Once a source of embarrassment, often whispered about in hushed tones and sometimes mocked as a source of pity, internet dating is no longer viewed as the domain of the desperate, but a mainstream method in the search for love.

In the 18 years since it hit our computers, online dating has transformed Australia’s romantic landscape and chances are either you or someone you know has given it a go, with almost half of all Australian singles saying they have tried it in their search for a partner or relationship.

There are now dozens of sites catering for every taste, whim or preference, from single parents, over-40s, gay and lesbian and specific religions or ethnic preferences, to the seedier side which includes those after extra-marital affairs, swingers and one-night stands.

In the past five years the growth in singles hitting the internet for love has been phenomenal, according to RSVP’s Glenis Carroll, who says RSVP alone has catered for more than two million Australians.

West Australians are leading the charge in the online love stakes, with 35 per cent of all adults saying they have tried online dating, compared with the national average of 29 per cent.

Three-quarters of us know someone who has used an internet dating service and most of us are quite happy to talk openly about using one.

We have all heard the horror stories about bad dates and profile pictures that turn out to be in no way similar to their purported owner, but RSVP estimates it has had a hand in almost 10,000 marriages.

“That’s based mostly on what people tell us, ” Ms Carroll said. “But what people are looking for comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s wanting to make friends, find a companion, get married or have a short-term relationship, so what constitutes ‘success’ really varies from person to person.”

Relationships Australia counsellor and relationships educator Rob Tiller says there is no doubt online dating has broadened our romantic horizons and prospects.

“It’s changing the face of the way we date and mate, ” he said.

“We don’t have the same social inhibitions that you do in person and that distance we have over the internet gives us access to different nuances of someone’s personality.

“In a way, it is quite liberating because it does give us that space and time to warm up to each other, and if at any stage we think ‘maybe not’, there is not a whole lot lost and not a lot of investment except for time.”

Byford mother Natalie Hughes-Bridges is one of the success stories, having met her now-husband Glen online last year.

Despite logging on to the site on a whim, she found spending time getting to know him through messages and phone calls for weeks before they met in person clinched the deal.

“Everyone’s got a computer, it’s getting so expensive for people to go out and try and meet people and half the time they’ve had too much to drink and end up being sleazy, ” Mrs Hughes-Bridges said.

“You can do that or you can sit at home bored one evening exactly as I did and read about the people on there.

“You’ve got all the information up front and you know before you even meet them that they might be someone you can see yourself with.”

Psychologists and dating experts acknowledge that online dating vastly increases the pool of potential partners, can help weed out those who don’t push our buttons and saves time and energy for time-poor singles, but they say, however, that it is not without its pitfalls. As the number of people using dating websites to find love increases, romance scammers and other dishonest types have flooded the marketplace, targeting vulnerable people who are looking for love.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received more than 2100 complaints last year about online dating scams, which cheated Australians out of $21 million — a big jump on the $15 million reported in 2010.

However, Julia Robson, an internet profiler and director of Cupid Screen which specialises in investigating and background checks for those who date online, there is no doubt the real figure is higher.

As online dating services boom, so does demand for her services.

Many of her clients come to her with cases of romance scammers, but she has encountered bankrupts posing as millionaires, serial cheaters and married men with families claiming singledom.

“I have had several clients come to me who were dating the same man — the same man who was living with his wife, ” she said.

“I don’t know why they do it. If you want to have an affair, then there are specific sites for that.

“I think online dating is a fantastic way to meet people but you need to take your time, as you would do if you met them in a bar or a restaurant.

“People sometimes think their computer screen is protecting them, but it’s not.”

She urges her clients and friends to trust their gut instincts and says caution is the key to successful internet dating.

“Typically for my clients there’s just something not quite right or not adding up, ” she said.

“With the internet you don’t have any common friends you can ask or work colleagues you use to find out a bit more about the person and on the internet things tend to move faster, people divulge a lot more when they are sitting at a computer.

“It pays to do your research. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and take your time, don’t give out personal information and never give someone money.”

However, it’s not just the big lies online daters tell, it’s the small ones that can be tricky, too.

According to online dating community beautifulpeople.com (which is indeed only for “beautiful people”) men are worse for deceiving on their profiles than women, with more than 40 per cent of them lying about how much money they made to make their job seem more interesting, compared with a third of women.

Men were most likely to lie about their height, their seniority at work and their physique. It was common for women to be dishonest about the size of their bust, their weight and knowing celebrities.

But as online daters get older, they tend to be more truthful.

It’s not all bad news — a study by researchers at Cornell University in the US has found ways to identify people who lie in their profile and it’s all about reading between the lines.

According to the study, liars distanced themselves from their untruths by making fewer self-references such as “I” or “me”. They tended to write shorter descriptions of themselves and used fewer negative emotion words, such as “hate”“sorry” or “worthless”, which researchers surmised was because they were so keen on making a good impression.

However, disaster dates and lying lotharios aside, Mr Tiller says successful online dating is about knowing what you want, throwing in a bit of honesty and practice, practice, practice.

“It’s developing online savvy. Over time you become skilled at picking up on whether someone is worth having a cup of coffee with or not, ” he said.

“The better you get at describing what it is you are looking for — baiting the hook really — and how you describe yourself, you are increasing the likelihood of finding the kind of relationship you want.

“Put together a profile that paints an interesting picture of you and makes you stand out, not one that misrepresents you but highlights your qualities and characteristics and some of your challenges so you paint a three-dimensional picture of yourself. Put a real photo up and yes, make sure it’s a recent one.”

Top 10 online dating lies


- Job (better than it is)
- Height (taller)
- Weight (losing or gaining)
- Physique (athletic)
- Money
- More senior at work
- Interesting profession
- Knowing celebrities
- Having a PA
- Working in the film industry


- Weight (losing some kilos)
- Age (losing a few years)
- Physique (toned)
- Height
- Money
- Bust (gaining proportions)
- Glamorous profession
- Knowing celebrities
- Having a PA
- Working in entertainment

Source: beautifulpeople.com

Top Tips for Successful Online Dating

- Find the site that best suits your needs
- Research how to create a good profile
- Be honest but interesting
- Be clear about what you want
- Use a recent and accurate profile picture

Things to watch for

- Don’t rush into face-to-face meetings
- Don’t ever give someone money
- Trust your gut instinct — if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t
- Ask questions
- Do not reveal too much personal information


© The West Australian

More Lifestyle news at thewest.com.au


First published in The West Australian May 19, 2012.