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Spend an evening surfing with Ireland's young professionals and log on to love

Young professionals are casting aside the taboos and raising the temperatures with a surge in on-line dating to find their soul mate. Popping out on your lunchbreak to grab a sandwich with someone who you met online the night previous is becoming the norm.

With less time on their hands due to work commitments, and less disposable income to spend on clubbing and bar-hopping, Irish singletons are turning to their laptops to find a new partner, with Irish online dating sites reporting a big increase in traffic over the past year.

When a successful, popular and handsome young man admitted out loud in a pub the other night -- in front of a handful of red-blooded, high- testosterone rugby males -- to meeting a girl on an online dating site, I believed he would have been branded terminally undatable.

How wrong was I?

Instead, the young professional -- who works as a corporate banker in Dublin -- got high-fived and congratulated as he told his success story of landing a blonde beauty to his peers. To my surprise, others then exchanged success and horror stories from their online adventures.

Matthew Long recently signed up to a dating agency so that he could meet people who held the same interests.

"It was something different and I saw it as a bit of potential fun, where I could end up meeting someone like-minded and who I was attracted to. In the past I have met girls through friends or by going up to a girl in a bar. I had heard about people going on to dating websites, and since I am very open-minded about that sort of stuff, I decided to give it a go," said the 31-year-old. Matthew tells me how simple the process is and how he has to pay only if he wants to send or read an email, or see a list of people who have viewed him.

"On paper it seems like a good idea. It rules out the situation where you may chat to a girl in a bar for an hour or two, only to find out she has a boyfriend," laughs Matthew.

Jill McGrath, managing director of Maybefriends.com, tells me how over the last year she has seen a tremendous growth in the 28--35 age group -- and how it is now the largest age group on the site.

"The site database has grown by 30 per cent since January of this year, with the younger age group making up almost 53 per cent of this growth -- so it really is becoming the norm for singles in their late 20s and early 30s," she said.

"Online dating is now part of the dating mix for so many Irish people. They see it as another avenue for meeting new people that offers great choice, while also having the benefit of knowing that everyone who is on the site is there because they too are single and want to meet new people."

While Ireland is not quite at US and UK levels yet, where it is almost mandatory for singles to be on a dating site, Jill believes we will be there within the next 18 months or so.

For a monthly subscription of €25, Emma Campion signed up to a dating site and had to fill out the required criteria about herself.

"People won't make contact if one gives the bare minimum of information about oneself. And if you don't put up a photo, people generally won't reply or even look at your profile," she said.

"Once up and running, you browse through the people who you want to see. You could browse by location, age, and for people with photos only. If you like the look of

someone or vice versa, you go the next step and contact them," she said.

After a few exchanges, you can decide whether or not to meet up.

I asked Emma what possessed her to sign up to www.match.com. "Once people hit their mid-20s to early 30s, they stop going out as much, due to factors like money, as a result of taking on mortgages, and others are getting married and have children," she said.

Another young professional who admits openly to trying to find love on dating sites is 29-year-old project manager from Dublin, Louise Carpenter. She is of the firm opinion that dating online is far from the socially embarrassing activity it once was, and that cyber dating is now becoming the norm.

"It's another way to meet new people instead of the usual pub and club scene. It's fun and a good way to get to know each other before you decide if you want to meet up or not. People who date online are of all ages and types, looking to just meet new people and go on a few dates, send a few little flirty messages, or find something more serious. It just depends on what you're looking for," she said.

Sunday Independent