Remember that date you went on last month, the one you spent hours exchanging witty email missives with before meeting -- only to discover that Steve the Musician is really Steve the Tax Attorney with a dusty drum set in his basement?

If you've spent any significant amount of time online dating, or met up for cocktails with a formerly-chatty Casanova who spent a good portion of the date staring at his shoes, you've probably already figured out that e-charm doesn't always translate to IRL presence. So, how do the Steves of the world manage to lock down a first date, and whom can we blame next time we find ourselves seated across a candlelit table from one of them?

The fault may lie with virtual-dating helpers -- that is, modern-day Cyranos who do the grunt work of online dating for you (and, most commonly, him), picking the best pictures for your profile, penning answers to profile questions about the celebrity you most resemble and what your favorite root vegetable says about you, and even doing all of the pre-date emailing and date setups with potential matches.

In fact, the Washington Post recently covered one such service, Virtual Dating Assistants, one of the first full-scale Internet-dating outsourcing companies. Here's how what they do may lead to a severe lack of second dates for you.

The company provides four basic services to those too busy, lazy, or inept to do it themselves: an initial getting-to-know-you phone interview with their client, dating profile creation, identifying and communicating with potential matches, and finally, arranging an in-person date. Because who doesn't want some 24-year-old kid in charge of your romantic future?

This may come as a surprise, but Max Hartshorn, the VDA interviewed by the Washington Post, doesn't even care if you get laid. His job is just generating leads -- and he gets paid for every woman who writes a (male) client back positively. "I don't care that much if it becomes a date or not," he admits.

The Washington Post goes on to give us a glimpse of the average Virtual Dating Assistants customer. Men like Richard, 39, who decided to outsource the pre-date process because it seemed like a convenient solution, "just from a cost-benefit analysis."

Oh Richard, you know how to sweet talk a lady. And, apparently, so do a lot of guys like him: 80 percent of VDA's clients are men.

Richard started the process three months ago. After a lengthy phone interview with the service, his virtual helpers (who cost $600 for a basic membership) crafted a profile and started scouting out potential dates for him.

He says he feels he's being authentically represented in the emails written on his behalf, and if history serves as any sort of guide, he probably is -- and then some: As Scott Valdez, founder of VDA said of one of their proxy daters, "we maybe made him look a little too cool online." (And future dates, the story notes, were warned that the guy was actually quite shy.)

Valdez started Virtual Dating Assistants after he found himself in Richard's shoes, finding it difficult to make the time to tend to his online love life. He found the process leading up to dates "really repetitive," and decided to outsource it to a recent college grad, who got him up and dating in no time. 25-year-old Valdez founded the company last June and now employs 45 freelance writers, gifted in e-flirting, to keep the machine running.

So, how do women feel when they learn that it's one of these 45 poets doing the writing instead of their actual flesh-and-blood date? Says Richard, who asked the Post not to use his last name for fear colleagues or potential dates might find out he uses the service, it's no big deal. He did 'fess up once, when a woman he was dating asked why he was so active on the site, but claims that she didn't seem to mind.

We're sure she didn't. We also bet she and her friends had a good laugh -- and are eventually hoping to meet a guy who can sign his own emails.

What do you think:
Useful service for the busy and/or socially awkward -- or an unforgivable deception that answers the rhetorical question "could online dating get any worse?"