Will you be spending Valentine's Day eating a pizza for two alone in front of the TV? Well why not see if you can find someone to share it with next year online? Allow us to play Cupid with our guide to internet dating...
Since the dawn of time, our instincts have told us to pair up and settle down for a lifetime of wedded bliss. Since the mid-1990s, it's become increasingly easy to believe than anything is possible on the internet.
And to some extent it's absolutely true - it's never been easier to order a pizza, plan a night out or seek out photos of dried fruit celebrity lookalikes. But is the internet really all we need to find eternal happiness?
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, but the first glimmer of hope that they might get lucky in can make it impossible to shut them up. As a result, the internet 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 the
- 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 US, 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, match.com 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.
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 so you can pretend you 'Like' things you really can't stand in the hope of catching someone's eye with things you apparently have in common.
If you're looking for love, is invariably a great place to start. Facebook is good, but it's full of your 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?
While this is all very well if you're carrying a torch for someone, but not everyone has an address book loaded with Brad Pitts or Claudia Schiffers.
Handily, there are loads of ways to find the man or woman of your dreams online, such as...
Tinder is incredibly simple yet incredibly successful. It's an app, and all it shows you of potential paramours is their first name, up to five photos from Facebook as well as anything they care to write in the about section. It also matches up any interests and mutual friends you have from Facebook. You swipe left for 'nope' and right to 'like' and if someone you like likes you back you'll get a match and you can message each other.
Complete an online questionnaire and the eHarmony will find people who are your type. However, replacing the rules of attraction with a few minutes of box-ticking can return a few bogus results. As with most dating sites, it's free to review your matches, but you'll need to pay once you're ready to make your move.
A similar format to eHarmony, but match.com has its own database so it's worth casting the net as wide as possible. There's a handy app for both iPhones and Android phones, meaning you can play the dating game wherever you go. Try not to let it take over your life though - you can't hurry love after all...
The brainchild of TV presenter Sarah Beeny, who apparently plays cupid when she's not patching up crumbling homes. The idea behind MySingleFriend is actually quite a good one. Sarah is notorious for setting her friends up, and it occurred to her that you'd be more inclined to give online dating a try if a friend set up your profile rather than you having to sell yourself.
This one's a bit different. Once you've completed your chemistry test, PlentyOfFish will find you people you could have a long-lasting, stable relationship. POF it'll match you with people who are most likely to meet your emotional needs. Even if you don't know what they are, POF'll 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.
A dating site for window shoppers - Guardian Soulmates lets you dive headlong into the action without even signing up. All you need to do is enter your age, location and gender to see 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
It's easy to say you're a doctoral philosopher, the hard part is proving it in actual conversation.
Don't set your standards too high. And don't expect your matches to tick every box straight away.
The profile picture is the most powerful weapon you have. It helps if you're naturally photogenic.
If you're going to the trouble of creating a profile, at least take the time to respond - even if it's just to say 'thanks but no thanks'.
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.
Dazzle potential suitors with unique and quirky details about yourself. But don't waffle - less is more.
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.
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 online obviously hasn't been single in ages. 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, 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 it at some point. 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 the 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 get right back into the game to make themselves feel better.
You also need to remember that not everyone using dating sites will be looking for the love of their life. Again, as with dating in the real world, 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 almost 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're both online, but the web is not a miracle cure for lonely hearts.
With internet dating, you can 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 can easily get crossed when everything's typed in a message rather than said face to face.
It's also much easier to pretend we're something we're not online, so you really have to be patient and sensible. 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.
Last updated: Friday, February 14, 2014