It's perhaps the difference between using a personal shopper at Nordstrom and just going online and buying something that looks about right on e Bay.As you would expect, this creates a lot more room for error.On the other hand, it's a lot cheaper -- nearly free, in fact.

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One thing's for sure -- there's no shortage of dating sites. Fittingly for a site in a region that cherishes its history and traditions, Successful Singles has been around since 1984, which is not quite the Colonial Era but actually predates the Internet as we know it.

No one really knows how many there are but the answer is somewhere in the thousands. Successful Singles even goes so far as to announce that it is not an online dating site, instead proclaiming itself to the "the premier social introduction service in Boston."Rather than using algorithms to match clients, Successful Singles uses a more personal approach, starting with a 10-minute phone consultation followed by a 50-minute face-to-face meeting, after which it promises introductions within 10 days.

But as a review of literature stretching back to cave drawings will tell you, meeting -- and hanging onto -- the person isn't all that easy. They're not perfect but they're better than ordering brides by mail or submitting to your mother's idea of who your perfect match is.

Just like other means of meeting candidates for romance, dating sites are fraught with peril.

You could meet people you don't like, people who don't like you, people who are boring or even downright dangerous. We're not saying these are the best sites for you -- that's something you need to decide for yourself -- but like examining puppies or seaside condos, looking can be half the fun. Remember how we said there were sites that cater to every demographic slice imaginable?

But the same is true of just about any other method of meeting people. What it comes down to is that there are risks in everything so as long as you take the obvious precautions -- don't meet strangers in dark places, don't send money to someone you've never met and don't reveal all your personal information in a single gush -- online dating is probably less dangerous than crossing a busy street or trying to clean out your gutters on a windy day. Many cater to individual tastes -- there are sites for gays, Jews, Christians, equestrians, millionaires, Hispanics and old white people. Well, here's one that specializes in New England, a locale that can be a little forbidding and frosty to the uninitiated.

The world is a big place but perhaps not quite big enough to be so inflexible in our choices.

As with all the services featured here, read the contract carefully, be sure you understand it and keep a copy. If a dating service says it will introduce you to two people a month, it's not realistic to expect it to produce more than that. Maybe it's just that folks really are friendly (or at least very cold) in Canada and unusually grateful for human warmth but for whatever reason, Lifemates Canada seems to have a stellar record of forging new alliances.

"I submitted a review a number of months ago and I just wanted to say that Marcel and I have now been married for a number of months and are very happy," said Sheree of Kitchener, On., in a Consumer Affairs review, one of several from Lifemates clients who tied the knot with dates they met through the service.