Tonight: Looking for Love

Once considered embarrassing by many, finding love online is increasingly common Credit: ITV / Tonight

In 2000 around 100,000 people across Europe were dating online.

Today, in Britain alone, there are 9 million and internet dating has become a £2.5 billion global industry.

In this Tonight Special, Jonathan Maitland examines whether that change is for better…or for worse.

We meet HR manager Jude Clark and Navy Engineer Richard Smith who met online just over two years ago and have a new addition on the way as well as a wedding.

Experts tell us that meeting online is on the rise and no longer stigmatised. Dr. Bernie Hogan from Oxford University says that around 30% of those currently looking for a partner do so online.

Such is the popularity of dating sites now that a whole host of niche sites have sprung up in recent months, catering for a wide range of people from bikers to cat lovers and from naturists to clowns.

Internet dating is open to all, whatever your fancy Credit: ITV / Tonight

And we follow a dater in their quest for love: We meet 57 year old Jan McGrann, who’s tried online dating briefly in the past, but after chatting to a string of Mr. Wrongs pretty much gave up.

In Looking for Love we see how Jan gets on, online…

Jan works on her profile with online dating coach Jo Hemmings Credit: ITV / Tonight

We ask the question of how we used to meet before the Internet took a hold? Did, perhaps, the more traditional methods of courting, lead to stronger relationships, ones of a better quality?

Jonathan Maitland joins in with more traditional methods of meeting potential partners Credit: ITV / Tonight

And we delve into the murkier side of love online when Jonathan meets Ryan Pitcher who has a remarkable insight into the reality of how some websites work. Until 2010, he was employed by Global Personals one of the world’s leading online dating companies, boasting over 28 million subscribers. His job was to send fake messages of love, to help boost company profits.

Ryan Pitcher meets Jonathan Maitland Credit: ITV / Tonight

Global Personals told Tonight it condemns the use of profiles that are not generated by consumers and, since 2010, has ensured that its platform is free from them.

We hear the story of blogger Claire Travers Smith who was having an online relationship with a man called “Seb” – who she discovered was actually a woman.

And speak to Businesswoman Sonia Richards from Plymouth who found herself to be a victim of “romance dating fraud” and conned for cash by an online Romeo.

One in five relationships now start online and around 23% of recently married UK couples met on the Net: so clearly, it works. But is there a downside? There’s so much choice, you could easily go from date to date to date, indefinitely. Summoning partners up, at the click of a mouse or, indeed, the simple swipe of a mobile phone screen.

Jonathan meets two twenty-somethings, Garry and Sam, who are using a mobile phone app to find dates. They explain how it all works and fix up a double date for a few days later, which seems to go rather well.

Meanwhile, rooky online dater, Jan McGrann. has followed advice and taken a very methodical approach to sifting through online would-be partners – she too has a successful date.

The new Mr and Mrs Smith! Credit: ITV / Tonight

Along with our newly-weds Mr & Mrs Smith it seems that love is really in the air, or on the internet!

Looking for Love is on ITV at 8pm tonight.