Digital dating

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2006, 12:00am

The following news provoked a storm of puns and quips about digital dating. No wonder - the story is one of the oddest to grace the online mate-search arena since and smacks of deception, but is apparently true. The gist: Dutch zookeepers plan to teach Dutch and Indonesian orangutans to hit on one another via a webcam connection. The zookeepers will show the primates how to press a button that gives food to other orangutans they deem attractive.

Soon, dogs and donkeys will be posing soulfully at their own dating hubs. I wonder, though, if the animal kingdom realises what lies ahead. On the surface, online dating appears to beat its trendy rival - speed dating - which feels like facing a firing squad except, unluckily, you don't get to die at the end. Online dating is certainly less stigmatised than it used to be, and incredibly popular: reportedly, 11 per cent of internet users - or 16 million people - have used an online-dating website and about 3 million have found long-term relationships or married someone via such sites and their services.

Online dating seems to be the magic solution to lust and desperation. Cupid could be a mouse click away, as the marketeers say. However, so are Stupid, Psycho and droves of individuals you'd never normally glance at, let alone invite in for coffee. Or maybe you are one. Maybe I am. But at least we're real. Date-bait theory suggests the field is swimming with phantom sirens who try to lure you into deeper commitment with the websites they haunt by spraying digital come-ons, often called 'kisses'. My inbox at the hormonal cyber-swamp I visit is awash with kisses - 53 to date. The senders have snappy names like 'temp temptress', which are enticing in their own right. But the lines that some of the strangers spin bug me. One says: 'I want people who can understand that a woman wants to be pampered and has a certain lifestyle that she lives. If you are judgmental and question me then go away.' Another cutie writes: 'I'm not looking for losers who just want to hide behind their PCs, just call me when you want to meet, don't waste my time.'

Of course, to gain access to her phone number, you must be a full member - I'm not. Funny that. Even when strangers message me and I fire something back, they evaporate, which must be common given that only 43 per cent of people who dabble in online dating ever physically meet one of their correspondents. That may be just as well when you consider the standard inverted fairytale. Boy messages girl and, despite or because of living in different states or countries, they make what New Age types call 'a connection'. They click. Over the weeks before they finally meet, excitement mounts. Then, at the end of the digitally airbrushed rainbow, the male turns out to be a wimp, the female a frump. If it ever gets off the ground, conversation wobbles and the journey home takes an eternity. When you experience a similar disaster, you swear never to dabble in romance on the net again. One week later, you're urgently scrolling through profiles. After all, you know someone who knows someone who met The One at With any luck, love or a moderately stimulating fling might be just a mouse click away. But beware Dutch redheads with extraordinarily long arms.