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Although the dating sites may not admit it, they are facing a serious threat. The dating game has moved over to the social networking sites, which - contrary to the online match-making sites - do not cost a cent. That might be the reason why the online dating sites have begun providing new and original ways to help us find true love.

One example is the Line Date Web site (www.linedate.co.il), whose proprietors don't believe that love is blind. Instead, they propose that the best way to find a partner is to do a graphological test. The idea is simple - the user sends a text in his or her own handwriting (by fax, by regular mail, or as a picture file), which is then analyzed by the site's three graphologists. In the wake of this analysis, the candidates are classified on the basis of three dominant characteristics. Users can then choose the candidates according to the characteristics they like most.

Other Israeli sites, such as the relatively veteran Capiyot (www.capiyot.com), promise that their special questionnaires - whose extensive and invasive nature rivals the entrance exams to the Shin Bet security service - are able to define the candidates well and to find the most suitable partner for them.

But the flagship questionnaire is that of the geeks' match-making site, OKCupid (http://he.okcupid.com), which has recently opened a Hebrew branch in Israel - but many of its pages are still in English. The free dating site offers the ultimate in filtering - "the dating personality test." Several of its questions are rather unusual, such as: "By whom would you prefer to be caught masturbating - mom or dad?" The site features some 30,000 questionnaires that resemble those we used to love on Facebook - until everyone got tired of them.

As is true of anything of quality offered online, I found myself caught up in all the questions. A glance at the other profiles revealed that many users answer hundreds of questions in dozens of questionnaires. That is all fine and dandy, but what most tend to forget is that the real motivations behind this pleasant pastime are goal-oriented. People sacrifice their privacy to an extent they are unwilling to in other places, not even on large sites like Facebook. Every question was followed by another - it slowly dawned on me that the site was learning about me and changing the list of potential matches accordingly. But even after I had answered additional questions, the site still complained that it did not know me well enough and awarded me only one star, in a rather obvious attempt to prompt me to reveal more about myself. But what wouldn't we do for love?

Genetic partner tests

The proprietors of datingdna.com promise to decode the users' dating DNA - a nice way of saying that they, too, have a long questionnaire which, once answered, can help you find the partner most suitable to you. But contrary to other such sites, you can take your dating DNA to the large social networks and join up with a compatible partner there.

The DNA issue is taken even further at genepartners.com. Although this is no online dating service, it could easily top the list of strange sites dedicated to partner search. All you have to do is to pay up $200 and send a saliva specimen to a company based in Zurich. Within three weeks, the company will create a genetic profile based on this specimen, which you can then - or so they promise - use to weed out possible matches. The problem is that this service only works for candidates who have already done the genetic testing themselves. The comparison is done at the company's site, after feeding in personal codes. Then they decide: compatible or not.

Dr. Tamara Brown, the company's director, said in a telephone conversation from Zurich that it is possible to take the code to the social networks or the online matchmaking services and even to real live match-makers. She said her company receives specimens from all over the world, including Israel. It turns out that the service is not only used by individuals; "so far, 10 percent of requests have come from couples," she said.

The company, Brown explained, is based on the research of Prof. Claus Wedekind, who set out to prove that people are attracted to those who are genetically compatible with them - or, to put it more exactly, to those who are as different from them as possible. The difference is expressed not in what we see but rather in the HLA gene responsible for the body's immune system. The more this gene differs between two people, the stronger their children's immune system will be.

"Wedekind's research proved that the differences in the gene can be distinguished by body odor," Brown says. And that is what Wedekind tried to prove - that, in fact, it is not necessary to use a sophisticated microscope to find the person most suited to you. "As part of Wedekind's research, men wore the same shirt for two consecutive days. Afterward, the women sniffed the shirts and graded the smells. He found that women always found pleasant smells on the shirts of those men whose HLA differed from theirs." Brown promises that the result of this unconscious sniffing is no less reliable than the click between two people.

Dr. Ohad Birk, director of the genetics center at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, is less enthusiastic about Wedekind's research. He does not rule out the possibility that there is something to the experiment's results but claims that Wedekind did not prove beyond any doubt that the difference in the HLA alignment is the factor responsible for the attraction between people. "Look, this is the kind of thing that is sexy, nice and fun to read about. God only knows whether it is correct or not," he says.

But Birk does not dismiss the experiment entirely. "It could be a good tool, even if you don't understand the mechanism," he says. In actual fact, Brown, too, does not promise that the test will lead to true love. She does, however, believe that it constitutes another filter. "If you have already met someone face to face, there is no need to do the test - after all, you already know whether there is chemistry between you. But if you meet 20 people online and you don't want to waste time on 20 dates to find out which one of them is compatible with you, the test will certainly save you time," she says.