Sunday, February 11, 2007

For happy couple, dating service was good idea

About two years ago, Steve Filley was a busy El Paso businessman and divorced father of four boys.

Though his weekends were filled with soccer and baseball games, Filley was contemplating the dating scene. He just wasn't sure how to start. Friends didn't have many single acquaintances, and he wasn't a bar-goer.

Five hundred miles away, Jaclyn "Jackie" Kelley was a contractor living with her parents and her 9-year-old son, Blake, in Canyon Lake near San Antonio. After almost five years of being single, Jackie was ready for a meaningful relationship.

Both tapped into the Internet around the same time in the spring of 2005. After several uneventful pairings, Steve and Jackie were matched on April 12 by

Thousands of keystrokes later, Steve and Jackie Filley are living proof that love can be sparked, and can flourish, by otherwise cold and impersonal technology. They have now been married for seven months and are sharing a home with their five children in El Paso.

The couple's online love story was selected by eHarmony as the Success Story of the year for Texas. The online dating service selected one couple, either engaged or married, from each state.

Officials say the selections weren't easy.

"There are so many amazing stories to tell. On an average day in America, more than 90 eHarmony members marry as a result of being matched on the site," said Lou Casale, vice president of corporate communications.

Casale said about 10,000 to 15,000 new users register every day, looking for assistance in picking someone just right for them.

"Out of all the people you will meet in your life, only a very few would make a great relationship partner. Some aren't attracted to you. Others aren't ready for a relationship. ... That's where eHarmony starts," he said. The service guides the communication between potential matches.

Looking back, Jackie says eHarmony probably did a better job of finding her a companion than she could have on her own.

"It's not like you go through and pick, 'Oh, that one's cute.' And so based on what you filled out, they choose people who, maybe, you wouldn't have given a chance or even looked at," she said.

Both she and Steve chuckled as they thought about that, sitting across each other in the office of the Escuela Montessori del Valle where they both work.

Steve is the business director, and Jackie is the administrative assistant. Both work for Steve's mom, Marti Filley, the founder of the school and educational director.

"If we had met 10 years ago, we wouldn't have looked at each other. I was attracted to bad guys," Jackie said.

With his clean-cut face and boyish hairstyle, Steve knows he's nowhere near Colin Farrell status.

For the devoted father, it was a blessing to find another individual who understood the responsibility of being a parent.

"Even when the kids are with their mom, I have a busy schedule. And we both understood, especially in a second marriage where kids are involved, that it can't be about us," Steve said.

Both are churchgoing, involved parents who have close relationships with their extended families.

"One of the things that really stuck out to me in his profile is that he said he's not looking for a mom for his kids. He was really good at taking care of them and just wanted someone who would be a good partner," Jackie said.

In a matter of days, the two were e-mailing each other several times a day. Friends teased them about the possibility of their being connected to a possible stalker or a loner in a basement. But the two laughed off those suggestions and continued to build on their friendship.

They decided to meet face to face when some of Steve's sons played in a soccer tournament in the San Antonio area on Memorial Day weekend 2005.

"What was interesting was that the soccer field was 10 minutes from her house," he said.

The trip was a chance not only to get to know each other better but also to see how all the children responded.

"The rest of the weekend, we all kind of hung out and it was more a family meeting," Jackie said. Some of Steve's boys went fishing with Jackie's son and even stayed overnight.

Steve returned home feeling positive about the relationship, and the e-mailing continued. About once a month, Steve or Jackie would fly for a visit.

Jackie said her mother knew Steve was the one when she saw that Jackie was willing to get on a plane to El Paso. "I just didn't fly," she said.

Steve proposed to Jackie March 15 -- his birthday --and the two married July 8 in a traditional church wedding in Jackie's hometown.

Though she and her son moved away from her parents, the move to El Paso was a good step, Jackie said.

"I had said one time to a friend that if I met a nice dad with a bunch of kids that ... could just grab a blanket and all be one big happy family, I would do it," she said.

"And a few days later, I met Steve."

Carol Cofer, Jackie's mom, said her daughter was lucky.

"To be honest, I was hesitant about her meeting someone online," she said. "I was scared that whoever she was talking to would not be real and honest."

"But Jackie has a good head on her shoulders. And Steve is a great father and very family-oriented. And there's a lot of similarities between Jackie and Steve --Êbut also with our families," she said.

Steve's mom, Marti Filley, who sees her daughter-in-law almost daily at work, also believes Steve caught a good one in Jackie.

"She's been a blessing to our family and a breath of fresh air," Marti Filley said. "And they balance each other really well. She's got a lot of energy, and he tends to be more deliberate in how he does things."

Both families also have embraced the new grandsons.

"We used to say, What woman would want a man with four boys?" Marti Filley said. "It's like God answered our prayers -- and to top it off, we got an extra grandson."

The couple think commercials are pretty goofy. But they could also see themselves in that very spot, promoting online dating.

"Oh, yeah," she said, "I can totally see us being on it."

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