Online dating - find love in 2012

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to meet someone special in 2012, you're not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people use dating sites in the UK - from busy professionals to single mums - many of them just like you. So how do you get started? Read on for some advice...

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Profile success
Writing a eye-catching (but honest) dating profile is one of the first steps to meeting that special someone. Take some time to write something that reflects your personality and interests - if you're not sure what to put, do a search and have a look at the competition!

Research has shown that those with photographs get the most responses - for the perfect profile pic, you'll need to be on your own (no group shots or holiday snaps from a relationship past!) and avoid very distant or blurry images. And make sure it's a recent photo that accurately reflects how you look now.

Taking things further
Should you find someone of interest, begin by keeping things light. Be friendly and humorous and stick to email to start with. If things are progressing well, you could always move on to Instant Messaging but try to avoid giving out any personal details. Avoid specifics, such as the company you work for, your last name or address.

Be aware of any inconsistencies in your potential date's conversation. Trust your instinct - If anything feels odd or you feel uncomfortable at any time, move on to the next person.

When you are ready to meet, always make sure it is in a public place - a coffee shop is a good idea rather than dinner, that way you don't have to spend hours making small talk if there's no attraction. If meeting in a pub, remember to go easy on the booze.

Online dating sites
There are plenty of different dating sites to choose from. Some focus on special interest groups while others cater for specific age ranges, careers or religion. Of course if you are looking for something very (and we do mean, very) specific, there are a host of sites ranging from the unusual to the downright bizarre.

For example, those wishing to boldly go where no man has been before should try Specifically designed for sci-fi lovers, it's a must for anyone needing a date for that upcoming geeky convention.

If it's a case of love me, love my pet, then is the place for you. The site claims to be the number one place for singletons looking to go walkies with someone who shares a similar passion... caring for their pets.

Unashamed gold-diggers or older gents with plenty of cash to splash in search of a pretty young thing can try Similarly if you're a mature woman on the look out for a hot young bod, promises to match you with the toyboy of your dreams.

Here are just a few of the most popular sites out there...

This site's biggest strength is that it's free, which means it's got a huge membership database, guaranteeing lots of possibilities. It's easy to build a profile, and the quality of members as well as the quantity has also improved over recent years. Its downside is that the site design is a bit dated compared to other dating sites.

eHarmony markets itself as the site for people who want to find a deeper connection, based on mutual values and compatibility. Hugely popular in the US, the site uses a compatibility system which matches singles on a variety of attitudes and wants, so you should set aside a little time to think through your answers and fill out the questionnaire to get the most out of it. matches people based on location, which is great if you've previously found the perfect person only to find out they live at the opposite end of the country. Although it's a great way to meet singles in your area, you should be extra careful about giving out personal details. and also offers an in-depth questionnaire to help narrow down your options. You'll also find articles written by psychologists to help you prepare and even phone coaching for nervous first-daters.

Be2 is aimed at over-35s specifically and is an international site boasting 20 million members. They claim 40 per cent of all paying members begin lasting relationships - and since the first month's membership costs just £5, that's definitely worth a try!

Guardian Soulmates
Not just for lefties, the Guardian newspaper dating site is used by a cross-section of singledom society. With profiles trying to outdo each other in the witty stakes, there's stiff competition. However most of the users seem genuine and wanting more than a fling.

Stands out from other dating sites as your profile needs to be written by a friend (bribe them well!). Which means there is added humour in most profiles, but the only downside is the lack of tools for members to use.

FitLads and Gaydar
Two of the main sites catering for the gay dating market, Gaydar is for gay men and women, FitLads is just for men. Both sites are relatively cheap (compared to the straight paid-for dating sites), and easy to use. But if you're easily offended stay away, as there can be sexual content and nudity.

To pay or not to pay?
The majority of online dating sites require paid membership if you're to get the most out of them but there are those that are free. However, if you're unsure about investing your hard-earned cash in a monthly membership, most dating sites offer free trials of a month, or sometimes more, so it's worth trying these as you should get a good idea of whether online dating is for you and they meet your requirements.

It pays to be safe, so don't forget the golden rules of online dating: don't give out personal information over the internet, arrange to meet in a public place for the first few dates at least - and always tell someone when and where you are going.