Karrie Lyczkowski liked the suspense of meeting Randy Brock through a computer screen. She couldn’t actually see him in person or hear his voice, but his picture on an online dating site and the information there piqued her interest, so she sent a message.
Randy was impressed — from his experience women seldom make the first move online — so he replied.
The conversation continued on both the Web and over the phone and when they met a few weeks later, there was nothing awkward or unusual about the first date.
“We were already comfortable and had a good base and foundation to build from. Just like any other thing, when you meet in person, it’s a different vibe and different everything,” said Karrie, now 39, and living in Toledo with her husband, Mr. Brock. They celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary last week and have two children.
From streaming movies and reading books to cashing checks and paying credit card bills, society is more plugged-in than ever before. With so many daily activities online, it seems only natural that people would put their romantic lives on the Web, too.
Just how many users have used online dating Web sites remains uncertain, but the Pew Research Center is expected to publish a report about online dating this fall that will provide a great deal more detail about the trend.
At a July 24 Match.com event, R. Jones, of Toledo, needed a drink. The 29-year-old joined the site in June, but this was his first singles event and he was nervous.
Of the 45 singles at the recent free Dearborn, Mich., event, Mr. Jones was the only one to commute from Toledo.
Some of the participants were open about their online dating experiences, but Mr. Jones spoke only on the condition that his first name would not be revealed. He acknowledged that online dating is no longer taboo, but said he feels awkward about it and would be embarrassed if his friends and family knew.
He frequents Toledo bars Big’z, Metropolis, and El Camino, but said he is tired of meeting the same people. Mr. Jones has been single for four years and saw the commercials for online dating, so he decided to give it a try.
“I don’t want to be that guy in the bar who acts like he’s in his early 20s. …You reach a point where you’re just looking to meet someone you can see yourself starting a Saturday morning with,” he said.
In the last 20 years, online dating has become a multibillion-dollar industry. The four largest companies — IAC (owner of Match.com and OkCupid) eHarmony, Zoosk, and Spark Networks (owner of JDate, Christian Mingles, and others) host the majority of the Internet’s millions of users, but with niche sites for music lovers and vegetarians, there are hundreds more sites for singles.
In 2013, market research firm IBISWorld estimated that there are about 1,500 online dating Web sites, or almost double the number a decade ago.
“Every site is good for someone, but no one site is good for everyone,” said Laurie Davis. She is the founder of online dating consultancy eFlirt Expert and author of Love @ First Click: The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating (2013).
The industry has grown for myriad reasons, from faster Internet speeds and mobile applications to the rise of social networking. In May, the Pew Research Center reported that 85 percent of adults use the Internet at least occasionally and 56 percent have smart phones.
IBISWorld analyst Caitlin Moldvay said 18 to 29-year-olds have always made up the largest share of the market, but with greater Internet usage and increasing divorce rates, baby boomers have jumped into the fray, too.
“Before, it was for the socially challenged and shy and nerdy who couldn’t get a date. Now it’s for hipsters through grandparents, all who have different dating needs,” said Julie Spira, a cyber dating coach, author, and publisher and editor-in-chief of Cyber-Dating Expert.
Lifelong Toledoan Keith Fifer, 56, said he opted for the niche environmentally conscious Web site, Planet Earth Singles, because he found Match.com too generic. Mr. Fifer, who has been married twice, said he decided to go online because “life has no guarantees, leave no stone unturned.”
Having dedicated time and money to trying to meet a partner, Mr. Fifer said he has gotten nowhere and is frustrated.
“I’ve aggressively emailed girls three times per week and have had a terrible go of it so far,” he said. “Ask them too quickly or late, and you’re cut.”
Other Toledo baby boomers said they became exasperated with online dating because they could not trust the people they met.
Chris Lee, 50, said he was on the site Plenty of Fish for two years before quitting and then returning. Now considering joining a pay-site, he said he hopes he will meet someone.
Ms. Spira said singles should join more than one site.
“You don’t want to put all your eggs in the same digital basket. …Two or three is manageable.”
A study published last year by social psychologists Eli Finkel and Benjamin R. Karney concluded that while online dating may not improve romantic outcomes, it offers extensive and convenient access to new potential partners in ways that were virtually nonexistent before.
Without online dating, it is unlikely Colleen and Brian Ruggiero, both 35, would have crossed paths.
The former Colleen Scero was 26 when her first husband passed away. She quickly grew tired of explaining to dates that she was a widow and mother. Her divorced, 50-year-old neighbor suggested she try online dating, and she made a profile so men would know where she was coming from.
She lived in Toledo at the time and Brian lived in New Jersey. Colleen thought he was cute and messaged him hello on Cupid.com. He was not online seriously, and had actually joined cupid to meet singles in New Jersey, but they chatted intermittently for several months.
When they realized they had the same high school reunion weekend in Heidelberg, Colleen said, “We should just meet and get this over with. Because of distance, this will never work. You’ll fall madly in love and I’ll want nothing to do with you, so let’s just get this over with.”
Two dates later, they fell into a long-distance relationship and fell in love. Together for five years and married for one, they now live in Portage, Mich., south of Kalamazoo, and Colleen is eight months pregnant with their first child.
“For us, it was great. There were no expectations and it let us be up front,” she said.