Can you really fine the love of our life online or is modern-day dating simply killing real romance? Cara Houchen reports
MOST of us know someone who has used the internet to date to some extent or other, and some have even enjoyed subsequent relationships with those met online.
Match.com, one of the biggest online dating agencies, claims that one in five of us now find love online but, ever the sceptic, I don’t believe it can ever replace face to face courtship.
And although it’s increasing in popularity, finding people willing to admit they met each other on the internet has proved very difficult – so is there still a stigma?
“Ten years ago, the internet was still relatively new, and using online dating sites was seen as a pastime for IT literate geeks,” explained Kate Taylor, a relationship expert from Match.com.
“But now, as the internet has become an integral part of daily life, sites like match.com attract millions of people.
“We have worked really hard over the years to build consumer trust and address the barriers and stigmas which were once associated with online dating.
“The way we communicate and the way we search for a partner has evolved with modern times. We write emails not letters, we bank online and share what we’ve had for lunch with our friends on Facebook. Online dating is a natural extension of this.”
Kate, who’s based in London, completely disagrees with my view that it’s unromantic.
Having found love online herself, with none other than a Black Cats fan whose family are from Sunderland, she says it is a romantic process that everyone looking for a relationship should try.
“I’m such a huge fan of online dating,” she explained. “For women it’s really romantic – you don’t expect it to be but exchanging messages with people you like and the excitement of waiting for the next one to drop into your inbox is lovely.
“When you are single you feel like you are the only single person you know and as soon as you log onto to a site like Match and search for people in your area you see how many other single people there are.
“It makes you feel positive and optimistic that you will find someone you like.”
Every year the site sees an increase in new subscriptions, especially the week after boxing day. This year they saw an increase of 11 per cent on the weekly average of 2012.
So what is it about the festive period that drives us to our computers in search of someone special?
Is it loneliness, being single surrounded by couples or, as Kate believes, is it the time of the year when you have time to think about life and what you want?
“If you are working a full-time job, which is high pressured you don’t get a chance to think about looking for love,” said Kate.
“At Christmas people think about what they are looking for in life and I definitely think that contributes to the high surge in January.”
Since 2005, more than 10million people have joined Match, sparking millions of connections, and match.com is responsible for more relationships and more marriages in the UK than any other online dating site – almost everyone I spoke to knew someone who had married someone they met on Match.
Yet it still says something about online dating that no one I spoke to was willing to go public about it.
Anonymously everyone was willing to tell all – some were magical ‘match moments’ but some were horror stories about the dates they had been on, and perhaps unsurprisingly I discovered that internet dating seemed to encourage users to lie and make themselves more desirable.
Kate disagrees that this is true of match.com users. She said: “Our users pay a subscription so they are serious about being on there and finding love.
“Other sites are free and I believe this is where you are likely to come across people not being honest.
“I never met up with anyone who didn’t look like their picture or who had hidden agendas.”
Online dating is now the third most common way for people to meet in Britain, behind meeting through friends and in a pub or bar.
Kate said: “I try to be positive about online dating and I do believe there is someone for everyone. I went on a few coffee dates before I met my partner but when I met him I definitely had what I call a Match moment. And I believe that moment is out there for everyone.
“I’m quite shy and I work from home so opportunities to meet people offline were very few and far between. I don’t want to give the impression that Match is full of shy people like me because I know there are plenty of charismatic people on there.
“But if you are shy it’s a great starting point because you can get to know people and take your time about what you are going to say before you take the plunge and meet up.”
She added: “If I could give one overall message I would urge anyone thinking about internet dating to log on and see just how many people in their area are looking for the same things. It’s free to look and that’s the first step, then the rest is easy.”
I SPOKE to a selection of Wearsiders who have dated using internet sites. As some are now in relationships or are still dating using the sites they have asked to remain anonymous. Names have been changed to protect their identity but their ages are correct.
Paul, age 41
I HAVE had a lot of disappointing dates so far and one in particular stands out from the rest. The woman in question sent a picture to me as there were none on her profile.
I thought ‘hey she looks canny’ and we arranged to meet up in Darlington.
“I’ve got a bmw convertible you know,” she’d said. So when I parked at the car park and she drove in her 1986 model bmw, top down, my heart just sank.
I’m 5”7 and skinny so only meet up with lasses a lot smaller in height and frame than me – just my taste and it makes sense.
She was a big, big girl – very big. She pulled alongside my car, flicked her hair and most of her bulk was in the passenger seat – nothing like the photo!
We went to a lovely pub and I was just gobsmacked. Everyone was looking at us and my only salvation was that they might think she was my sister as we both had dark hair – but chances were slim (ahem).
She worked her way through the menu, I had salad.
When she paused for breath during the sticky toffee pudding I asked about the photo. She explained: “Oh I sent a photo of Jayne Middlemiss.” (that’s why I recognised her).
“Right... why?” I asked. “People think I look like her,” she said, making me spit out my coffee.
