In a thoughtful moment, you might even realise there are people you've had relationships with in the past who, if they appeared as an online match, you might reject.
We start to adopt a power-shopping mentality, disregarding people for arbitrary reasons; as my friend Sam put it, we cruise past people's pictures as if they're caravans in Daltons Weekly. – no, no, ugh." It's a compelling, but ultimately exhausting, process that these services have adapted, refined and streamlined because it's a brilliant way for them to make money.
While a service might lure you with a strapline saying "Meet sexy singles in your area", the truth is more like, "Reject perfectly decent singles in your area while waiting for the maddeningly elusive sexy ones." Everyone is trading off current opportunities against future possibilities.
Some of them are model-like in their beauty, rapier-like in their wit or both.
All of them have approached internet dating with the most honourable of intentions: they're lured by the promise of romance, be it jazz and croissants on Sunday morning, or leaping out of a plane strapped to someone nice. They'd just like somebody, but somebody hasn't shown up.
It's like a fast-working drug with a terrible come-down." It's an addictive process, there's no doubt about it. One is the burst of elation associated with a stranger suddenly deciding that you're attractive, amusing, a good prospect.
New members on these sites receive a flood of attention that can be exhilarating.
e Harmony likes to stress how many members get married as a result of being matched via the service (236 every day, according to data gathered in the US in 2008.) did a survey last year indicating that an impressive 58,500 people found a partner on the site over a 12-month period – and they still offer a six-month guarantee of "finding love", albeit underlined (understandably) by a 500-word list of conditions. When Time Out magazine recently ran a cover story offering free online dating for every reader, it was dangling a huge metaphorical carrot. But you rarely hear from those who, having failed to find a partner online, back away from the computer shaking their heads at the way the process distorts social conventions and leaves you slightly shell-shocked.
Those 58,500 lucky members of were vastly outnumbered by the 286,000 unlucky ones.
Unreplied-to messages sit in the "sent" folder as a grim reminder of your failure to connect with someone, almost prompting you to fire off another message saying "What's the problem? What is it about me that might or might not trump someone else?
" If you live in a city, the seemingly inexhaustible array of potential beaus strewn across these websites is part of the appeal.