Some of us have already found the perfect partner - a soul mate - the significant other we're proud to call our own. But sadly there are others who just don't feel that way about their computer. They have to look elsewhere for a companion with whom to share life's long journey. And in growing numbers, they are turning to the Internet to help them in their quest. Indeed, if you go online any time between now and February 14, you will be left with the distinct impression that the worldwide Web exists primarily to service the needs of wannabe Romeos and Juliets.
There's a range of services designed to help you take full advantage of Valentine's Day. If you are too shy, too busy or too mean to send a card by snail mail, several sites will help you make amends. You choose a design, select a suitable inscription, add a few tasteful animations, attach a soppy sound file or two and then type in the email address of the love of your life. Your one true love is then automatically informed that the card is ready and waiting. Romantic or what? While you're at it (as it were), you could lob the lucky so-and-so a bunch of cyberflowers, a virtual box of chocs ( perfect for the calorie-conscious) and an "e-cake", all of which is "delivered" for free.
If you think your loved one deserves a real present, hundreds of struggling dot coms are desperate for your business. But be warned, as many disgruntled e-shoppers who bought Christmas presents online discovered, delivery can take a tad longer than you think. But if you order your Valentine gift today, it should arrive by February 14, 2002.
It might be wiser - and it would certainly be cheaper - to express your feelings with an old-fashioned love letter. Fortunately, there is a site which will guide you through every phase of its composition from the first adoring "Ch re amie" to the final pulsating "Ever yours with a thousand burning kisses." You can find further inspiration in the dozens of examples of billets doux penned by the likes of Napoleon and Josephine. Pupils should visit the site if only to discover that lovers managed to communicate before the invention of text messaging.
While they're about it, they should visit the Actis site for its "Shakespeare in Love Week" (February 12-16). There will be workshops, competitions, projects and an assortment of experts live online to answer questions.
But it isn't only English teachers who could be cashing in on Valentine's Day. Love hath no bounds or - to translate that into educationspeak - it is cross-curricular. Students of home economics will find copious information on aphrodisiacs (cucumber, rhubarb and carrots, for some reason, feature prominently) and on how to prepare the ultimate Diner d'Amoureux. Historians will be attractd by the various (conflicting) histories of Saint Valentine, and religious education teachers to the site hosted by The Latimer Memorial United Methodist Church which puts the patron saint of love firmly back in his Christian context. Scientists will find data on the biochemistry of falling in love. Linguists will want to visit Multilingual I Love Yous, where they'll find that potent little phrase translated into hundreds of languages, including Klingon. Mathematicians will be drawn to the Love Calculator which uses serious sums rather than the petals of a flower to determine whether he loves me, he loves me not.
Music is the food of love, and naturally the Internet offers a guide to the way the subject is treated in pop songs and operatic librettos. There is also advice on how to choose music that will create the perfect ambience for you and your partner as you share that irresistible fricassee of cucumber, rhubarb and carrots.
But such detailed guidance to the niceties of courtship is of no help if you still haven't found a Mr or Miss Right. Don't despair. Try visiting a few of the thousands of chat rooms which are allegedly reserved for singles in search of soul mates. Here you use the keyboard to join in real-time conversations with total strangers. If you hit it off with an individual, you can both opt to continue your tete a tete in a private room where you can whisper sweet nothings into his or her virtual shell-like. Even as you do so, keep reminding yourself that the denizens of cyberspace have never been renowned for telling the truth. The sweet-talking supermodel in Stockholm who seems to have taken a shine to you could well turn out to be beer-swilling brickie from Bolton. Well, nobody's perfect, as Joe E Brown once famously observed.
This might be harmless enough if chat rooms had not become a favourite haunt both of vulnerable kids in search of love and of paedophiles in search of vulnerable kids. Warn teenagers to be careful or, better still, direct them to the many sites which spell out the potential dangers of telling strangers too much about themselves.
Adults, too, need to be on their guard when they make use of the Web's various dating agencies and singles bars. Some seem decidedly iffy, but as countless newspaper headlines confirm, many a brief encounter online has resulted in marriage.
It's my sad duty to remind lonely hearts who might be reading this column that getting married is no guarantee that they will live happily ever after. If that's what they want, the most sensible thing they can do on February 14 is pay a visit to their local PC World.
http:www.chatdanger.comwww.actis.co.ukshakespeareTo find the other sites mentioned and thousands more use "Valentine's Day" for a keyword search of Yahoo!, Google or any other search engine.Cuddle bunny expects Snookums to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org