Internet dating is certainly no walk in the park...
Since the dawn of time, our instincts have told us to pair up and settle down for lifetimes of wedded bliss. Since the mid-1990s, computers have convinced us that anything is possible with a broadband connection and sufficient spare time.
And to some extent it's absolutely true. It's never been easier to order a pizza, plan a night out or compare prices of dried fruit celebrity lookalikes. But is broadband really all we need to find eternal happiness?
As we're about to discover, there is no shortage of love stories that start on the web.
Finding love online
Most of us know at least one couple who met over the internet. If not, you'll at least know someone who's tried to find "the one" online.
They're likely to keep it quiet at first - dating sites attract a similar stigma to Farmville addiction - but the first glimmer of success can make it impossible to shut them up. As a result, cyberspace is teeming with tales of true love from people whose Valentine's Days all came at once.
"Karen and I exchanged email addresses in May, then
communicated as friends for another few months. We got married in
the following March."
- Chris, eHarmony
"I met Darren online in June 2008.I'm pleased to report
that, nearly four years later, we're getting
- Eleanor, mysinglefriend.com
"I'd pretty much given up any hope of finding love. Now I've
found the most wonderful person to share my life with. So, keep
going because it can happen for you too..."
- Angus, match.com
In the United States, the dating site eHarmony is responsible for almost 5% of all marriages - that's 542 people who met on the web getting married every day. On this side of the Atlantic, it's match.com that claims to be responsible for more relationships and marriages than any other online dating service.
But the internet is a massive place, so knowing how and where to begin is sometimes the hardest part. The options are virtually endless.
Good places to start
On the internet, just like the old-fashioned dating game, everyone has their methods. These range from intense hours of Facebook stalking to pretending we "Like" things we really can't stand, in the hope of catching someone's eye with things you apparently have in common.
When you're looking for love social media is invariably a great place to start. Facebook is good, but it's mainly concerned with friends and family, so aside from the special one you've been pining for since primary school, it's a pretty shallow pool of romantic possibility.
Still, if there's a potential catch among your hundreds of friends, you could try a playful "poke" - what's the worst that could happen? This is all very well if you know who's the object of your affection, but not everyone has an address book loaded with Brad Pitts or Claudia Schiffers to choose from.
Luckily, there are social networks specifically designed to help you find the man or woman of your dreams. Below are just some of the dating websites you might've been tempted to try:
eHarmony - You know the drill - complete an online questionnaire and the eHarmony system will find someone who perfectly matches your "type". There are flaws in any such technology and trying to demystify the laws of attraction with a few minutes of box-ticking is bound to return a few bogus results. As with most dating sites, it's free to review your matches. However, you'll need to pay for membership once you're ready to make your move.
match.com - A similar format to eHarmony, but each site has its own database so it's worth casting the net as wide as possible. In its self-assured advertising, match.com claims to be responsible for more relationships and marriages than any other website. There's a handy app for both Apple and Android devices, meaning you can play the match.com dating game wherever you go. Try not to let it take over your life though - you can't hurry love after all...
mysinglefriend - It's the brainchild of TV presenter Sarah Beeny - who apparently plays cupid when she's not propping up people's crumbling homes - but don't let that put you off. The idea behind mysinglefriend is actually quite a good one. Sarah is notorious for setting her friends up, and it occurred to her that if we could all describe our single friends on a website, then they could check each other out without having to sell themselves.
Plenty of Fish - This one's a bit different. Once you've completed your chemistry test, Plenty of Fish (POF) will find personalities it thinks might lead you to a long-lasting, stable relationship. The website claims to match you with daters who are most likely to meet your emotional needs. Even if you don't know what they are, POF will try to find out. Following a quick "needs assessment" it says it can tell you where you've been going wrong and how to dodge heartbreak in future.
Soulmates - A dating site for window shoppers, Soulmates is powered by The Guardian and lets you dive headlong into the action without even signing up. Enter your age, location and gender, then hopefully scroll through hundreds of hotties you never knew lived on your doorstep. It's hard not to form snap judgements, as Soulmates insists you provide a one-line summary of what makes you great. They range from the boring to the bizarre.
Tips for online dating success
- Be honest - It's easy to say you're a doctoral philosopher, the hard part is proving it in actual conversation.
- Be realistic - Don't set your standards to high. And don't expect your matches to tick every box straight away.
- Be beautiful - The profile picture is the most powerful weapon you have. It helps if you're naturally photogenic.
- Be willing - If you're going to the trouble of creating a profile, at least take the time to respond - even if it's just a "maybe".
- Be funny - We've all heard how laughter is the best medicine. It's also the best aphrodisiac. Provided you're not the butt of the joke.
- Be original - Dazzle potential suitors with unique and quirky details about yourself. But don't waffle - less is more.
- Be patient - We've already said it, as have The Supremes and Phil Collins before us, but we'll say it again: You can't hurry love - you just have to wait as long as it takes.
- Be brave - Dating online can be scary and at times embarrassing. Shake off the nerves and put your best single foot forward.
How easy is it?
Anyone who tells you it's easy to find love has obviously never been single. The power of social media means we're more connected than ever, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easier to find a date.
For starters, there's a lot of competition - millions of singletons in countries across the globe - so you need to be interesting and stand out from the crowd. There are also certain pitfalls that exist in online dating just as they do in real-life soulmate searching.
Rejection is the big one. You need to be able to handle it, as every internet dater will experience the pain eventually. Whether it happens after a few emails or, more humiliatingly, at the restaurant as you await the first date, being rejected is horrible.
There's also a danger you'll catch someone on the rebound. Just as in the old-fashioned dating game, there are people online who think the antidote to a break-up is to jump right back into a bachelor lifestyle, but a jealous ex is the last thing you want.
You also need to remember that not everyone using the dating websites will be looking for a lifetime of happiness. Again, similar to the real-life date scene, some people only want one thing. It's best to make clear your intentions upfront to avoid wasting anyone's time.
Can anyone find love online?
The world's a big place but the internet gives us access to every single inch of it. So if it's true what they say, that there's someone for everyone, you should have no trouble finding them - provided you both have broadband and online profiles. But sadly the web is not a miracle cure for lonely hearts.
With internet dating, it's easier to put yourself "out there" - without actually being out anywhere - but relationships are every bit as challenging online as they are in the flesh. There's still no escaping the threat of rejection, and wires get easily crossed when everything's typed in a message rather than spoken.
It's also much easier to pretend we're something we're not online, so you really have to be patient, sensible and focus on friendship to begin with. Spend time getting to know people before taking the leap into meeting them for real, and always follow safety advice when making the move offline.
But remember, your broadband connection is only a catalyst - it's the human connection that makes for a lifetime of happiness. However, approached in the right way, it's true that the internet is helpful for anyone who wants to find love.