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With almost 7 billion people on the planet, you’d think meeting people would be easy. The 2011 reality is that meeting that special someone—or anyone, really—just isn’t easy! And when I say “meeting,” I actually mean meeting. In person. Face to face. Human to human. Anyone can virtually meet people all day long on a computer, between Facebook, Twitter, Match.com, eHarmony and other networking sites. I know people who have thousands of “friends” online. Thousands!

But do we really know these people? Do we know their family story, their dreams and desires, their daily struggles? I doubt it. Frankly, the word “friend” is outright abused in the online community. One dictionary defines a friend as “a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.”

Whoa. That’ll make you reconsider who you call your friend.

And when it comes to online dating, this depth of knowledge and trust is taken to a much deeper level. I’m a member of a couple online dating sites. And let me tell ya—getting to the point of trust with some of these guys is an impossibility. I wonder if I could ever call him “friend,” let alone “boyfriend!”

And sometimes it doesn’t take long for me to realize it. Just a screen name in my inbox can raise a sea of red flags.

Like MakeUMeltAllOva. Yeah, he was a real gem.

Or smoochsmuggler. Charming.

Or how about justdoit0707? Um… how about just don’t.

Sometimes the red flags pop up when I take a look at their photos.

Question: How many men snap photos of themselves, shirtless, flexing, through the bathroom mirror?

Answer: Way too many!

Talk about an instant turn-off! If I wanted to date Congressman Anthony Weiner, I’d become a voting resident in New York.

Online dating is work. I have to sift through profile after profile, match after match… closing the creeps, blocking the freaks, and working up the courage to email the decent ones. And even after a few emails, I’ve only scratched the surface.

Truly getting to know someone—whether in social networking or online dating—requires meeting one another in person. For online daters like me, it requires that daunting, unnerving first date. It requires getting out of the car and walking into the restaurant—not knowing whether there will be instant attraction or complete embarrassment. (I’ve experienced both.) Makes me nervous just writing about it!

You see, it’s easy to talk about your deepest fears and greatest joys online. It’s easy to post a flattering photo of yourself, edited and Photoshopped to perfection.

But reality is a different story. There’s no rewind, no Ctrl+Alt+Delete. It’s real life, in real time—the real you.

Think you can handle it?

~Ruth