When it comes to matchmaking in the 21st century, love bytes

The celebration of Valentine's Day this past week got me thinking about how the Internet has changed dating and marriage in this country. You can't surf the Web for five minutes without tripping over a dating site the promises to find you the love of your life.

What did we do before online match-making sites?

Let's see. Well, we went out with friends, flirted with somebody cute (because we'd had two fishbowls full of margaritas), and wound up talking until dawn because they "get" you.

Then you'd date for a while, break-up and lose your entire record collection.

Another good way of finding a life-partner was the "fix-up." And who knows you better than anyone else on the planet-your likes, your dislikes, your hopes and dreams, your fear of pomegranates, that crusty stuff that forms on your elbows? Your mother. It's her life's work to find you the perfect mate.

Your mom's hairdresser's husband's co-worker's cousin's best friend's brother sounds like a nice guy, and your mom wants the best for you — that, and grandchildren before she dies — so you trust her and go on the date.

When you get home (an hour later) there are six messages on your blinking machine; so you call your mom: "So, bubula, tell me! Did you have a good time? Is he 'the one?' " she asks before saying hello.

"He's a foot shorter than I am, mom. He's into taxidermy. He enjoys the Renaissance Fair."

"He's a doctor," she says.

"Mom, he's a dentist."

"He's got a 'Dr.' in front of his name. He's a doctor."

"But mom, he smells like Novocain and latex gloves. He wanted to see my fillings."

"He's a doctor," mom reiterates.

"He put catsup on filet mignon!"

"So what? After 50 years of marriage, you'll get used to it. Look at me and your father — Fred! Put down that doughnut! You know what the doctor said. ... Bubula, darling, he's a doctor."

Friends can fix you up, too. Unfortunately.

"She has a terrific personality" is usually code for: "She's got a face like a Gorgon. Her last date was in the seventh grade, when the boy she asked to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance went for punch and never came back. She drags her left foot. Her voice is like gravel in a cement mixer. And there's talk of head lice."

Internet dating to the rescue. The power and awesomeness of computer analysis will save you from a life of standing at the kitchen counter, eating Lean Cuisine alone,; or adopting seven cats. (Worst case scenario: you do both.)

You sign up online (have a credit card handy), fill out a questionnaire longer than the SATs and leave the rest to the Robo-Match-Maker 3000.

They guarantee they'll find your perfect mate … eventually. You may get disheartened after a year of being matched with collectors of vintage Star Wars memorabilia and Tron re-enactors, but be patient. It's a big world, and your someone is out there.

The supercomputer matchmaker works around the clock, crunching personal statistics and required characteristics for a significant other — and the moment he or she joins the same web site with a valid credit card, they'll send you an email alert.

Until then, keep your options open and remember that sometimes the old way really is the best way. So if you really get discouraged, ask your mom to set you up.

She may not be a computer, but she's definitely got your number.

Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at cbetter@juno.com.

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