We've heard the stories with the happy endings. They're plastered all over dating sites and on the websites of dating agencies.
Boy locks eyes with (picture of) girl's, across the computer screen. Intrigued, he clicks into her profile: she meets the criteria and her measurements fit the bill. Holding his breath, he leans forward, presses a button and sends a kiss into cyber space. The cyber stars align and a virtual romance is born.
This is the modern day love story. And regardless of whether you think it's romantic or not, it's working.
According to some figures, a third of all new couples meet online. And the results of a new survey reveal that, of more than 800 people surveyed by (Fairfax owned) RSVP, 58 per cent believe social media and technology have made it easier to meet new friends and 62 per cent believe it is easier to meet new romantic partners.
This doesn't mean the stigma attached to online has subsided completely. I do believe - and not with pride - that the words: "I won't be caught dead online dating," have been known to escape my lips. And not one of the people I interviewed for this story was willing to give their real name.
However, as psychologist, John Aiken says, "in the last decade, technology has revolutionised how we manage relationships".
“The very nature of dating online means you are introduced to new people who, if there is a positive connection and mutual interest, you meet in the real world. Online dating helps people have more face-to-face encounters and expand their social circle.
"It may sound straightforward but dating increases face time spent with others and is one important way for single people to feel connected in today's society.”
That may be so. But, there is a flip side to every story. Do introduction agencies make it any easier to find lasting love or are we talking quantity over quality here?
One recent study found that matching people online according to similarities does not lead to better or longer relationships.
That does not mean people aren't looking for lasting love. RSVP's marketing director Mel Dudgeon says that between 60 and 70 per cent of their clients are looking for long-term relationships. And according to their 2012 national report (which surveyed over 3000 Australians), as a result of online dating, 59 per cent of singles have been on a date and, of these, 12 per cent have had a long-term relationship.
So, it seems the lucky few are getting loved up long-term via the net. As for the rest?
Stories abound of online meat markets, mismatched "matches" and of people who are not quite the package of perfection their profile suggests.
"It's horrible," says 29-year-old Steph*. In the six years she was single, she tried two different dating sites as well as an introductory agency. "I can't yet grasp how they matched me to any of those people ... I went back and forth [with the dating services]. I'd get frustrated and take down my profile going 'this is horrendous' and then something niggles and you go, 'I'll just take a look'."
But, she says, the combination of constant mismatches and feeling judged solely on appearance was demoralising.
"I found [the sites] quite pressured and highly competitive … you've got people taking glamour shots or getting their boobs out and … there's no context and you go, 'oh shit, why would they pick me?' You internalise that."
But, in 33-year-old Elle's* experience, online dating is no more superficial than real life. "It comes down to the individual," she says. "If people are superficial in life, they will base their judgments on image whether it be in a bar or online."
The former model, who is looking for love, was disillusioned by Sydney's bar scene, which she calls a "sexfest". So after family and friends encouraged her, she signed up with a dating site.
After several interactions with men and many "kisses", she went on a date with a handsome doctor.
"He looked great on paper - established career, family values," she says. But, it was to be their first and last date. "I was instantly turned off by his arrogance."
She was also turned off the whole experience, disliking, "the forced nature of finding a partner ... and that people are not being particularly honest with who they are - [often] painting a picture of who they want to be instead."
And Elle admits, even she did that. "I didn't list anti-depressants in the list of five things I couldn't live without."
It is the neat, unreal nature of the profile that concerns Yvonne Allen, of one of Australia's oldest dating agencies. It is also why she believes there is still a market for offline introduction agencies, like hers. "We're not after high-volume … I do think the problem is the high volume of meetings - that they're like interviews and there isn't time spent getting to know each other. [Our focus] is not looking for 'the one', but how do I enjoy meeting new friends, widening networks and maybe meeting 'the one'. Committing to friendship first and foremost."
As she did when she began, back in 1976, she bases her matches on paper questionnaires and does not use photos. "So much is based on superficial ... If a man is fixed on being with a blonde ... he'll discard the brunette, without even meeting her," Ms Allen says. "But, you can always dye your hair."
Her point though is that love takes time and we often don't give people outside our wish-list a chance; something that is easily forgotten in our instant-gratification society. People fall in love because they grow to care for one another, Ms Allen says. And that happens when we are authentic and open, not trying to package ourselves into some perceived profile of perfection.
"Instead, of looking for what's not there, it's about appreciating what is and looking at your attitude going into the meeting ... Do you let a man see your softness and the femininity of you? So many women say, 'Oh, once he gets to know me, he'll see it.' Sorry, you've got a small window to get to know one another.
"Women wonder why a man doesn't call again. But they've gone to the meeting with their business persona - they don't let him see the very thing that draws a man to a woman in the first place: vulnerability. That draws him into his feeling space."
Steph agrees that being yourself is the key. "That's what I learned from it - you can't just pick someone from one picture. It's a balancing act. It's great [to try], but I wouldn't rely on it solely ... get out there, be with friends and find out who their friends are."
It was through mutual friends that she ended up meeting her husband, who she married two-and-a-half years ago.
As for Elle, who is waiting for the three-month subscription to roll over before she can take down her profile, she is philosophical about love and willing to wait.
"I have come to a point in my life of surrendering and just being happy with what I have got," she says. "I am trying to put all thoughts of a potential partner and chasing or forcing it to the back of my mind - if it happens it happens. I need that cheeky, elusive spark that happens once in a blue moon."
Once in a blue moon, whether you seek it online or off.
But, being yourself, it seems, is the rocket there. There is a quote Elle likes, which sums it all up: "Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide".