We’ve all had that awful online-dating horror story. You know, the one in which the guy or girl seemed nice on screen, but was a total weirdo in real life. Or the one where you’re ghosted, and the person you thought was great completely disappears from your life in the blink of an eye without any explanation. Or the one where you get rejected from eHarmony for being too complex, seeing nuance in the world, and answering the questions with an offbeat sense of humor. Let’s face it, dating can be hard.
How have online dating sites and apps changed the way we connect?
Over the past fifty-odd years, American society has gone through a paradigm shift in terms of how we view family life, faith, and sexuality; and a combination of technology and legislation have fundamentally altered the culture. A study by eHarmony and the University of Chicago found that 35% of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, and have a lower divorce rate than those initiated offline. Granted, the source was small, a bit under 20,000 people, but nonetheless this is indicative of changing social mores.
The sheer quantity of available options have made immediate gratification impossibly easy, and traditional courtship and communication rituals have fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by screens and right-swipes. In theory, finding love should be simpler than ever, with bespoke-chosen candidates determined by encyclopaedic criteria lists, and every aspirant already vetted, either by you or whichever service you’re using. So, why are people still having difficulties finding the one?
One of the main problems with the online dating landscape may lie precisely in the huge amount of services available. Maybe you’ve just chosen the wrong platform. Each one, from eHarmony to OKCupid or Tinder, caters rather specifically to certain social groups and interests. For instance, if you’re a twenty-something-year-old looking for a quick, casual dalliance, Match.com is definitely not the service to subscribe to. On the other hand, for a 42-year old high school English teacher hoping to settle down, Match or eHarmony can be an excellent resource.
Which type of service is the best for me?
The better question would be, what are you looking for? Are you introverted or a social butterfly? Do you prefer the relative anonymity of the internet or the immediacy of face-to-face interactions? How much work are you truly willing to put in? And finally, are you looking for a long-term commitment or are you a long ways away from wanting to settle down? Do you have a mile-long list of requirements in a potential partner or are you more go with the flow? Is having common interests super important to you or not so much? Is physical appearance a deal breaker? Is religion?
The answers to these questions should give you a good idea of your online dating goals and needs, and which platforms might appeal to you more. It turns out, you don’t really have to choose between browsing on the web or using a convenient app on your phone, as most offer both features.
Strictly something casual
If you’re looking for a short-term, casual fling, an app like Tinder or Bumble may be perfect for you. They function in basically the same way, appealing to the most basic instincts of our culturally short attention span, and the main criteria is unadulterated physical attraction –there is a small section for a bio, but most people base their choices on purely superficial reasons–.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the app on your phone, uploaded some pictures and written a little paragraph about yourself --which isn’t required but highly recommended-- you’re good to go. Pictures of potential candidates within your chosen area appear on your screen. A right-swipe means you’re interested, and a left-swipe is a no-no. Whenever your picture ends up on his/her screen, if you’re right-swiped, you both get a notification and can start texting. You can even download a version for the AppleWatch.
Couldn’t be simpler, right? When it really gets fascinating, though, is when you start looking at the user stats. According to a recent data study by Taha Yasseri of the Oxford Internet Institute, Tinder is responsible for 26 million matched pairs per day, worldwide. When you analyze the data more closely, trends start to emerge. Men disproportionately swipe right on almost everything, whereas women are much more selective, and this results in their matching rate being almost ten percent vs males’ 0.6. This tends to indicate the beginning of a vicious cycle in which men like every image, and women are then virtually guaranteed a match whenever they swipe right on a man. Let’s hope Tinder developers are working on that in their algorithms.
The female-oriented option of Tinder is Bumble. Founded by a former Marketing VP at Tinder, Bumble puts women in the driver’s seat by only allowing them to initiate contact, once a match has been established. The most a guy can do if he hasn’t been contacted within a day is extend one match for an extra 24 hours. Other than that feature, it’s virtually a Tinder clone, with a bit more required information, such as where you went to college.
I’d like something more than a casual date
Other sites, like Plenty of Fish (PoF), MeetMe, and OkCupid, have more detailed tactics for matching potential couples. OkCupid and PoF have questionnaires that users fill out in order to create their profile and, in theory at least, determine personality and best matches. Though both are free, they do have pay-per-use extra features for increasing visibility or eliminating ads. PoF heavily focuses on romantic relationships, whereas OkCupid also matches you based on friendship and enmity potential. It can be fully integrated with Facebook, friends can tag you with recommendations, and as a bonus, is also surprisingly useful for finding non-traditional pairings. For a really good guide on how to maximize your results, no matter what sort of relationship you’re looking for, check out this article.
MeetMe, on the other hand, functions as a sort of Instagram-like social network, as it doesn’t match you with people or make you go through a lengthy personality questionnaire. The way you choose people you might be interested in is by scrolling down the live feed, where members post pictures or status updates. When somebody catches your eye, a click will take you to their individual feed, with a collection of all their previous updates. Once on a profile, you can friend them and start a private chat. The pressure for dating is practically non-existent, as the site can also be used to meet new friends and build community.
All three of these sites also have apps that you can download and use from your mobile device.
All you need is love
Most of the longest-running sites focus a lot more on the ways to determine your personality and interests before matching you with other users. Most charge a fee, which makes sense, as they are putting in a considerable amount of analysis work meant to reduce incompatibility. Charging not only covers those costs, but should also weed out some of the people who aren’t truly serious about looking for a relationship.
Match is arguably one of the largest dating sites around, with a lot of extra features. Though it is completely free to register and post a profile, in order to communicate with any potential match, you must upgrade your membership. However, for six month subscription packages, they now offer a guarantee: if you don’t find someone special within half a year, they’ll give you the rest of the year for free. This site can be excellent for an older crowd, especially as the over-50 demographic is its fastest-growing sector. Regardless, the pool is huge, with more than 4.29 million unique visitors per month, and they’ve recently incorporated an app to help you navigate their users.
eHarmony is a little bit newer, but has grown a lot in its 15+ years. They base their matches on an advanced matching algorithm called the Compatibility Matching System, which evaluates 29 dimensions of personality traits, including obstreperousness, conflict resolution, ambition, curiosity and emotional energy. Apparently, this in-depth probing has led to more marriages than any other similar website. This may also have to do with their demographic, though, as they cater mostly to the 35-54 crowd, which is generally interested in settling down regardless. Unlike other websites, which allow you to surf through profiles, eHarmony delivers a selection of daily match recommendations based on your compatibility score and other questions answered during your registration. Though it does boast an excellent success rate, especially within an age group that tends to have difficulty meeting new people, let alone dating, eHarmony is one of the most expensive dating sites available, and since they curate your selections, it may take more than a month to get matched with someone you like. The eHarmony app can be downloaded for free once you have an account, and has some extra features not on the website.
The takeaway, when looking at online dating apps and websites, is that each of them offers specific features and services, and that your choice should be determined by your wants. The question isn’t really between browsers or mobile apps, but between building friendships, casual flings, fun dating and companionship, or committed relationships. A good place to start looking at some options is our top 10 list.