Single and looking, but still not meeting the right people?
Statistics suggest that more and more people like you are turning to the Internet to find that special someone.
Type your ZIP code and an age range into the search box at Match.com, the largest of the online dating sites, and you will find photos of hundreds of people in your area seeking companionship.
At Match.com, subscriptions have tripled in the past year. The Dallas-based company has 600,000 subscribers who pay as much as $24.95 per month for the privilege of contacting others who post their profiles and, often, their pictures online.
"Sometimes we pinch ourselves and say `Wow.' It really has gone well," Match.com President Tim Sullivan said.
One reason: The stigma that once accompanied placing or responding to a personal ad no longer seems to apply online.
The industry began attracting serious attention in the late 1990s, and it has grown rapidly during the past few years, driven by the success of sites such as Match.com and Yahoo Personals. Niche services have also sprung up, targeting ethnic groups and the gay and lesbian communities, for instance.
"It's being driven by an increasing legitimacy," said Katie Mitic, general manager of Yahoo Personals, a division of search engine Yahoo Inc. The division debuted in 1997 as a free service and began charging subscribers a monthly fee of $19.95 last year.
In August more than 17 million people spent an average of 38 minutes browsing online personal ads, according to Jupiter Research in New York.
Chris Florentz was among them. A public relations executive in Philadelphia, Florentz, 51, met his last two long-term girlfriends through an online dating site. But he sifted through responses from several others first - some amusingly neurotic, others plainly deceptive.
One woman, who did not post her picture online, e-mailed telling him she looked like actress Renee Zellweger. "Then ... she said she looks like an older, less pretty version of Renee Zellweger. In one last e-mail before getting together, she said one person told her she looks like John Denver," he said.
Online dating has gotten mixed reviews. Stories abound of people finding true love, but for many the sites have proved useful simply in jump-starting the dating process. Others are critical of the quality of dates they found online.
"It's just another option," said Anthony DiMeo, 27, a stockbroker who lives in Philadelphia. "Most of my single friends are online, in conjunction with meeting people at business functions, clubs and bars."
DiMeo said he's met three women through Yahoo since subscribing six months ago, and dated two of them for a time. He did not see the third woman after their first date because of a problem she hadn't disclosed.
"I took her to Rouge," he said. "We ordered an appetizer, and then she went to the bathroom. We ordered dinner. She went to the bathroom. We ordered dessert. She went to the bathroom. She was bulimic. It was a $160 dinner flushed down the toilet. But she was gorgeous."
Match.com has grown, operating Earthlink.com and America Online dating sites and making business deals with the Microsoft Network, Excite Network's Relationship Channels and BET Interactive. In July, it launched MatchLive.com, which arranges offline singles events, and Match Travel.com, which organizes singles vacations.
"Offline is certainly one area of growth," Sullivan said. "But the biggest opportunity for growth still is in getting the word out even more. We don't have 100 percent awareness yet among singles."