Consumer: Click and connect in the hi-tech dating world

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With a wave of new apps designed to find us love, Lucinda Borrell weighs up the pros and cons of online dating As Valentine’s Day approaches.

Love changes everything, so they say. But it seems the digital revolution is also changing everything about love.

Once upon a time, finding the perfect partner was all about luck, persistence and ‘fate’.

Mostly, people met their partners through their circle of friends, or through their family, or at work.

Blind dates would be arranged, friends of friends would pair up.

If all that failed, there was always the traditional way of meeting – down at the pub or in a club. A meeting over a drink or several has led to many a marriage.

But with the unstoppable charge of dating websites and apps, things are now a little different.

At one time, there was a stigma to online dating. Those who met that way would keep the origins of their relationship quiet, it was seen as a method for the desperate. But not any more.

Now, with the mere click of a mouse button, or a swipe of your mobile phone screen, you can scroll through potential dates as easily as shopping for groceries.

The various type of sites and apps abound – there is eHarmony, for a deep and detailed analysis of your personalities, there’s Uniform dating for those with a penchant for, well, uniforms, and then there are apps like Tinder, which bases your love life on your geographical location (only showing other subscribing singletons who are in your area).

It might sound a little businesslike to the more old-fashioned romantics, but it clearly sounds very good to everyone else.

There are now more than 1,400 different dating websites in the UK alone, raking in millions of users – and a recent survey by eHarmony predicts that by 2031, more than half of us will be finding our partners online. On the app side, Tinder now reportedly has two million active daily users.

The reasons for this surge are pretty obvious. According to the most recent Ofcom figures, 21.7 million homes in the UK have broadband connections, and 94per cent of adults in the UK now own a mobile phone.

Quite simply, our lives have moved online/onto our mobile phones, so why shouldn’t our search for love – one of the most important things in those lives?

Additionally, we’re a country that’s increasingly time-poor. The 2008 recession means we’re all spending longer hours in the office trying to secure shaky jobs. Recent research from national training provider www.lifetimetraining.co.uk shows the rising cost of living also means a staggering 70 per cent of people would consider a second job in 2014 to make ends meet.

All this means there’s very little time to head out into the real world and find love; cue heading to the virtual world instead.

Susan Quilliam, relationship psychologist (www.susanquilliam.com) agrees: “In the past, you would meet someone in the same town or village and you’d get married in your late teens, early twenties. These days there are more windows of opportunity for dating, but there’s less time in which to do it. Matchmaking websites and apps are therefore a perfect way for people to connect.”

Rather than having to put aside endless evenings to scope out potential love interests, you can just scroll down a screen in a time frame to suit you, whether it’s on your lunch break, in the five minutes you have before a meeting or on your daily commute.

There’s another undeniable added bonus to finding someone online too: ego. Because you might be attracted to a stranger in a bar, but how do you pluck up the courage to initiate conversation? Using a dating website or app eradicates that fear – if they do reject you, no one can witness your blushes – and it levels the playing field between the introverts and extroverts.

Of course, as on most playing fields, there’s another side to all this.

And while dating apps may seem like the quick-fix solution to all your relationship problems, there are inevitably some drawbacks.

Jean Smith, a cultural anthropologist and author of The Flirt Interpreter: Flirting Interpretations From Around The World, argues that by taking yourself out of the ‘real’ dating world, you are essentially cutting out ‘real’ attraction.

“The hours you spend flicking through profiles and judging people on face value are precious hours lost.

“You could be discovering unexpected chemistry with someone you’d never noticed before, who works or lives near to you.”

There’s also the danger that online/app dating makes us all a bit, well, pathetic. Yes, the fact you can’t be rejected face-to-face might seem appealing, but over a long period of time, this can have a negative impact on your attitudes towards other aspects of life. ‘Fortune favours the brave’, ‘No pain, no gain’ and all that – and if you constantly hide away from any situation you’re afraid of, the less emotionally resilient you’re likely become.

So perhaps, while falling in love is often billed as all-consuming passion, the secret to finding it in the first place requires some slightly less heroic compromise: by all means use apps and dating websites, their benefits and popularity are indisputable. But while you’re doing it, don’t forget to look around real life too – you never know who you might click with.

TOP TEN DATING SITES

Zoosk - fun and easy going

Match.com - for those ready for love

Elitesingles -for the educated single

eHarmony.co.uk - for long-lasting relationship seekers

MatureDatinguk - for older couples

ChristianMingle - faith-based

Click&Flirt - for flirty outings

DatingDirect.com - good matchmaker

MatchAffinity.com - good personality matches

BeNaughty.com - for fun relationships

Otley gets its river boats back