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Today online dating has reached maturity: major sites like Match.com and eHarmony have become entrenched by outlasting and buying their rivals, and newer free sites like Plenty of Fish and OKCupid are capturing those who can’t afford a monthly fee. Each site has its pluses, minuses and a different kind of clientele.
I recommend that you try a few services. Most have a free trial offer of anywhere from a week to a month—if you’re efficient and apply yourself you might generate a number of “real life” dates within the trial itself. Make sure you’re making an appropriate effort to create a quality profile and respond well to the women who catch your eye. (I’ll cover that soon.)
First let’s look at the Big Three competitors, which will feature the broadest range of women to choose from. Later we’ll go over some of the smaller or alternative options.
Until about a week ago, Match was third behind eHarmony and Yahoo Personals in total users. However, Yahoo Personals merged with Match, in theory adding their millions of users to Match’s millions to create an Internet dating goliath.
I say “in theory” because let’s face it, Yahoo Personals was made up of a ton of inactive free accounts. Searching for active users who could actually respond to your messages was incredibly hit-and-miss. The number of actual paid Yahoo users moving over to paid Match.com accounts could be anywhere from 50,000 to half a million—most dating sites don’t like to give away their paid-subscriber numbers because they’re far below the combination of paid members and free “looky-loos.”
But back to Match. This is the gold standard of paid sites, and they work hard to keep improving their offering. They’ve come a long way since I used their services several years ago. In addition to their powerful search function and contact tools, they offer the “Daily 5,” five women their software determines closely match your profile, and an in-house service to improve your profile (at an extra charge). They’ve also created chemistry.com to compete more directly with eHarmony. I like the fact that I can search for exactly what I’m looking for, including body type.
The downside is that you’ll have a lot of competition here—more people means many more guys who think they should send a form e-mail to the same 5% of the women. If you can stand out (and I’ll help you there), you can succeed, though. I did.
You’ve seen the ads with the happy married couples who met on eHarmony. You’ve heard about the “29 dimensions of compatibility.” You may even know that before the Match takeover of Yahoo’s customer base, eHarmony was the largest dating site in the world. Forget them. There are two things you need to know before you fish in the eHarmony waters: the Big Plus and the Big Minus.
The Big Plus for eHarmony is that about 60% of those millions of users are female. That’s right, the best odds online are at eHarmony. You’re outnumbered almost 2-to-1. Two girls for every boy, just like Surf City. In contrast, Match is almost even in male-female ratio, and Plenty of Fish has a slight lean towards more men.
But that brings us to the Big Minus: you don’t get to choose the women you can contact. No searches for “slender, blonde hair, with the keyword ‘MMA’ in their profiles.” eHarmony chooses the women for you, based on those 29 dimensions. You can tell them to filter for smoking, drinking, children, age, religion, ethnicity, education, income and distance, but after that it’s up to their computer algorithm.
After you’ve completed the personality tests and lists of “values,” eHarmony will start sending you profiles of women who they believe are a match. You can decide which to contact, and they try to make it fairly easy, even offering an anonymous phone forwarding service so women feel secure talking to you. All of this may actually save you from yourself if you don’t want to put a ton of work into online dating, but it may be a jolt to see the women you “match” if you’ve been overvaluing yourself on other sites.
The number one great thing about Plenty of Fish (or plentyoffish) is that it’s free. And it used to be completely free, but last year the site started offering a paid upgrade option to push your profile to the top of search results. The gimmick is that upgrades are only for those “serious members” looking for relationships. There’s a short test you must take—and quite frankly it’s probably easy to guess the “right” answers, so I don’t see it stopping anyone—before you’re offered the chance to pay between $6-10 per month.
My advice is to try the free service for a while first and see its strengths and weaknesses. Plenty of Fish is strong on numbers, so there are millions of women with profiles. Unfortunately, the site is weak on matching, so to find appropriate women to message you’ll have to use the Search feature and enter your criteria. Fortunately, the site remembers your last search so that you can repeat it to find new members at regular intervals.
Best of all, it’s free to send a message to any woman who floats your boat. However, members are allowed to specify who may send them messages. Most require a picture. Others will only allow you to talk to them if you don’t smoke. And it’s a dwindling few who will accept contact if you’re looking for an “intimate encounter.” (That means sex. Just thought I’d make that clear.) If your profile meets her criteria, though, send that note and get the party started!
The interface is clunky and it’s hard to find all the various controls, but if you can master it Plenty of Fish should be a great option for the cash-strapped. (Just don’t tell her you’re cash-strapped.)
Plenty of Sites
These are simply the largest sites out there, but there are many more worth your while for different reasons. In Part 2 we’ll look at OKCupid, Craigslist and specialty sites, as well as one or two you might stay away from. Until then, sign up for free at one or more of the “big three,” and take a look around.