This Valentines Day, Monday the 14th, could be a good time to try Internet matchmaking, online dating and maybe cyber-romance. Millions have tried it - some of them, quite successfully.
After two divorces and six children, Mike Shields refused to spend his life alone. So he tried again to find the right woman. He joined an Internet dating service, hoping to find a mature and pretty Asian woman. “I like Asian women, I find them attractive, so I wrote this ad up, included a picture and sent it off. Being that I didn't pay for the service, I really didn't expect any service in return," he said.
In Beijing, Hui Jie, or Nikki - now her American name, was working for the Chinese newspaper Economy Daily. "Every day I had one hour for break, I sat in the office and checked, some people like to play games, and I don't play games, I just checked," she said.
Ten years after her divorce, and with a teenage son, she was looking for someone different. A year of e-mails later, Mike made a trip to Beijing, to meet Nikki. It was enough - he proposed, she accepted, they got married in June 2003, and so far, they have no regrets.
Nikki says she considers herself futunate, "I am thinking I am really lucky, I am really happy."
Like Mike and Nikki Shields, millions of people around the world are using the Internet in search of friends and romantic encounters.
Jeff Cohen, a commentator and author of the e-book 30 Minute Guide to Online Dating, says, "In the US alone there is 30 million people that are online dating sites and they are generating $300 million per year in the US alone. So you can imagine as it grows into other markets like Asia and South America, the numbers are going to continue to grow."
ComScore Networks, a company that tracks e-commerce data, estimates people spend over $500 million a year for the most popular matchmaking companies such as Yahoo Personals, Match.com, eHarmony.com and Myspace.com. One of the reasons for their success is the ability to focus not just on age, sex and race but also preferences like politics, religion and hobbies.
Jeff talks about the popularity of onlilne dating, "In Europe for example where match.com is number one they have 9 million subscribers throughout Europe and they get 2 million hits every single month on the European websites. I think as Asia, South America and Australia and some of the other markets grow you will start to see some global statistics," he said.
If all those millions of love-seekers sound too good to be true, they are. With the success of Internet matchmaking services have come a lot of businesses and individuals that are interested in lust, not love. Do a Google search for "Internet dating", and you get over 16 million hits.
Dr. Ronald Goodstein is a professor of Marketing at Georgetown University - does a search on the computer and says, "Internet dating 11 million 200,000 sites, well this just in Yahoo. The internet seduction tool kid, how to seduce people through the Internet on line. So this is what a lot of it is random businesses that is just a sex business."
Jeff speaks more about statistics, he says, "The number one statistic we have is that 10 percent of the people online dating sites are married. That gives you a scent of people trying to take advantage of the system."
But apart from people's fantasies and abuses of the system, overall, Internet dating has been a success. Today, it's a lot more than the desperate. People of all ages and faiths are meeting their match - on the Web.
Candy points out that she took the picture of herself with her phone camera. "That's the picture that I took with my cell phone camera."
Candy and Russ are engaged now. They are young, good-looking and very active. They met through "hot or not.com", a Web site dedicated mostly to meeting friends and having fun. He paid $5 a month as a member, she was in for free.
Russ recalls getting her correspondence, he says, "I remember getting my first e-mail from her on October 18,2003. I specifically remember that day."
Chat rooms, and hundreds of mails and phone conversations, led to a personal encounter. He says meeting her mother was the most difficult test, because she's a Peruvian woman suspicious of an American boyfriend. But everything went fine and last August Russell gave Candy a ring.
Ten years ago, cyber romance was almost nonexistent. Today online dating is becoming an important way to meet people. While experts warn to be careful about people you've never met, especially in the first online encounters, love is a powerful attraction and people know it might be just a few clicks away.