Internet dating, speed dating and social group gatherings it seems the onus is on any means possible to meet members of the opposite sex for fun and frolics except, that is, actually heading into a pub and chatting with them in the flesh.
There's no doubting that online services promising romantic liaisons have become popular avenues for finding love and sex. But what are the realities of internet dating? Here we look at the pros and cons of internet dating.
The web is awash with online dating services ranging from Match.com to DatingDirect, eHarmony and RSVP. That's not taking into account the busy 'adult' personals, which focus on more, er, physical relationships and casual encounters than futures with wedding bells.
But in reality do online dating sites work better than say a chance meeting in a social venue or a cheeky chat-up line in the local bar?
One study revealed that the average courtship for a couple meeting online is 18.5 months compared to 42 months for people who met through more conventional routes. But as the social stigma about online dating vanishes, industry-wide profits are soaring as more surfers between 30-45 take to finding 'significant others' through their laptops.
Talk v action
The very nature of communicating via the web means that members can sit back in the comfort of their homes and talk endlessly without ever committing to even meeting for a coffee. It presents the surfer with a psychological safety net where the threat of being judged or analysed in a face-to-face meeting is prolonged.
Behavioural psychologist Max Kershaw likens this scenario to women who fancy men in prisons. "They know the men inside are inaccessible and will never be a real challenge for them. I think something similar can happen when folks endlessly flirt and exchange fantasies on the net. The cyber fantasy isn't threatened by physical reality. The problem is that too much talk and no action eventually leads to any interest fizzling out."
Kershaw's advice is that if you don't want to lose someone you're having a good time chatting online with, don't dither, just get out and meet them particularly as competition is always round the corner.
In a time of financial uncertainty it appears that more people are looking at a long-term relationship to counter-balance the pressures of a tough economic climate. Alex Friesen, advertising consultant at an online agency believes that an increase in online dating membership reflects a greater need in people to find a soul mate, but that often people can be too idealistic about what they're looking for.
"I've seen profiles that read more like a charter of 'don'ts' and 'dislikes' by members, which is one of the most off-putting tactics you can do on a dating site. No one wants to feel like they can't live up to the exacting demands of a stranger they haven't even met. If you're serious about finding a relationship online, refrain from sounding like a judge on The X Factor
. Say what you do like as opposed to what you don't."
As the ratio of actual 'real-meets' among online daters is relatively small compared to the amount of 'hits' profiles receive, it's a good idea not to have unrealistic expectations of someone before you've even shared a beer.
The very nature of dating web sites, which allow surfers to constantly click on a never-ending conveyor belt of potential lovers, is one of the reasons Kershaw believes men find it so difficult to commit. This attitude can work both ways, with women being equally guilty of acting like online serial monogamists.
"There's this voice at the back of the brain saying something might be better round the corner. Just click one more time! So there's always a temptation to look at another profile, even if you've been chatting and getting on with a particular member. If you met a girl in a pub or club and showed you were interested but then went on to eye up other girls walking into the room, you'd soon get the cold shoulder or even a slap in the chops."
In other words online dating is notorious for surfers demonstrating a lack of commitment and the ability to focus on one person enough to take that crucial to step to meet them.
Fakery and fantasy
There's little doubting that the internet has become fertile ground for scammers and shysters. Dating sites are no exception, attracting their fair share of fraudulent folk. 55% of online daters admit to having come across or being victims of online dishonesty and taken in by bogus profiles.
"It's one thing putting up a picture of yourself that is 10 years old," says Kershaw. "But when that picture might be another individual or some invention, that's another ball game of deception that web daters have to deal with."
Kershaw believes that this kind of duplicitous behaviour is rare from female daters and that the most obvious form of fakery is in the form of people simply not being honest about themselves. "We all like to think of ourselves as being more dynamic and interesting than we really are. But some people can become convinced by their own bull. There's little means of knowing whether the impressive spiel someone is giving you online is genuine or that the profile picture is really them. Again the only way to avoid this is to request a date and refuse to continue with an endless game of cyber ping-pong, no matter how sexy it may be."
Rejection in cyberland
One major downside of online communication is that it can be impersonal. People write things that they couldn't get away with in a one-to-one or social situation and so the 'distancing' element of message exchanging means people can be less considerate of other's feelings.
"The fact that so many break-ups occur through texts and online messages between people who initially met online says something significant," concurs Kershaw. "The nature of the beast means that people can be more cowardly or take the easy route away from emotional confrontation. So beware, an online romance can end as quickly as it started."
Traditional ways of informing someone a relationship is over and certainly the more noble way is by telling them face to face, talking over the situation on the phone or at its most distant, sending a letter. Today online romances are more likely to end with a brisk text/email and finding out you've been 'blocked' from sending a reply. Regular online daters may need to develop a thick skin.
The future of online dating
For all its issues, online dating is here to stay, especially when the industry is growing so rapidly. The internet is an attractive, convenient resource to see who's out there, but as Kershaw points out, it does mean taking on board an understanding of how people operate online and not getting too hung up over incidents where rudeness or a lack of courtesy are displayed.
"It's easy to come away from online dating with lower self-esteem if you let bad experiences get to you," says Kershaw. "So try and accept it for what it is a rather addictive adult playground which allows conversing with a wide range of people, but not necessarily hitting it off with them."
So if you sign up to an online dating service with idealistic views of getting tons of romantic dates with wonderfully interesting people, you may be in for a shock. As in the non-cyber world, it really boils down to taking a leap of faith and having a belief in yourself in order to turn a friendly or flirtatious acquaintance into something more.
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