As the world becomes more socially connected through online means, romantic relationships follow the trend.
One-third of U.S. marriages now begin online, according to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study published last year.
The study additionally found more breakups between couples who met in physical or "real world" settings, than in couples who met online.
"These data suggest that the Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself," the study states.
There are plenty of options for meeting a romantic counterpart on the Internet, but the major players are called relationship service providers, or, online dating sites.
eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, Match.com and Christian Mingle are popular sites either offering their profile hosting space for free or charging a premium with the promise of a patented system of algorithms that weed out the "spam" and the other presumed singles with whom the member wouldn’t find anything in common.
With the undesirables out of the way, the system should pair members to others with whom they are likely to enjoy a long-term relationship.
That’s according to eHarmony.com, which claims an average of 438 eHarmony members marry each day in the U.S. after having met on the site.
Match.com, another option with paid membership, says it’s the world’s largest online dating site with 1.9 million core subscribers.
The site claims people who join are three times more likely to find a relationship than those who don’t.
The fastest growing demographic on Match.com is aged 50 and above, according to the site.
A third paid-for service is ChristianMingle.com, with the tagline, "Find God’s match for you."
Christian Mingle says more than 10,000 new members join each day.
The most well-known free sites are OKCupid.com and Plenty of Fish, POF.com.
Plenty of Fish boasts 50,000 sign-ups daily, with 1 million new relationships generated each year.
OKCupid calls itself the fastest growing dating site on the Internet.
With these statistics it should be easy to find love. Not so, says the first of four Conway residents interviewed under the condition of anonymity.
Still Looking is single, in his 40s and lives in Conway.
He has profiles on POF, OKCupid, Christian Mingle and eHarmony.
He went to online dating after moving to Conway six years ago. He’s a divorcee and says he doesn’t go to bars or clubs where people might meet.
"I do go to church, but sometimes your church doesn’t always have that many options either," he said. "There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t want it to be what church is about."
Still Looking said outside of a website, it is hard for him to know if someone is available to date.
"As an adult there are complications. Someone may say they can date, but they may be married. You should be able to look at their finger and tell, but that’s not always going to work. You can meet someone in a work setting, but that’s also complicated," Still Looking said.
Still Looking said a dating site, "for all its good and its bad," does help, "presumably."
Still Looking said he hasn’t had much luck. He did go on one date, and the two are still friends, he said. "But we didn’t hit it off."
There has been some chatting with other users, but not dates to follow.
"I’m not sure I’m going to find anyone that way. I prefer to actually meet someone," he said.
He said the online dating experience probably looks a lot different from a woman’s perspective.
"They’re the ones that get it all, especially if they’re a halfway decent-looking lady," he said. "Guys might get one (message) a month."
Still Looking said to watch out for "spammers" and scammers.
A dead giveaway is usually profile with a glamorous-looking photograph of a model.
"If someone is quick at getting you to give an email address, they might be a spammer. Those of us who have been doing it a while, it’s like having a sniffer … It’s another complication," Still Looking said.
He’s looking forward to a Valentines singles event this weekend, where there will be face-to-face interaction.
Married is a female in her 20s. She is married and lives with her husband in Conway.
They didn’t meet online.
She had profiles on OKCupid and Match.com. When her free trial expired on Match.com, she didn’t renew it and switched over to OKCupid.
Married said she went to online dating after she thought it had become a bit more mainstream.
"I had friends who did it. It was a viable option since I wasn’t going to parties and college or doing other social things. I was busy," she said. "It seemed like a convenient way to meet people, people I already knew certain things about."
Married said knowing common interests ahead was helpful.
"It seems like it’s hard identifying someone (to date), and that part was eliminated," she said.
Married did meet one man she liked, and it was working out until he left the state for graduate school.
Married saw many locals she recognized on the site, and she was even paired with acquaintances and siblings of men she had dated and their friends.
She said she got "a lot" of messages.
"A lot of it could be considered … what I would call spam. But it was really easy to automatically disqualify those guys based on the things they said and the way they said them. There’s a fair amount of creepy and pushy people there," Married said.
