Love is hard to find, and even harder to keep. You meet someone at a bar or club, engage in a fleeting courtship, and enjoy a fulfilling relationship — until the wheels begin to loosen, and the realization sets in that maybe you’re not as perfect a couple as you had originally thought. At least, that’s how things used to be. In the information age, online dating sites have revolutionized the way humans beings meet, creating new opportunities and expectations for compatibility. For many singles, the world of internet dating has gone from last resort to first choice for many singles.
There are lots of reasons to try online dating services. Maybe you’re a workaholic with just a few hours of free time each week, and you don’t feel like spending those precious hours shouting over loud music at a nightclub. Maybe you’re agoraphobic, or you can’t afford to sign up for one of those “wine and painting” events without mortgaging your student loan debt — damn you, Big College! Whatever the reason, many rely on dating sites to deliver potential matches based upon shared interests or commonalities.
There’s even a mobile app, Hater, that’ll hook you up with prospective partners based on stuff you both can’t stand (if mobile apps are more your speed, we’ve got you covered there too). With so many options, though, diving into the deep end can be daunting. Luckily, we’re here to help. Check out our finds for the best online dating sites.
Match.com ($33 to $37 per month)
Match.com is an extremely straightforward site: Make a profile, look at other profiles, see someone you like, message them. It’s simple to use, which might be a plus if you’re nervous about getting into the online dating game. Following account creation, users are asked to do a personality test through Chemistry.com; Match then uses that information to make suggestions, while a clever algorithm tracks your activity on the site and tailors your experience accordingly.
The catch is that free accounts can only communicate by winks — Match’s equivalent to the Facebook “poke.” If you can successfully woo someone using just a digital wink, then congratulations! You’re probably attractive. For paid users, Match offers a host of neat features, like real-life “Stir” meetup events, and the site will provide you with around ten matches per day to consider. That’s a lot of matches! It is called Match.com, after all.
eHarmony ($44 to $60 a month)
Even if you know nothing about online dating, you should recognize the founder of eHarmony, Neil Clark Warren. He’s the Bernie Sanders-looking man who — according to his widespread advertisements — wants everyone to fall in love, and as of 2008, that includes homosexual couples. This site is the most expensive on this list, but it also requires the least amount of work in the long run. The initial personality quiz — which tests for its trademarked “29 Dimensions of Compatibility” — can be daunting and take a couple hours, but after that, eHarmony emails you matches. You don’t need to continually monitor your profile or dig through pages and pages of prospective matches.
This is an especially nice feature if you are nervous about approaching people, because the site sends an email to each person saying they are a match, which means you don’t have to ever make the first move. It also means you don’t have as much control as with other sites. They do promise to give you three months free if your first three months don’t work out.
Zoosk ($30 per month)
The winner of 2015’s Webby award for “Best Dating Site,” Zoosk effectively markets to millennials by providing a layout that’s similar to popular dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. Here, you’re limited to viewing one profile at a time, rather than the wall of faces that some websites throw at you. A carousel section functions almost identically to Tinder, where you’ll churn through profiles, deciding if you’re interested (on Zoosk, there’s also a “maybe” option).
The search engine allows users to filter by ethnicity and body type, in addition to all the regular stuff (age, gender orientation, location), and if you’re searching, you won’t be swiping; instead, to engage someone, you can add them, send a wink or gift (gifts cost points), or send a message if they’re online. The “Smart Match” feature asks you questions — stuff like “would you date someone with kids?” — to whittle down the list of potential matches, and it works pretty well. Zoosk is free to join, and in lieu of a traditional subscription, you can pay for packs of “coins” to boost your profile, which increases visibility to members of your target demographic. Coin packs cost between $10 and $50, with value scaling up as you buy more.
Tastebuds ($10 a month, or $30 for six months)
Taste in music can be a deal maker or deal breaker. You might have a million things in common with someone, but as soon as they let slip that they prefer Slipknot to Sondheim, a budding relationship can wilt quickly. That’s why British web developers Alex Parish and Julian Keenaghan created Tastebuds.fm, a dating service that matches you up with potential mates (the procreative kind and/or the British kind) based upon your ears — or, rather, the stuff you prefer to put into your ears.
