Online dating is booming business – in Switzerland alone just under a million people are logging on in search of fun, friendship "and maybe more".This content was published on April 14, 2006 - 10:19
The most popular Swiss dating agencies – swissflirt, friendscout24, meetic and match.com – each have up to 260,000 registered users, according to a recent report.
Considering Switzerland's population is about 7.4 million – with only around five million of "dating" age (over 18) – it seems likely that several users are trying their luck at more than one site, but it can't be denied that online social networking services have moved into the mainstream.
The top 20 online dating sites around the world receive around 90 million hits a month and swissflirt, which claims to be Switzerland's largest dating site, has around 90,000 registered female users and twice as many male users.
Swiss sites cater for everything from interracial dating in Zurich, Christian dating in Geneva and countless gay agencies to "lord.ch", which claims to match aristocrats and diplomats among others.
We just clicked
"It's like a drug – you almost get addicted!" TidyHeidi, a Swiss student who got lucky at swissflirt, tells swissinfo.
"I was doing my thesis but I was bored and didn't want to go into town or meet my friends. Having told myself to stay in front of the computer, I started going into chatrooms – and then I met my boyfriend!
"We met for the first time on his first day in the chatroom," she adds.
TidyHeidi says she was introduced to swissflirt by one of her friends – "she was writing her thesis as well..." – but it's not just distracted students and agoraphobic insomniacs who skulk around chatrooms.
"There are people like me just having fun and enjoying good conversations," she says. "And there are also people who treat it more like a game – for example there are some men who say they are women."
"But I also met men who spoke to me in a sexual way immediately – I didn't appreciate that at all."
And it is this anonymity and the internet's reputation for attracting the more isolationist members of society that sets off alarm bells – rather than wedding bells – for most people unfamiliar with chatrooms.
"I didn't know anything about [online dating]," TidyHeidi says. "I just knew that I didn't want to meet my future husband like that! I thought, 'I'm not that desperate!'"
Chatrooms and dating sites are gradually losing their last-resort stigma as word of mouth spreads, but by no means is everyone after the same thing.
"Time poor" professionals are more likely to be looking for husbands or wives and the number of people with previous marriages under their belt is high. Divorcees will have to hope their ex didn't get to keep the computer.
Despite this growing popularity, it's important to keep your wits and a healthy cynicism about you and to be selective in your websites, otherwise instead of finding Mr Right you could end up with Mr Rightwing Extremist.
If you're in it for something serious – or even if you're not but something just develops – sooner or later you're going to have to meet your virtual partner in the actual world.
"That can be very... well, you can be disappointed," admits TidyHeidi, who met several people from the site. "It's different emailing people or talking to them over the phone and then having this real person in front of you."
She says after chatting online with her now boyfriend once, they started telephoning and did that for a month or so before arranging to meet.
Would she recommend online dating to her friends? "I think it depends what you want. If you don't have too high expectations, it's not a bad thing to try."
"It can be very funny, very interesting – and also disappointing," she adds. "But it's exciting!"
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
Non-EU member Switzerland has a higher rate of both marriage and divorce than the average across the European Union.
According to the Federal Statistics Office, in 2004 Swiss women were on average 28.6 years old when marrying for the first time, compared with 25.4 years old in 1970.
Men married on average for the first time when they were 30.8 years old.
39,500 couples got married in 2004 and 17,900 got divorced. The statistics office estimates that 44 per cent of all marriages will end in divorce.
In Switzerland just under a million people use online dating agencies.
swissflirt, friendscout24, meetic and match.com are the most popular, each with up to 260,000 registered users.
Some services remain free such as registration, posting ads (including images) and access to answers. Responding to ads however is liable to costs.
A simple answer at swissflirt, for example, costs SFr0.70 ($0.55), whereas a subscription (unlimited answers) is available for SFr4.90 a month with a duration of six months.
One market research company estimates the European market is growing by 32 per cent a year and will reach a value of SFr550 million by 2009.
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