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Are you I.R.L.?

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One Long Islander's search for real friends in the virtual world By Patricia Proven Last October during a party in Salem, Massachusetts, I was the only person without a costume. As it turns out, I ...

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One Long Islander's search for real friends in the virtual world

By Patricia Proven

Last October during a party in Salem, Massachusetts, I was the only person without a costume. As it turns out, I didn't need one.

Peculiarity already shrouded me, as I was also the only guest who hadn't met on the Internet.

The discovery came after a woman in her 20s, in a black-velvet gown and with fake blood dripping from a band-aid on her head, started chatting up my friend. He introduced me with his party line: "She's from my hometown."

The Goth goddess slid a black-eyelined glance at him, then back at me.

"Oh," she said, then shrugged. "You're I.R.L."

Bewildered, I assumed her remark was poking fun at my lack of a costume. It was the Saturday before Halloween, after all, and my friend had only told me about the party that night.

"Excuse me?" I asked. "What's I.R.L.?"

"You know, In Real Life," she said, flatly.

At that moment, I felt everything I understood about "real life" drop away. I mean, this was a party of people who had little connection with one another outside of an Internet message board on Craig's List.

That was weird, right?

But arriving as I did with a friend I had made I.R.L. - at school, before the days you could earn diplomas online - made me the strange one, if not something of an artifact.

Computers are ubiquitous. Almost everyone knows of someone who befriended, dated or married a person they met in the Web world. Doesn't anyone meet, in real life anymore?

When I moved from Boston to Long Island, I found the answer to be an nagging "Nah."

Many people my age - in their 20s and 30s - had moved off the Island, like I had. Everyone was seeking a greener field, whether for school, the city, the West, warmer weather or a cheaper way of life. Others were busy starting professional lives or families -- or commuting on the LIRR -- and had no time to mingle.

Coming back to L.I., I realized that driving to and from work everyday and flopping on the couch in front of a DVD didn't exactly make a social life. Starting fresh meant I'd need to meet new people. And the readiest community center seemed to be on the Internet.

The range of ways to meet people in thin air is outstanding: from online personals at Match.com to Suffolk County interest groups at Meetup.com.

I decided to take the leap. Thinking back to my encounter at that party, I started with the New York section of www.craigslist.com. I clicked into "Groups," entered the Long Island area, and posted a message to other Earthlings looking to meet people I.R.L.