April 26, 2007 — -- An estimated 3 million U.S. Internet users have clicked their way to love, so says the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Some entered long-term relationships after linking up in cyberspace, and some even made their way down the aisle.
But more than 10 years after the Internet transformed dating, one question remains: Are these couples living happily ever after, or are they more likely to meet with divorce lawyers?
Although there are no official divorce statistics for those who met online, one thing is certain: Just as in marriages that began in more traditional ways, love stories created from online matches don't always have fairy tale endings.
And the same sites that helped build a love connection for millions of singles are now trying various tactics to ensure that marriages survive past the honeymoon phase.
Some sites have brought in love doctors, encourage feedback and provide personality tests for their marriage-hungry couples.
"There are an awful lot of success stories, and there are an awful lot of not-so-success stories," says Ian Kerner, a relationship expert based in New York.
But divorces haven't deterred people from scoping out Internet romances. Kerner's friend met his now ex-wife on eHarmony.com. Not discouraged by the failed marriage, his friend, according to Kerner, returned to the online dating scene and now has a new girlfriend he met online.
There's no formal data, but some lawyers say they are seeing more of these clients show up on their doorsteps. New Jersey divorce attorney Eric Spevak is one of them. He says online-dating-related splits started picking up at his practice about five years ago. Spevak estimates that on average, one out of four or five of his firm's divorce cases stem from online dating. "I think it's a trend that will continue," he says.
Compatibility and online dating expert James Houran says there's no statistical research that suggests the success rate for online marriages is any different from that of conventional matchmaking.
He does have anecdotal evidence that suggests there's probably more failures than successes.
Part of the problem, according to Houran, lies with both the online dating services and the individuals who use them. "When you're advertising a service that promotes marriages as the only indicator of success, it encourages people to reach for that," says Houran, who believes it's more important for couples to get to know each other before rushing to the altar.
With that in mind, some sites are working actively to prevent divorces before they even happen. Mary.com, for example, provides its users with personality and compatibility tests to determine if a couple has the potential to make it over the long haul.
Founder Pat Dimes says, "I'm not a big believer in finding chemistry online. Meet people offline, and then come online." That's where his Florida-based relationship site has proved useful to some people -- both single and married.
Debbie Slowey, 47, is a travel nurse who recently gave Mary.com a try. A month ago, she was walking her pooch on a "dog beach" in Florida when she ran into a handsome fellow dog walker. They said hello and went their separate ways, until a few days later when they ran into each other again and ended up getting into a four-hour conversation.
"Our dogs were playing," Slowey tells ABCNEWS.com. "Then we got dinner. Everything was in synchronicity." But that wasn't enough for her prospective beau, Dennis, who wasn't 100 percent sold on their budding beach romance.
He told Slowey about Mary.com and asked her to take a personality test when she got home to find out if they were compatible by the numbers. According to the online test, the pair was off the charts when it came to chemistry. "When we matched our profiles -- that was it," says Slowey, who reports she's now in love.
Dimes is a big proponent of finding out everything you can before you get in too deep. "Knowledge is never really going to hurt you," he says. "It's going to improve things."
Slowey says that if she'd had access to that test several years ago, she may not have stayed in her previous 20-year relationship. "We were just so opposite," she recalls. "No wonder."
Mary.com isn't the only site now focusing on the longevity and quality of its relationships. Other online dating services are branching out too. Most eagerly boast about their success stories, and many are doing more to close the deal and keep it that way. "We will find that as time goes on, they're creating more and more tools," says Kerner.
EHarmony.com now has a "relationship lab" that monitors certain couples for at least five years to see how the marriages are going. There's also an advisory board of sociologists, neurologists and human relationship experts who offer advice on all aspects of relationships.
In 2006, it launched eHarmony Marriage, a separate Web site it calls an "online alternative to marriage counseling." Newlyweds can take part in a 12-session marriage program created by a team of in-house psychologists.
Match.com now has MindFindBind, a program developed with Phil McGraw, of the syndicated daytime talk show "Dr. Phil." According to the Match.com Web site, the program "helps people find success in the relationships they value."
Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine, says more sites are trying to capitalize on people who are already in relationships.
But Houran still believes online dating sites need to do more to encourage satisfaction and longevity. "While I believe in the potential of online dating, there's not a lot of good research," that tracks whether these couples actually stay together, he says.
As Web sites strategize to find ways to lure in returning customers and attract new ones, it doesn't seem that online dating will be disappearing anytime soon. "This is just an easier, more convenient way," says Spevak. Whether their matching tactics will succeed in producing long-term marriages is still unclear.
So are divorce rates of couples who meet online higher than the national average?
"It's too early to tell," says Spevak. "They will be part of that at some point. We still need time to judge and to see if that statistically will be true."