IT MAY not seem as romantic as eyes meeting across a crowded room, but internet dating has become one of the most popular ways of meeting a partner, according to a new study.
In fact, a third of the population has visited an online dating, according to the Oxford University research published today to mark Valentine's Day.
Middle-aged people are the most likely to go looking for love online. Thirty-six per cent of people between the ages of 40 and 69 who have met since 1996 have done so online.
But younger people are also turning to the net, with almost a quarter of 18 to 40-year-olds saying they had started a new relationship through the internet.
In the international survey by Oxford Internet Institute (OII) 24,000 men and women were asked a series of questions about whether they had visited dating websites and other online services and where else they may go looking for a partner.
The online questionnaire was completed by 12,000 couples aged between 18 and 70 and found that, while just 6 per cent had gone to dating websites in 1997, this had grown to 30 per cent by 2009. In total, across all age groups, the internet is responsible for 15 per cent of new relationships since 1997.
For those who began their relationship before 2000, less than 10 per cent said they had met via a social networking site.
But by 2005 this had doubled to 21 per cent, while the popularity of chat rooms declined over the same period.
Gay Hickey, spokeswoman for Relationships Scotland, said the internet was proving to be particularly good for older single people who may have been too shy to use traditional dating methods.
"It's quite daunting for older people to expose themselves to judgment, particularly if it's all appearance-based and they don't have the chance to express their personality beforehand," said Mrs Hickey.
• Case study: From keyboard to wedding bells
"The internet is giving people who might never have responded to a personal ad in a newspaper or even gone out to bars and clubs looking for a relationship the opportunity to meet like-minded people. So, generally, it's a good thing."
More traditional ways of meeting people, such as through friends of friends or in clubs and bars are still the most popular, the research shows. More than two-thirds of all couples said that they met in these ways.
Dr Bernie Hogan, co-author of the OII study, said: "Finding your partner online was once regarded as a bit of a novelty, but this survey suggests it has become a common if not dominant way of meeting new partners, particularly if you are between 40 and 70 years old.
"Our questionnaire also reveals that people who know others who date online are more likely to try it and approve it."