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Online Dating: Finding Love on the Web
A new study shows that online dating is connecting more couples than ever. This Valentine’s Day, Cupid’s arrow could strike you on one of these sites.
If you’re in a relationship, you’ve probably had Valentine’s Day dinner reservations booked since January. If you’re not, you’ve likely been taunted by the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates in almost every store window on a daily basis. Remember, though, you’re not the only one without a date tonight.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2010 survey, there are 99.6 million unmarried people in the country. That means 43.6 percent of Americans over the age of 18 are single. The gentlemen are especially in luck; for every 88 unwed men 18 and older in the U.S., there are 100 women.
So, now you know that there are plenty of fish in the sea, but the problem is, you just can’t seem to catch the right one. Maybe you’re too busy to date, or maybe you’re unsure where to find other quality singles. Millions of others are in the same boat, and many of those singles are giving online dating a shot, dumping its longtime stigma.
A new study published in this month’s Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that among the participants who met their partners between 2007 and 2009, 22 percent of opposite-sex couples reported meeting on the Internet. The study suggested that while the scientific matching algorithms may not ensure compatibility, online dating is an effective way to connect with more singles.
Chart courtesy of Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science
In 2002, Wired predicted that, 20 years into the future, the idea of not looking for love online will be ridiculous, “akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because the right books are found only by accident.” A romantic thought, the author notes, but impractical. “After all, how likely is it that the book of your dreams will just fall off the shelf and into your arms?”
If you haven’t looked for love online, it might be time to consider it. With hundreds of dating sites out there—some paid and some free, some for equestrians and some for stoners —picking the right place to start can be daunting. We’ve compiled some of the most popular dating websites in hopes of helping you find your match.
Mainstream Dating Sites
For those looking to cast their net wide in the dating pool, the best bet is likely to dive into one of the many mainstream online dating sites. New users might migrate to free sites, like OkCupid or PlentyofFish, before fully committing to a paid account. OkCupid, which attracted more than 1.1 million unique visitors in December 2011, grants non-paying users free range of searching and messaging other non-paying users. Paying “A-List” users, however, earn some extras like ad-free browsing and advanced filtering options. The site matches users with a patent-pending method based on answers to often cheeky user-generated questions. The Canadian-based dating site PlentyofFish, which raked in more than 5 million unique visitors in December 2011, has a user base that blows the competition out of the water. Users baited by sheer numbers might be able to overlook its primitive interface.
More devoted daters are often willing to pay for online services, applying the philosophy that subscription-based sites will filter out spammers and attract other serious daters. (Note: An OkCupid co-founder argued in a blog post why users should never pay for online dating. After Match.com acquired OkCupid for $50 million last February, the post was removed.) Match.com is the first site that comes to mind for online daters just testing the waters. It boasts more than 20 million registered users, but keep in mind that the number is generally inflated since the number of paid subscribers with privileges to connect with other users is significantly lower. At Match, for instance, only 1.3 million users are paid subscribers, according to a February 2010 report. The service costs $34.99 per month ($19.99 per month for three months or $16.99 per month for six months) and gives users a lot of freedom over their profiles. Marketing itself to more marriage-minded daters, eHarmony, on the other hand, is much more structured, offering guided communication. It begins with a lengthy survey that will run you about 45 minutes and is designed to identify dimensions of compatibility. The more service also comes with a more serious price tag; subscriptions start at $59.95 per month.
New to the dating scene is Nerve Dating, launched by the crew at Nerve, an online magazine that covers sex, relationships, and culture. The fresh player thinks other dating sites out there rely solely on pseudoscience and look like a place where one would book a flight. Instead, Nerve Dating (which costs $20 per month) is “moving away from the algorithm era into the social era. This is a dating site that reflects how the Web has changed,” CEO Sean Mills told The New York Times. Users can post frequent status updates about a recent restaurant they dined at or film they saw, which makes it easier for others to start a casual conversation. “It’s the digital equivalent of opening Studio 54,” Mills said.
Religious Dating Sites
Whether it’s due to personal beliefs, cultural convenience, or traditional parents, some people prefer to date others of the same religion and many dating services cater to that choice. JDate, a popular site for those seeking a Jewish mate, boasts more than 450,000 active members, about half of which live in the United States. The site, which won a Webby in 2006 for social networking, organizes travel adventures and local events for its users. Although members don’t have to be Jewish to join, non-Jews are asked to indicate whether or not they would be willing to convert religions. Christian Mingle, owned by the same company that operates JDate, is a religious dating network aimed at developing Christ-based relationships. The largest and fastest-growing dating site for Christian singles, it claims more than 5 million members, 2 million of which joined in the past year. Muslima connects Muslims from all over the world that are looking for love. The homepage advertises the opportunity to meet “thousands of Muslim singles,” although the exact number of members is unclear.
Lifestyle Dating Sites
Much in the way that someone may want to date another of the same religion, someone may want to date another close in age, with a similar relationship history, or even with mutually understood intentions. Well, in the online dating world, there are sites for almost every walk of life.
The fastest growing demographic in online dating—up 39 percent in the last three years—is singles 55 and older, according to Internet tracking firm Experian Hitwise. (Singles ages 45 to 54 come in second.) Rather than hitting bars filled with frats boys, these “more mature” daters are flocking to sites like SeniorPeopleMeet. The site keeps setup and communication simple for those that find the Internet intimidating. Sometimes, though, those seniors seek someone younger. With more than 2 million members, CougarLife helps cougars—women over 35 hunting for younger men—find cubs—the younger men. “Our website makes it easier for them to narrow down their prey while they are on the prowl,” the site says.
As if dating isn’t hard enough, try raising kids at the same time. Owned by the same company as SeniorPeopleMeet, SingleParentMeet hooks up single parents, who often share similar priorities and attitudes when it comes to dating. Similarly, WidowsOrWidowers connects those who have lost a spouse and helps them build new romances and friendships. Not everyone online is looking for long-term love, though. Ashley Madison, “the world’s leading married dating site for discreet encounters,” pairs up its more than 12 million married but unfulfilled members with others interested in infidelity. “Life is short. Have an affair,” the site says. At Sugar Sugar, “where romance meets finance,” Sugar Babies in search of some funding can find a Sugar Daddy, though the terms of the arrangements are often blurry.
Niche Dating Sites
Sometimes merely a common concern for the environment, a shared passion for moustaches, or a mutual hatred for Ron Paul is enough to spark a romantic relationship. Hundreds of dating sites accommodate specific niche markets. Tastebuds, for example, pairs up people who listen to the same music, while the “meatless meet market” Veggie Connection matches those who eat (or eschew) the same foods. Those who fall hard for geeks might have luck on Brainiac Dating and more specifically, Apple fanboys and fangirls that clash with their PC counterparts can find harmony on Cupidtino. Pet lovers no longer have to choose between their dogs and their dates if they find an equally enthusiastic owner on Must Love Pets. Trekkies may even meet others with whom they can live long and prosper on Trek Passions.
By Meredith Popolo, PCMag