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Watching Love.net, the newly released Bulgarian movie about love and sex on the Internet, provoked me to write about online dating from (my friends’) experience.

I just came back from studying for a semester in London (I normally study in Boston, MA). The Bosotn University study abroad program I attended was very well organized in terms of academics, internship, accommodation, and travel opportunities, but it significantly lacked in the social aspect: the classroom program was entirely of American students and we (the Americans and I) were in no way integrated with British students. Thus, our main way of meeting British students was through pubs, clubs, and… online dating.

Model and actress Dilyana Popova in a scene from Love.net

My girl friends came up with the idea. The four of them were disappointed that they couldn’t really make friendships at a club (you know, loud music and drinks do not presuppose deep conversations), so they created profiles in http://www.OkCupid.com, the UK’s largest free dating website. They put up some pictures and info and a status “looking for friendship” (at least that’s what they said) and started talking to boys online. According to them, this was the easiest way to learn about English culture.

My friends even went on several dates! One of them even took notes after her dates and called them “social/cultural experiments”. She actually turned up with pretty good cultural observations after these dates, which completely undermined my conservative position that online dating is sketchy (dodgy, if we use the British term). She learned about the London underground and alternative life from a tattoo artist and about the peer pressure that married couples exert on their male friends from a “chap” in his 30ies looking for his future Mrs.  Of course, online dating enabled my American friends to have their “Euro fling” too.

So the moral of my story is that: 1) To my surprise, online dating can actually provide real cultural immersion and a chance to meet interesting people that you might never think of approaching otherwise. 2) But still, Boston University should provide its students with safer means of meeting Brits that do not include the web and blind dates.

I’d love to hear your stories about online dating as a cross-cultural experience.

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The tagline of the new Bulgarian movie Love.net says "What do you think about love from first email?"

The Internet has changed every aspect of our modern society, even love.

Love.net is a Bulgarian movie about love and sex on the Web. The movie unwinds the intertwined stories of eight online dwellers and explores their motivation for looking for fun or understanding among the profiles of strangers on dating websites. As the characters of Love.net  struggle with unhappy marriages, suppressed desires, teenage curiosity, and moral degradation, they understand that the Internet is both what brings them together and what grows them apart.

In 2007, the producer Ilian Dzhevelekov cooperated with the administrators of Bulgaria’s biggest online dating site, www.elmaz.com, and asked its visitors to share their stories for the upcoming movie. In two months, their profile received 7,000 responses and over 50,000 views. These true stories, with all their sorrow and perversion, are portrayed in the movie by some of the best Bulgarian cinema and theatre actors: Hristo Shopov, Zahary Baharov, Koyna Ruseva, Dilyana Popova, Diana Dobreva, Lilia Maraviglia, and more.

Elmaz.com has over 1.6 million registered users (Bulgaria’s population is 7 million).  At every moment, there are about 10,000 users online. The movie captures the modern social phenomenon of online dating and provokes the audience to think about its controversies.

The movie is in cinemas in Sofia since this April, but will soon be available online and on DVD. I strongly recommend it!

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