Match.com, eHarmony, OkCupid: People looking for love online have many options.
About 1 in 10 Americans has tried at least one of these options, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project survey. Of those, two-thirds have gone on dates with someone they met online and about a quarter have met a current or past partner on the Internet.
Still, though online dating's reputation has improved in recent years, about 1 person out of 5 still thinks online daters are desperate, and about half gripe about the problem of misrepresentation online, according to the study. [ 8 Pro-Tips for Online Dating ]
In the new study, researchers surveyed 2,252 American adults, finding big differences in online dating across the population. Younger people and singles are much more likely to have sought love online than older people or those in long-lasting relationships (who may have formed their relationships before such Internet matchmaking sites were common).
Just as seeing people come out has softened cultural attitudes toward gay marriage, attitudes toward Internet dating have improved as more people talk to others who have tried it.
"There's less of a stigma attached to it than it was," said Aaron Smith, the study co-author and a senior researcher with the Pew Internet Project.
When Pew first asked the question, almost a third of people saw online dating as the preserve of desperate people, and only 43 percent of online daters were willing to meet a potential partner offline. Now, most online daters go on physical dates with online love interests.
Still, online dating has its downsides. One of the biggest gripes is "the notion that people aren't who they appear to be in their profile when you actually meet them in person," Smith told LiveScience.
Another top complaint is the creepy guy factor.
Women are twice as likely as men to have experienced harassment or uncomfortable contact online, Smith said.
It's not clear whether men are inherently more prone than women to inappropriate behavior, or whether it's just that men initiate contact most of the time.
"It may simply be that there are just more opportunities for them to be creepy," Smith said.
Another complaint is that the Internet spoils people: About a third of people agreed that the myriad options online prevent people from settling down.
Pick your flavor
Just as the Internet allows people to buy unicorn meat, nail clippings or a UFO detector, it also gives daters the ability to find like-minded partners using extremely narrow criteria.
"The 47-year-old who loves the Cleveland Browns and knitting — if that's what you want, that person obviously exists in the universe and this can help you find them," Smith said.
About 40 percent of online daters used Internet dating sites to target partners who shared their values, interests or hobbies, and those who used such niche sites have a better record of success, past research suggests.
Online dating can be ideal for people who, whether because they are just really, really picky about partners or because their dating pool is relatively small, have a hard time meeting love-worthy partners in the real world.
For instance, the Internet has obvious benefits for many men and women living outside of a few big cities and for middle-age people looking for love when all their friends are partnered, Smith said.
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First published October 21 2013, 11:24 AM