e Harmony likes to stress how many members get married as a result of being matched via the service (236 every day, according to data gathered in the US in 2008.) did a survey last year indicating that an impressive 58,500 people found a partner on the site over a 12-month period – and they still offer a six-month guarantee of "finding love", albeit underlined (understandably) by a 500-word list of conditions. When Time Out magazine recently ran a cover story offering free online dating for every reader, it was dangling a huge metaphorical carrot. But you rarely hear from those who, having failed to find a partner online, back away from the computer shaking their heads at the way the process distorts social conventions and leaves you slightly shell-shocked.Those 58,500 lucky members of were vastly outnumbered by the 286,000 unlucky ones.Some of them are model-like in their beauty, rapier-like in their wit or both.All of them have approached internet dating with the most honourable of intentions: they're lured by the promise of romance, be it jazz and croissants on Sunday morning, or leaping out of a plane strapped to someone nice. They'd just like somebody, but somebody hasn't shown up.Richard: "But you getthat thrill when someone responds.For a short time you're on top of the world – and that's followed by a low point.
Thomas: "The idea that someone likes to spend weekends mountain biking or, I dunno, shaving lions – that's the kind of thing that would send me up the nearest bell tower with a sniper rifle." But we're forced to filter the mass of potential datees, and we do it savagely.I've got a number of friends and acquaintances who share my feelings about the way online dating plays fast and loose with your emotions.These people are relatively undamaged and sane, without many skeletons in their cupboards.We start to adopt a power-shopping mentality, disregarding people for arbitrary reasons; as my friend Sam put it, we cruise past people's pictures as if they're caravans in Daltons Weekly. – no, no, ugh." It's a compelling, but ultimately exhausting, process that these services have adapted, refined and streamlined because it's a brilliant way for them to make money.While a service might lure you with a strapline saying "Meet sexy singles in your area", the truth is more like, "Reject perfectly decent singles in your area while waiting for the maddeningly elusive sexy ones." Everyone is trading off current opportunities against future possibilities.