Her initial research took her straight to the source, the internet itself, where she posted a questionnaire on the newsgroup "alt.romance." From the many responses Gwinnell learned that internet love usually occurred accidentally. It would begin when a participant in an internet forum responded privately to another's posting, perhaps simply to voice agreement with a point. An exchange of messages might continue on a purely intellectual level.

Then, even in the most offhand manner, one of the two might reveal deeper feelings. It could be about anything--the weather, an annoying coworker, the death of a pet--but if the other person responded, the basis of the relationship would change from a shared interest to a personal connection. In fact, even though they had never met, they suddenly would be experiencing real intimacy.

"Intimacy is revealing things to others that make you anxious," explained Gwinnell. "Then you feel closer to them. You revealed something and they didn't reject you."

Intimacy "with a completely non-revealing typeface," as Gwinnell put it, leads to fantasizing about the person who is sitting at the other keyboard, and that in turn can generate romantic or sexy feelings. Putting a face on the typeface, however, leaves everything to the imagination because there is no sensory input, as there is in "3-D" (internet parlance for face-to-face relationships). Information provided by the other person, Gwinnell warns, is not to be trusted because internet romancers tend to enhance the truth when it comes to self-description.

For that reason, she advises the lovelorn to get as much concrete information about their cyber-heartthrobs as possible before getting too deeply attached. She tells readers of her book to ask the most basic of questions, the things that people who have actually met need never ask, such as, "Do you bathe?" or "Do you keep a neat house?"

In spite of the lack of tried-and-true ground rules for internet lovers, Gwinnell doesn't minimize their feelings for each other. As part of her research for the book, she studied the psychology of love. Her conclusion was that love happens. If it works out, we call it true love; if it fails, we call it infatuation. She personally knows a couple, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, that were married 24 hours after meeting. And she has read of couples who married on the day they met after months of internet romancing.

"It's as good a basis as seeing someone across the crowded room," she asserts.

Gwinnell herself has found love with a stranger, having met her husband, Marc, through the personal ads of the Willamette Week newspaper. She advertised for a New Yorker "to aid in search for the perfect pizza, good art, and as much romance as we can find." That was back in 1983, before internet love was conceived.

But for anyone who has ever pleaded "love me for my mind," the internet is the perfect place for a rendezvous. It has also been found to be therapeutic for people who are housebound because of physical or emotional problems, for agoraphobics, and for social phobics. Gwinnell says social phobics, people who are excruciatingly shy, tend to view internet interactions as safe risks. And people suffering from depression can share with members of depression support groups anytime night or day.

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