Englewood, Florida - His willingness to fly 1,170 miles to take her to dinner convinced Erin Heaps that she wanted to become Mrs. Anthony Aleo.
"We had an amazing dinner at The Columbia," said Erin after meeting Anthony in 2015 on the dating website ChristianMingle.com. After dining at the landmark Spanish restaurant in Tampa’s historic Ybor City, "he went to his hotel, I went home to North Port. He flew back to Chicago the next morning."
While the couple communicated for two months online, it didn’t take long for the real love connection after they had met in person.
"I knew that evening that I wanted to marry him," she said. "If he was going to drop his whole life to fly halfway across the country for dinner, he was totally the one.
"I grew up and lived in the area for a very long time and because of that, it made it hard to date," she said, adding she has a very visual position at her church.
"Not to mention, I was single mom. I wasn’t about to waste my time or time with my daughter to go out on dates with guys who weren’t 100 percent sold out to Jesus.
"So I joined Christian Mingle. I was probably on the site for 9-10 months before I met Anthony. It was really gut-wrenching when we had to drop each other off at the airport. It was filled with tears and really tight hand-holding. We would pray over each other before getting out of the car and count down the days until we would see each other the next month.
"Jesus is the center of our story and the foundation of our marriage," she said. "The only reason we are able to love each other is because God chose to love us first through Jesus Christ."
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The Aleos are among millions who met via an online dating site. According to The Knot, an online wedding planning site, dating sites have surpassed more traditionally popular venues as a place to meet a future spouse. That includes "through friends," "during college" and "at work."
For Dwayne Harris Jr., seeing Jalisa’s pretty face in her online profile caused him to stop scrolling and introduce himself.
"I didn’t really read her profile, I just saw her eyes and that was enough for me," Dwayne said. "I had dated in high school. My girlfriend passed away. After that, my longest relationship was four years. I worked 16-hour days and didn’t want to go to the bars to meet anyone.
"I thought about trying online dating to find someone who was serious. My friends thought I was crazy because there’s a weird stigma about online dating. I made a Plenty of Fish account. And my friends were right at first, there were some real winners out there. I went on a date with four women, but none of them were what I was looking for. So, I made a Facebook dating profile and Jalisa was the first person I saw. I shut down my Plenty of Fish account."
Jalisa had decided to create a free Facebook dating profile after ending a five-year relationship. She noticed Harris lived within a 10-mile radius. After talking to him for nearly two months, Harris asked her out.
"She was different than the other women," he said. "I didn’t want to go out right away. I wanted to take time to get to know her. When I finally asked her out, she said 'yes.’"
Harris brought two roses to dinner and treated a very shy Jalisa to a night of bowling.
"I felt comfortable around him," said Jalisa, who admitted to kissing Harris first on their second date after going to a hockey game. "We would text each other when we were apart. Then we made it official."
A year later, they learned Jalisa was expecting. Sadly, she had a miscarriage.
"Then we found out Jalisa was pregnant again," Harris said. "I picked out a ring for her. I had been thinking about it for a while. I knew I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life."
Jalisa said she didn’t see the proposal coming. She said yes. Today the couple has a healthy son, Avery.
"My best advice for anyone considering online dating is to be honest and don’t make stuff up," he said. "Be yourself and don’t be afraid because you really can meet someone you want to marry."
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While some, like the Harris’, take it slow, others including North Port City Commissioner Chris Hanks and his wife, Melinda, move a little faster.
"We met on Match.com and got married six weeks after our first date," said Hanks, who is also a pastor.
Hanks proposed on a Tuesday and that weekend, they were married. It was April 30, 2005.
"We had a private wedding by a lake in the woods with just the pastor and two witnesses," she said. "A friend at work blessed me with a bouquet and we got a cake from the bakery and rings from Walmart. It was simple, stress-free and intimate. It was perfect.
"For me, I had found the qualities that were must-haves like he had to be a Christian, smart, makes me laugh, wants a family, is a hard worker, and has to love Disney," she said.
"I just knew Chris was the one. Nobody on my side really questioned anything. It was just if I was sure. I think they (family and friends) saw the determined look, we both had and trusted our decision."
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Online daters Annette and Matthew Marmie also didn’t waste much time to get married after meeting on Tinder.
"I had no problem meeting people face to face, but I said what the heck after my best friend met her boyfriend on Tinder," Annette said. "It was weird, some people have no filter and are only out for one thing -- creepers.
"Out of about 30 people messaging me, I only talked to two with one being a firefighter from my work. But he did not ignite my fire. He was a sweet guy, but I had to drag every other word out of him.
"Then there was Matt. We hit it off right away. We talked morning until night for about three weeks. Three months later, we got hitched. If someone told me my story, I’d say they were crazy."
In just a few years, the couple has lost twins, battled cancer and other health issues, but now they have a daughter.
"We have also had a lot of great times, concerts, trips, and I’ve gained a whole new family," she said. "It’s been a real roller coaster, but we are in it for the long ride."
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For comedian and author Gid Pool, meeting his wife, Jane, was old school before online dating was a thing.
"We were both on AOL in their chat room," Gid said. "I was looking for information on New Jersey. She lived there. We met in December and I moved to Jersey in February and we got married in April.
"That was 22 years ago. She’s the love of my life."
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