Imagine being single and finding thousands, tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of other singles out looking for a date.
The landscape of online dating has changed. Once limited to dedicated sites like Match.com and eHarmony, it has expanded to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, putting an exponentially larger number of available dates at your click and call.
But every day isn't Valentine's Day. Just ask 25-year-old Texas native Meghan Stamps.
Stamps, 22 at the time, was living in Los Angeles and had signed up for MySpace as a means to try to meet people in a city she knew very little about.
It wasn't long before she received a message from an Albanian man who had fled his country seven years earlier to avoid fighting in the military. He described himself on his profile as having a "very calm nature," according to Stamps.
After a so-so first date, the two decided to give it another shot.
"He seemed nice enough, so we went out bar-hopping for the second date," Stamps said. "As we're finishing our first drink, he mentions very casually that when he was 13, he killed someone with an ax for looking at his sister wrong. I was creeped out, but I let it go."
The date didn't improve from there. At the third bar of the night, fed up with watching his companion being ogled by numerous patrons, Stamps' date took matters into his own hands. He decided to confront one of the men attempting to make eyes with his date.
"There were some words shared and we went out to the dance floor," Stamps said. "Not two minutes later, the guy flirting with me comes up behind me, grabs my arm and starts pulling me with him. The next thing I know, my date pushed the guy against the wall and punched him in the face, and I was out the door. I never talked to him again."
It'd be hard to defend that temper from anyone, let alone from the "very calm" guy Stamps thought she was getting. This misrepresentation may become more frequent as more people jump into online dating via social networking sites.
With around 110 million active users logging into MySpace monthly and another 60 million users signing into Facebook (although overlap certainly exists), combined with the more than 20 million people who have signed up for more traditional online dating Web sites, you've got a recipe for a very interesting evolution of online dating and social networking.
Dating expert and author Lisa Altalida remains on the fence about using social networking sites as dating tools.
"That can be good because you can get a deeper sense of a person on a social networking profile than you can on a dating profile," Altalida said. "Social networking sites are usually used fairly frequently by their users, so you get a truer picture of who the people on the site are, but there is a negative side too.
"People tend to play the profile. They learn everything they can about a person and then bring it up on their date in order to be more likable. That can lead to a distorted reality of who the person behind the profile really is."
That distorted reality came into focus in a big way the first time Julie Nygaard, 28, of Chicago tried to use MySpace for a date.
Nygaard, 24 at the time, had been sending messages back and forth with someone who she thought seemed fairly interesting.
"He was well-read, well educated, everything in his profile was spelled correctly," Nygaard remembers. "He had an eclectic taste in music and movies, and didn't take himself too seriously."
Eventually, he invited her to his house to watch a movie. That is, he invited her over to his parents' house.
"Once I arrived he had to sneak me through the back stairs of his flat and up to his bedroom, because he lived with his parents and they were asleep," Nygaard said. "I was completely mortified but figured we had good chatting chemistry so I could at least give him the benefit of the doubt.
"Once he set up the movie, he didn't say a word to me, and I was so bored, I had to leave because I was falling asleep."
Like Stamps, she never contacted her date again. But she did take a valuable lesson from the experience.
"For some people inept at communicating in person, online meet-and-greets are much easier," Nygaard said. "They can be themselves. They have time to think about how to respond to someone approaching them.
"But in person, there's an implied pressure to get it right the first time, and often, you only get one chance to get it right. An online profile is something you can tinker with, whereas there's only so much you can do to tinker with your in-person profile."
That's not to say that it's all doom and gloom in the online world.
Luke Adams, a 23-year-old from Ontario, was able to use the social networking site Facebook to his dating advantage, at least for a little while.
"A girl messaged me out of the blue one day claiming that I 'looked familiar' though we had never actually met," Adams explained.
After taking a look at her photos, and making sure her interests in movies and music matched up with his, Adams was up for the adventure. He says he didn't wonder at all how she actually found him and was relieved to be able to see a profile to find out if he thought she was worth messaging back in the first place.
"We exchanged a few messages and within a few days we were meeting up to eat Chinese food and watch 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' which was probably one of the things we both had in common on our profiles at the time."
Unfortunately, although their interests matched, there was little chemistry.
"Sharing common interests is nice, and it helped to know we'd have things in common before we even met, but having the same taste in music doesn't mean you're going to click."
As to whether he might try his own hand at pursuing a girl on Facebook, Adams thought he might actually go the "old fashioned" route.
"I might even take it to the next level and join a bona-fide dating site," he said. "As far as Facebook and MySpace go, I like to use them to get to know someone better, but I don't think I'd ever just message anyone out of the blue. Dating sites are different because that's what they're for. But it still feels a little weird on Facebook."