Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. February fourteenth is Valentine’s Day. So this is a good time to play some love songs as we explore the subject of dating.

Valentine's Day is a special time for love. Millions of people will receive flowers, chocolate or some other gift. Others might get just a phone call or an electronic message from someone they care about.

Still others would be happy just to have someone special in their life on Valentine's Day.

Tradition tells us that Saint Valentine was a third-century Roman who performed marriages and died for his Christian beliefs on February fourteenth. That was a day celebrated in ancient Rome in connection with love.

Traditionally, young people in America lived with their parents until marriage. Some still do. But, in general, young people have grown more independent. They wait longer to get married.

Even then, they still have to find the right person.

There are many ways for people to meet. Some meet at work. Others meet by chance. Still others look for help from services that bring people together.

Friends and family members might offer to help. They might plan a blind date. This is a meeting between two people who have never seen each other before. And, unless things go well, may never seen each other again.

Some families follow their cultural traditions and plan the marriage of their child to a member of another family. The young people might not see each other much before they are married. Or they might see each other but never alone.

In movies, two people often fall in love after what Hollywood calls a "cute meet." They might be lawyers on opposite sides in a court case. Or one person gets a letter meant for the other. Or their dogs get into a fight on the street. Who knows how many people really do meet this way.

In real life, finding a person and establishing a relationship is usually hard work.

A lot of people try to improve their chances by looking in places where people with similar interests go. This might be a place of religion. Or a bookstore. Many bookstores in America offer special programs and social activities for single people.

Singles may join health clubs or sports teams where men and women play together. If nothing else, at least they get some exercise.

But sometimes none of these efforts succeed. So people might try to meet someone over the Internet. Here too there are no guarantees.

Internet dating services had been growing sharply through the end of two thousand three. But the industry growth rate has slowed.

What we are about to say may come as no shock, but people do not always tell the truth about themselves online. And if they do not exactly lie about their age, for example, then they might offer an old picture instead. Or a dating service might connect a person with someone who lives far away.

Some companies are working to improve their services. And others say they have a very good record of bringing people together.

There are companies with names like Match dot com (match.com) and eHarmony dot com (eharmony.com) and Americansingles dot com (americansingles.com).

And there are services especially for different groups, including older people. Senior FriendFinder dot com (seniorfriendfinder.com) says that in one week, it placed more than two thousand pictures of older date-seekers online.

People who meet through computer services may not have to give their full name or e-mail address at first. Relationships that begin over the Internet do sometimes lead to marriage. Yet there is a risk anytime strangers meet. It could be danger, or simply an unpleasant surprise.

A young woman in Washington, D.C., was angry after seeing a date she met over the Internet. In his picture, he looked twenty-five or thirty years old. In reality, she said, he was old enough to be her father.

Another example involves a woman in Chicago, Illinois. For several months, she exchanged e-mail with a man who sounded interesting. Then, when they met, he admitted he had a wife. He said he just wanted what he called "some harmless fun." The woman says she told him she was sorry she had wasted her time on a person who lies.

Online dating companies do offer some safety advice to women and men who decide to meet. For example, they say you should drive yourself to the date. And get together in a public place with lots of people around.

Another way to meet people is through a service like the one offered by a company called Brief Encounters USA. This company holds events for small groups of people in several states and Washington, D.C. Men and women meet and get only three to six minutes to introduce themselves.

This is how it works: Two people sit across from each other at a table. They talk until a bell rings. Then everyone meets a new person.

People write down their reactions to the ones they met. At the end, they give the names of those they liked best to an employee of Brief Encounters. Within forty-eight hours, the people who took part receive the names and telephone numbers of the people who liked them.

Religious organizations operate a number of dating services. A program called SpeedDating began in California with Jewish students in Los Angeles. Many young people gather in a room. They meet and talk with someone else for seven minutes before they move on to another person.

Many American newspapers and magazines publish what are called personals. These are messages from people who want to meet others. For example, a message might say: "Nice looking woman, thirty years old, thin, athletic, successful, great cook, desires long-term relationship."

There are also telephone services. People call and record a message about themselves and the kind of person they hope to meet. Other people call and listen to the messages. If they hear one they like, they leave their own message.

There are also video dating services. People go on camera and record a message about themselves. Then they wait until someone likes what they see.

In some cafes, people hope to find more than just a good cup of coffee. A place called Drip opened in New York City in nineteen ninety-six. It began with the idea of having employees help set up dates between people who answer questions about themselves. The idea spread. Drip dot com (drip.com) offers an online dating service.

However two people meet, once they have made a date, either alone or with friends, the question becomes where to go. People of all ages do many of the same things. They might go out to eat. They might go for a long walk. Or they might go dancing, or to a movie or a museum or a concert.

Some couples play sports together. Others like to spend an evening just watching television. However they spend their time, the important thing -- Valentine's Day or not -- is that they are spending it together.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.