It seems there's nothing you can't do online these days. From booking airline tickets and shopping for groceries to scoring concert tickets and finding long-lost friends, the Internet offers up the opportunity to find just about anything you could possibly be looking for. And if you're looking for love in all the wrong places, perhaps all you need to do is turn on your computer.
Online dating services are hot these days. Elaine Stevenson*, a 34-year-old single gal from Toronto, has been using the popular Canadian site Lavalife.com for the past two years because she wanted the opportunity to meet men in a more controlled environment.
"I had friends who used similar methods of meeting people and now one of them is married and the other engaged -- both to people they met online," says Stevenson. "So clearly, the method has some merit."
According to individual and couple therapist Carole-Anne Vatcher (MSW, RSW), online dating services are an increasingly acceptable and popular way for people to date and find partners.
"My sense is that there has been huge growth in people in their 30s and 40s using online dating services," says Vatcher. "People in this age group often express to me the feeling that their personal network has shrunk down -- that they don't have as much contact with friends as everyone's so busy, people move away or everyone they work with is married. Online dating services have been great to open up a new network in the face of this feeling of isolation."
But given the Internet's long reach, where do you start looking for love online?
As online dating grows in popularity, so has the number of sites offering this kind of service. Date.ca, LifeMatesOnline.com and Lavalife.com are just a few Canadian examples. Each site offers similar technology that enables you to register for free and browse through member profiles.
Lavalife.com is a popular choice with more than 1.3 million messages exchanged every day. Registration on Lavalife -- which was launched in Toronto in 1997 -- is free and easy. Simply create a personal profile that reveals as much or as little about yourself as you choose. Once you've registered, you can search for the kind of relationship that's right for you: Dating, Relationship or Intimate Encounters. Once you've perused the potential candidates, you can correspond with the person of your choosing via e-mail, instant messaging or video instant messaging.
Ready to meet your online interest? First, check out our first-date conversation no-no's.
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How to get started
Lori Miller, brand manager of marketing with Lavalife Inc., offers these four tips to help get you started.
1. Take the time to craft a really great profile, which includes a recent, clear picture of yourself. Profiles with photos get seven times more responses.
2. Have your written profile really show your personality, what your interests are and what makes you unique. Take a look at other profiles and have your friends read yours over or have them help you write it.
3. Take the time to get to know someone before you meet -- feel free to ask lots of questions to find out whether you are interested in meeting them offline.
4. Be safe. Online dating does not replace common sense. Lavalife protects members' personal information, so if you do decide to take it offline and meet in person, be sure to meet in a public place, tell friends where you are going and trust your gut.
Online dating isn't an activity restricted to the 20- and 30-something crowd. In fact, there are a number of sites that offer services for a mature audience. SeniorFriendFinder.com targets an older demographic and is designed to match people looking for both friendships and serious relationships. You can browse member profiles for free but if you want to make contact, as with most online dating sites, you must register. CanadianMatch.com also offers chat rooms categorized by age with chats specifically aimed at a mature crowd.
If you're looking to interact with someone of a specific cultural background, religious faith or geographic location, check out canada4date.net. This site offers a list of Canadian services that meet a multitude of needs, from same-sex to overseas relationships.
No matter which service you decide to try on for size, the principles of safety and privacy remain the same. It's important to know how to protect yourself. According to Miller, Lavalife takes great measures to ensure user safety.
"When you are on Lavalife, all of your personal information is completely confidential," says Miller. "No one knows who you are or has access to your personal information. We recommend people take the time to get to know someone before passing on your personal info, and when you do, if passing on phone numbers, for example, to use a cellphone or block your number when calling."
Miller goes on to explain that Lavalife upholds a code of conduct that all members must agree to when setting up a profile. Inappropriate behaviour can result in a suspension or outright ban from the site.
Should you decide to take your relationship offline, Vatcher cautions that safety must always come first. "Always meet somewhere in public when you meet an online date in person for the first time," she says. "Protect yourself first and foremost."
* name has been changed upon request
Read more: First-date conversation no-no's.