March 23, 2007 -- Mr. Right has been on your mind for what seems like an eternity. But you never seem to meet him.
You check your inbox constantly. You've submitted so many pictures to your online dating service that you don't even know what you look like anymore. The dates you do go on are dreadful. What are you doing wrong? Well, probably a lot. Just ask Marianne Kost.
A few years ago, Mr. Right just wasn't in the cards for Kost, 49, who was having zero luck with traditional dating. So she decided to take her dating mission to another level.
"I didn't want to waste my time with losers anymore," she told ABCNEWS.com. "I thought, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going to take it seriously and put in a good effort.'"
Kost took it seriously enough that she had professional photographs taken and her entire profile revamped by an online dating review service, part of the growing number of firms who help package people for dating by whipping up a personal ad and giving image consultations.
After only a couple of months, the digitally enhanced Kost met her current boyfriend, 46-year-old Stephen Micalles. They now live together in New York with Kost's 9-year-old daughter.
"We just back from Cancun," she said. "I'm as happy as can be."
Kost is not alone. Not too long ago, personal dating profiles were little more than 50-word summaries filled with abbreviations like SWF or SWM. But the advent of online dating has prompted more singles to take a multimedia approach -- written summaries, photographs, videos -- and some are soliciting professional help to gain an edge over their competition. Dating coaches and sites dedicated to online matchmaking advice are popping up on the Web. And some experts say it's worth the extra effort.
"They're looking for a way to better their odds," Los Angeles-based dating coach Julie Furman told ABCNEWS.com. "It's competitive out there."
By the time most of Furman's clients call her, she said, they're completely "frustrated" and "disappointed" with the dating scene. And they're ready to step it up.
"When you are unemployed, you'll do anything in your power to get a job; you feel a sense of urgency," said Evan Marc Katz, E-Cyrano.com founder and author of the book "Why You're Still Single." "Why not take it [dating] as seriously as you would take a job hunt?"
That's exactly what Kost did. She wrote one essay, which was transformed by Katz into the "About Me" section of her online dating profile. A second one was spruced up for the "About My Dates" portion.
"He worked my tushie off," said Kost. "They pulled out stories and words from my background and memory that I frankly never would have thought of presenting."
Many online dating support sites aim to do just that. ProfileHelper.com founder Eric Resnick knows firsthand about the struggles daters can face when they log online for love: The former public relations specialist gave it a try several years ago, and hated virtually the entire process.
"I could knock out a 72-page draft in a couple of days," Resnick, 29, said. "But I was agonizing for hours and hours for 200 words."
His profile wasn't working either. "I was failing horribly in the beginning...I was trying to write what I thought people wanted to hear, " he said.
Resnick finally got it right. He made his profile more fun and interesting. It worked so well, in fact, he started reworking personal ads for his buddies. They, in turn, saw great results, and a business was born.
Now Resnick charges $49 to $149 to enhance a profile, depending upon the level of service. For the flat rate, he'll take an existing blurb, remove spelling errors and simply make it flow better. Deluxe service includes a one-hour phone consultation, complete with dating strategies and a primer on how to construct that crucial first e-mail.
"We don't change who you are; we are firmly against dishonesty," he said.
"We're just getting to the point now where people realize they need help and are paying for it," said Mark Brooks, editor of Online Personals Watch.
Carol, who asked for her last name not to be used, is one of them. The 50-year-old counselor spent four years trolling the Internet for romance -- with middling success, a date every two or three months -- before enlisting some professional help.
"To be truthful, I thought my profile was really good," said the Orlando, Fla. native. But after paying to have a service rework her profile, the responses started rolling in more quickly. "Within a week, I had like three dates," she said.
So how do you know if you need a online profile makeover? Resnick said there are two common mistakes online daters make when describing themselves: Profiles are either too generic or divulge too much information.
"It's a movie trailer," he said. "It's not your four-hour epic." Resnick encourages people to dig a bit deeper when writing profiles. For example, he said a person might simply write "I like dining" in an ad. "How generic can you get?" Resnick said. "Turns out they they like to eat. They're a huge sushi person. So what does that say about you as a person?"
But does all this primping make for an insincere profile? Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State, said, "By definition it makes you less authentic, but it makes you stand out in a way."
He says that enhancing an online personal ad isn't much different from traditional dating. "America has this big ideology of being yourself," said Baumeister. "But it's somewhat of a sham because we try to put our best face on and try to make a good impression, especially on the first date."
Brooks says it's important not to "glamorize" a profile, but rather just "freshen" it in such a way so that you don't appear to be a different person. "You need to be true," he said. Brooks, who helped launch Friendster.com in 2003, even suggests walking out on a date if you discover he or she outright lied about anything significant on a profile. "Excuse yourself kindly, get up and leave," he said.
And then there are the photos. LookBetterOnline.com specializes in finding online daters local professional photographers. Co-founder David Coy says his business is growing every year, and boasts that his clients get at least twice as many responses after they get professional shots, which typically cost about $150.
Still, the majority of online daters use their own digital shots. "Most people don't give it enough thought," said Coy. "They put up a photo and then wonder why no one's writing back to them." When using regular photos Coy recommends steering clear of group shots, old pictures and drunk poses. Having a good photo is particularly important for women, said Brooks. "Guys react to the more visual," he said.
And some coaches take the experience from the Web to the real world, helping clients prepare for their first dates. The Seattle-based Professional Dater firm offers Flirting 101 classes, for example. (One of her tips: "Give your card out. Be confident.")
Furman, the Cupid's Coach owner, has seen the stigma about her work crumble over the last few years. "People parade me around at parties," she said. "It's in vogue now to take dating and put it in the hands of a professional."
But the majority of her advice comes down to one thing: unrealistic expectations. "The person they're seeking may not be seeking them back," said Furman, who says she tries to bring her clients back down to reality. "The person they have in their mind is fictitious," she said.
So is it all worth it? It depends, frankly. "Spending the extra money may be worth it for some people," said Baumeister. "In the long run, think what a bad marriage costs you."