There were normal people, too, but other users seemed to be out of college and older than her age group, or gay.
"As a young, straight girl I was kind of still a little out of the demographic," she said.
Despite unwanted attention from certain male users, Married said she’d recommend online dating so long as users proceed with caution.
"I think there are still dangers there and that you can run into situations that are dangerous on these sites. But I am from the generation of Kacie Woody, and when I went and met the guy all of my friends knew where I was going, his name, and if they didn’t hear from me at this point, send someone to look for me," Married said. "I don’t know if it’s a completely safe place, but I don’t think anything is. But especially for people who don’t have opportunities to meet people out of their everyday routine, it’s a viable option."
[Editor’s note: Kacie Woody, a 13-year-old Greenbrier student, was abducted and killed about 12 years ago by a man named David Fuller from California who posed online as a teenager.]
Ladies Man is on the dating scene online and in local venues. He’s in his 20s and living in Conway.
He is on Plenty of Fish and has let his Match.com paid membership expire after an 18-month run.
As someone who has used both paid and free sites, he says he noticed no remarkable difference in the number of contacts he made at either site.
Ladies Man said he has met more, since he has spent more time, at Plenty of Fish.
Though he guesses he’s engaged about 200 girls he’s seen on the sites, he’s only had conversations at length with about 20. Two of the conversations resulted in dates.
One was good enough to warrant a second date, and the other didn’t go well.
"One was crazy. One was normal. It was 50-50. But one thought I was crazy because I cremated my dog. According to her it was totally weird. I guess it is weird if you’re not a dog lover," Ladies Man said.
Of the matching algorithm, he said, "Honestly, I think it’s a sham."
"I think they base it on some points of interest and age. And interests are just words that match," he said.
Arkansas, and especially Conway, aren’t good places to meet someone locally online, in his opinion.
"In my demographic it’s less likely here in Central Arkansas, but more likely in a denser city to have a higher success rate on the sites. The chances of engaging more people who are tech savvy or willing to try online as an opportunity to find someone my age in Arkansas … It isn’t as popular," he explained. "In the older demographic, maybe so. There may be a higher success rate."
Ladies Man feels it’s easier for him to meet women "in the real world."
"If they pique my interest on the physical side, I approach them. If they pique my interest intellectually, I continue to converse with them. If she’s a bag-of-bricks dumb, I’m not going to continue talking to her," he said.
Relying less on the online world, Ladies Man has taken more to the physical dating scene.
"I try to talk to about three to four girls a month, and try to get one date a month. That’s my average," he said.
The dating scene in Conway is full of college kids, he said, so most of the people he dates are younger than he is.
"I’m in my late 20s, and most people my age are married and have kids," he explained.
He’d rely more on online dating, but he said it’s too new in Arkansas, and wishes for the luck others must have in larger cities.
Engaged is an online dating success story. She’s in her 30s and lives in Conway.
She’ll soon be married to the man she met online through Yahoo Personals in 2010. She had profiles at several free online dating sites.
"I was busy at the time going to school and working. Who had time for anything else? I wasn’t trolling the bars or anything," Engaged said. "It’s now more commonplace. More professional people who are working are on, and everyone’s so focused on their careers that they don’t have time to hang out and meet people the traditional way."
Her soon-to-be husband isn’t the first man she met online and dated, but he was the last.
"He’s shy and wouldn’t go to a bar. It’s less intimidating talking to a screen first," Engaged said.
She said she and her fiance got to know each other at length through conversation online.
"I asked a lot of questions, a lot that he needed to give me more than a yes or no to … open-ended stuff with thought into more than your sign and favorite color," Engaged explained. "And there are some benchmark things for me, like, if I’m talking to you about something in world news and you can’t carry on a conversation about it, we’re done. I don’t care how hot you are."
Though Engaged was online looking, she didn’t have expectations as high as meeting her future husband on the Internet.
"It has been a pleasant surprise," she said.