spare time but want to find someone to spend it with. Match.com is the largest online dating site, according to Guinness World Records, and has added more compatibility features throughout the company's 13-year history. While many young professionals are turning to online dating sites, there are more and more people over 50 joining as well. According to Match.com, its fastest-growing client base is in the 50-and-older age group. A WeddingChannel.com survey in 2005 found that 12 percent of engaged or recently married couples met online, a number experts say is growing. Whether it's just easier for people to be open and honest via e-mail or other communication or it just makes it easier to weed through millions of singles to find someone looking for something similar, the stigma about online dating seems to be diminishing, if not disappearing completely. Both Pollock and Mannel have submitted their story to eHarmony to use, and the Walters are eager to tell the story of their whirlwind romance. You might not be able to hurry love, but a little nudge seems to be all it takes to get some couples on their way to happily ever after.

Dating Web sites www.match.com: Basic, one month subscription $34.99, see Web site for other offers. www.eHarmony.com: Basic one month subscription, $59.95, see Web site for other offers www.yahoopersonals.com: Basic one month subscription, $29.95, see Web site for other offers www.lavalife.com: Basic one month subscription, $39.99, see Web site for other offers

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