A free account allows users to send songs to other members, as well as “throw cows” at people, which seems to be Tastebuds’ answer to the played-out winks you’ll find elsewhere. Dropping an extra $10 per month (or, if you prefer, $30 for half a year) unlocks messaging, so you can actually use your words and not just your favorite music to woo those you find desirable. You’ll add a list of favored artists to your profile, and you can fill in answers to generic statements like “If I had a million dollars, I would…” or “When I was 13, my favorite band was…” Frankly, Tastebuds’ list of features and its lack of matching algorithms make it inferior to most popular dating sites, but it’s a cool, unique twist that music lovers will appreciate.
OkCupid ($10 to $25 per month)
OkCupid is geared toward younger, hipper singles, as evidenced by the affordable rates and the fact that co-founder Christian Rudder is a member of ultra-hipster band Bishop Allen. As a result, the sign-up process is quick and painless (to reflect our attention spans), and the site’s UI is clean, simple, and easy to use. If you’re on a free account, the only information available to you on others’ profiles is username and location, along with a photo, of course. You can “like” prospects and send them messages (though they’ll disappear after a bit), and there’s a “quickmatch” option for all the swipers out there.
Signing up for a premium membership nets you a few bonus features, like invisible browsing and message storage. OkCupid claims it will never post to Facebook, but other sites have made similar claims only to mysteriously appear on your Facebook feed, so just sign up with an email address if that makes you nervous. Each profile you view will display a “match rating” based upon how compatible the site thinks you’ll be, which is calculated using a series of questions upon sign-up, as well as profiles in which you’ve previously shown interest. Each profile also hilariously shows an “Enemy” rating, so you could theoretically find your exact opposite and try to find attraction.
Passion.com ($ 20 to $40 per month)
Despite the risqué imagery displayed on its home page, Passion.com is actually rather tame compared to most adult dating sites out there. Profile photos and content on Passion tend to be more suggestive than outright X-rated, and the site actually boasts a rather large and active user base. Users vote on profiles, pictures, and videos to collect “bling” and (hopefully) earn a spot on the service’s list of top members. The search function is filled with all sorts of fun filters to help you find your kink, and there are tons of options to fill out on your profile to ensure you’re only appearing for the right people.
Additionally, you can browse live webcam feeds and sweep through lists of the top rated and hottest members, and anything you like, comment on, or view will automatically be stashed in your “My Stuff” section. It’s a handy feature that really shines after you’ve spent some time with the site, as all the moving parts can get overwhelming, and it can be difficult to remember the username of someone you found attractive. If you’re looking for an “adult friend finder” type of experience, Passion.com might actually be too PG for you; it’s not just a hookup site, it’s a romance site — at least, it’s trying to be. For people who are looking for only three or four shades of gray, it’s a great option.
Compatible Partners ($60 per month)
If Compatible Partners website reminds you of eHarmony’s, that’s because it is. In 2009, amid complaints that its site wasn’t particularly LGBTQ-friendly, the company launched a sister site dedicated to same-sex and queer dating. Compatible Partners utilizes the same algorithm as eHarmony — driven by that same “29 dimensions of compatibility” — to provide you with matches based on a fairly lengthy questionnaire upon registering. It’s actually free to sign up and match with other singles, and you can even send winks, but the meat of the site is locked behind a paywall.
If you do decide to take the plunge, the site does an excellent job of matching you up, as it’ll tell you. As you’ll be shelling out a decent bit of loot, the site does a lot of work for you — there’s no “browsing” on Compatible Partners, and you won’t need to build up courage to message random singles. The Guided Communication process allows users to talk to their matches without first seeing photos or personal info; it’s a stark contrast to sites like Passion, which elevate attraction above all else. If you’re hoping for something more casual, look elsewhere; if you’re really searching for love, though, give it a shot.
If you’ve got some strict parameters when it comes to finding a partner — maybe they have to be a specific ethnicity, or maybe they have to be Amish (good luck on that one) — some of the sites above offer sub-sites (like eHarmony’s black dating site) to fill that desire. If that doesn’t work, there are hundreds of niche dating sites out there, and you’re almost certain to find one that matches your needs. Below, we’ve put together a short list of more specific dating services that’ll cater to your preferences. Good luck!