We walked back to the car and that awkward moment when she tried to kiss me goodnight will live with me forever. It involved me doing a ninja move to escape her clutches.
It hasn’t put me off but I have learnt my lesson and I will vet people more carefully in future.
‘That awkward moment when she tried to kiss me goodnight will live with me forever’
Lauren, age 28
When a friend suggested I should start internet dating I thought “why not?”
She had met her partner on match.com and a year later they tied the knot. So I decided to give it a go. I’d been single for about 10 months and prior to that I’d been in a nine-year relationship. I’d enjoyed being on my own but felt the time was right to meet someone special.
Although I was going out with my friends pretty much every weekend, whether that be for a meal or sociable drinks at the local or in Sunderland, I never ‘bumped into’ anyone.
The night that I set up a profile I was a little nervous, but excited too. I decided to go on free website plentyoffish.com to see whether internet dating was for me before committing to joining a paid-for site.
“This is fantastic,” I thought, as I scrolled through the reams of men’s profiles. It was like window shopping for a pair of shoes!
Everyone’s different but for me looks count, and if I wasn’t attracted to a man then I wouldn’t read on. For me it’s important to have a physical attraction to someone, as well as having good craic and being mentally stimulated by them.
I went on about six dates (two of which were a nightmare), before meeting my partner, who I have now been with for two years.
We exchanged emails for two weeks before swapping telephone numbers and then agreed to meet up. I think that’s one of the plus points of internet dating – you can find out whether or not you can hold a conversation together and see what interests you share first, rather than just meeting up with a stranger you met in a bar the night before.
On the downside though, you do have to sift through a lot of frogs first – and I found on the free site there’s a lot of people who are just after an illicit encounter.
Would I recommend internet dating? Yes. There’s no better confidence boost than seeing 10 messages in your inbox each day from men who are interested.
Kate, age 26
After my long-term relationship ended my friends suggested I gave it a try and if I’m honest you get a bit hooked on it.
There’s the amusement factor and once you start getting messages it’s a real ego boost.
If you think about it you’re only looking for one so when a lot are getting in touch it’s really flattering.
I have been on about 15 dates and although the men looked like their pictures there was just no spark.
There is only so much you can put across via email or on the phone so when you meet them in the flesh silly things like their mannerisms and the way they dress aren’t what you are expecting or after.
Although I find it very systematic and unromantic, it’s very hard to meet men in bars or other social situations especially if you don’t go out as often as when you were younger.
So on the plus side I do like that I can specify my criteria, so only men of a certain height or with my interests can get in touch. One downside is that you can see if they have gone back on the site after you have been on a date with them.
In real-life situations you would never know if they were dating other people so it’s a bit strange to see them still looking even if you’ve arranged to meet up again. I haven’t had a relationship out of it but there are 100s of men on there who match my profile so I’ll keep looking. I haven’t been put off so far.
Sarah, age 38
I MET my partner on an internet dating site six months ago and I doubt I would have met him without the help of a dating website.
I joined the site simply because I’m not the sort of person who goes out pulling in pubs and I have a child so the opportunity to go out is limited.
All my friends are married so the chances of meeting someone through them are slim. I heard good things about friend’s experiences online so I gave it a go and it was a lot more fun than I imagined.
There are a few unsavouries on there who can be inappropriate, such as sending you a picture of their penis, but because you have the safety of the internet between you it’s laughable rather than intimidating.
Overall I think it’s really romantic. You get to know things about people that would normally take years because you take the time to talk before you meet up and take it further. I’d recommend internet dating although I do think younger people should probably be out meeting people not on the internet.
Five Steps to finding ‘The One’
CHOOSE a well-known online dating site with lots of members to give you maximum choice.
If you choose a large national site you’ll be able to tailor your searches into specific areas of interest in ways that niche sites aren’t able to do as they don’t have the same scale of members.
REGISTER – this stage is usually free. Choose a good name for your profile. The best names are short, specific, upbeat and say something about you. For example, Blue-EyedBlonde28, or GuitarPlayer45.
UPLOAD some recent photos. Profiles with photos attract 10 times as many responses as those without. Pick a clear shot of your smiling face for your main photo (looking straight into the camera is best), and a couple of others that show your physique and your hobbies – for example, a holiday pic if you travel a lot.
WRITE a brief profile. Don’t be too generic. For example, everyone likes “cosy nights in with a DVD and a bottle of wine”, so to make yourself attractive and intriguing, you need to say which DVD, and what your favourite wine is and why. Is it Chianti because you spent a semester in Italy whilst at uni for example? The more individual you appear, the more you will stand out and the more people will be attracted to you.
SEARCH for people in your area. If you’re using a subscription site, it’s only at the point of making contact that you’ll be asked to choose a subscription package that suits you).
If you like someone, send them a brief, charming email that makes them smile and that asks them a question about themselves and hopefully they’ll reply. Most of all, have fun. It’s a very positive step you’re taking towards finding love.