As concerns about relationships often pop up on the Connection, I decided to interview Jim, the founder and Webmaster of NoLongerLonely, a dating and friendship service for people with mental illnesses. Here, he tells us the ins and outs of finding love online.
CB: Tell us about NoLongerLonely.
JL: It started in December 2003 with 300 people and has grown to about 8,300 members.
CB: What's your back-story and how did the idea of a social networking service come to you?
JL: Like any entrepreneurial venture, you sense a need. I wished there was something out there for me. I'd been fairly good with computers and had an Internet business before, locating out-of-print books for people. In the earliest incarnation, in 1994, I had a site called Jim's Blues-n-Brews, a collection of links to good blues sites and beer sites. So I just thought there was a need out there for people like me at a certain stage in recovery, to be a comfort for people going through the same kinds of things.
CB: Your site has really taken off.
JL: It was a very slow build at first for people to put up a profile. It's picked up some momentum in the last year or two. I have some good ideas to explode the site and get a lot more people on there. We get 1,000 unique visitors every day.
CB: That's quite an accomplishment.
JL: Yes, because I do want to have some advertising on the site so I have a revenue stream. The common term is "stickiness" where people are coming back to the same site all the time. Hundreds and hundreds of people come every day now that we have a chat room.
CB: Is there a fee?
JL: There's no fee right now, and I stopped taking donations. In the near future there'll be a two-tier system: where you can get basic things for free, and if you want full access, there'll be a small fee at a fraction of what match.com or eHarmony would charge. I'll accept PayPal, credit cards or checks and money orders.
CB: Why is your online dating and friendship service vital now?
JL: As I said, it's because a lot of people out there at a certain stage in their recovery find it difficult to meet people. In the back of their mind they know at some time they'll have to divulge their illness and that they take medication. There's a comfort in knowing others have been through something similar, that's it's not a fault, it's something that happens to you, a biochemical disease.
CB: What can you tell a person looking for love online?
JL: Generally, women will get more attention online, part of that is, on my site, it's 60 percent men, and 40 percent women. Men might be a little bolder and a woman will get more responses than a guy will, particularly if she puts up a picture and is good-looking. It's just like anywhere else: if you're attractive, you'll get more attention.
CB: Isn't there a stigma about such dating sites?
JL: The online dating industry is huge-it's like a billion dollar industry and it's come out of the closet. It used to be a thing that was "hush-hush," and now it's become part of our culture.
CB: What's unique about your service?
It seems like people on my site are not quite as shallow as on other sites and are willing to give others a chance. Maybe someone's overweight or doesn't have a job. That'd be a problem on the usual dating services but here on NoLongerLonely people are more accepting and open.
CB: Tell us about your success stories.
JL: The fact that I've had 8 weddings shows I'm doing something right. Most of the weddings occurred with people who lived quite apart from each other and it got to a point where one of them moved over, they started living together and got married. Just the other day a woman sent me her wedding pictures.
CB: Where do your dates and mates come from-the U.S. or worldwide?
JL: The U.S. by far, and secondly from the U.K. I get 90 to 95 percent in the U.S., and a smattering of Australia and Western Europe.
CB: A while back I had joined NoLongerLonely. My first date was a guy named Jonathan who was sweet and charming, alas, I was nervous and afraid to pursue it. Some of the other guys weren't on the level.
JL: Well, there's so little I can do. I can set these things up so that if someone has a complaint or a person misbehaves you can e-mail me. There's risk involved in this like in any venture where you're meeting someone. A chronic frustration for me is that people are so open with their personal information on the site. For a while I was constantly warning people not to give their phone numbers out to people they haven't met yet. My prime concern is the safety of the site and that people act civilly. I'm an enabler, not a matchmaker.
CB: That's right. I remember one guy on his first e-mail gave me his phone number and even though we hadn't met, by the third e-mail he was talking about sex. It was a definite red flag.
JL: The web site has a link to dating tips where I talk about all this: don't give out personal information; meet in a public place, you know there are steps to take when you're doing this. You wouldn't go up to someone on the street and say, "Here's my number, call me." The Internet is no different.
CB: Any suggestions for where to go on a first date?
JL: It depends on how long you've been talking. If you've gone back and forth a month or two you can learn more about a person than if you've traded one or two messages. A first date shouldn't be for a long period of time. You should do it in a public place, like a coffee shop or a park, things like that. You can be creative-you don't have to settle for a typical meeting. Also on a first date there's a certain chemistry that you don't get online. If you meet for 15 to 20 minutes you can gauge whether it's a possibility or not.
CB: What elements does a good profile have?
JL: Just distinguish yourself. Nobody wants to know you like long walks on the beach and pina coladas and going to dinner. Give it a punchy headline that gets attention, let others know something about yourself that wouldn't be obvious if you just met him or her. Be honest; on this site you can be upfront and say, "Hey, I was hospitalized six months ago." Other people may be uncomfortable doing that, but chances are you'll get people who've been there and done that.
CB: Why should someone include a photo?
JL: Speaking statistically, from the whole dating on the Internet kind of thing, putting up a photo increases your chance of getting a response something like sevenfold. But I understand there is a security issue about wanting people to know you have a mental illness, so in order to browse the profiles you need to be a full member on my site.
CB: You're also a friendship connection. What are some benefits to that?
JL: When I started I thought it would be a dating site but it has morphed into a support network, too. I was talking to someone from Southern Tennessee the other day and she was isolated, no one understands her. She or someone else could write, "I had a bad day" and a person would respond, "Oh, tell me about that. Maybe I could make you feel better."
CB: How would a person search for a friend?
JL: Logistically, to find someone you could look at geographic area or do a keyword search. You could type in, say, golf, and if someone talks about playing golf you could find that when a profile comes up. All various things-say you have bipolar and are only interested in people with bipolar.
CB: Some people resist the idea of a dating service for people with mental illnesses. I applaud you. You should win an award.
JL: Thank you.
To join the NoLongerLonely social community, log on to http://www.nolongerlonely.com/.
Chris's Pointer: Modern dating protocol requires using a condom and birth control. For instructions, try http://www.trojancondoms.com/. A great web site for health, sexuality and relationships is http://www.goaskalice.com/.
If you're new to this, a good read is Dr. Judy Kuriansky's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dating.
Published On: October 23, 2007