Update: Get the entire Online Dating series, updated and compiled into the Tao of Bachelorhood Guide to Online Dating, absolutely free! Just subscribe to Tao of Bachelorhood to the right of this article or on the Subscription page.
Last week we looked at the “Big Three” online dating sites: Match.com, eHarmony and Plenty of Fish. Today we’ll go down a level to sites that aren’t as well-known but offer more places to cast your line. They range from the small and cool to the large and, well, minimal.
To repeat my recommendation from last week, try a few sites to see which one fits your style and offers the best selection, then focus on one site to begin with, branching out to others if your time allows. Use the free trials many paid sites offer, or start with a completely free site like Plenty of Fish or OKCupid. Starting next week I’ll help lead you through the process of writing a great profile, getting your photos up and contacting women.
First, though, let’s round out the top dating sites:
Monthly cost: $25/mo or $90/yr.
The folks at SinglesNet proudly trumpet “#1 Visited Dating Site!” Then the small print reads, “Dec. 2008.” Last year, though, Forbes put SinglesNet at fifth place, behind True (which I won’t recommend, for reasons I’ll get into later).
I’ve got to say, I’m completely unimpressed with SinglesNet. The first time you go to the site you’ll see an option to search for women in your area. Try it and you’re presented with search results—which you can’t access because they’ve overlaid a sign-up screen. A bait-and-switch like that only sets you up for the disappointment within.
There is no matching technology on SinglesNet that I can see. Searching is extremely simplistic: Age, location, and ethnicity. Age is even approximate: “around my age or younger,” “around my age or older,” “around my age” or “any age.” You’re basically getting a list of random women in an approximate age group, sorted by how long ago they last logged in. If you have the time to manually go through the profiles you could find a catch here, but I wouldn’t see myself paying $8 or more a month to manually sort women.
You’ll also want to shut off all e-mail alerts, because every time someone views your profile you’ll be sent an “interest” message. And the reverse is true: every time you click on a gorgeous face that turns out to have the profile of a career criminal, she’ll get a message that you’re “interested.” There’s very little online help, but with not much to do you probably don’t need it. And be careful to treat the women you meet here right, or they’ll put your handle up on the “scams” message board.
Monthly Cost: $30/mo or $120/yr.
Zoosk has positioned itself as the most social-network friendly of dating sites, and that’s great if you want your Facebook friends to follow along with your online dating exploits. It also allows you to give “gifts” just like Facebook (“Oooh, how sweet, he sent me a picture of flowers!”), and has you earning “coins” that presumably pay for the gifts. Looking and “winking” is free but you have to pay to contact, like most other sites.
Profile information is sketchy: no personality-based matching, and no body type information. Most of your work here will be on the essay questions. But there are a few extras: if you like comparing your Netflix queue or Last.fm playlist you can link to them. Searching for local women can be done using any of the multiple-choice answers and any age range, but there isn’t any matching technology here.
One Zoosk-specific feature might just be money: you can invite your friends to write “testimonials” to talk you up to the ladies. Hit up a couple of your best wingmen and craft testimonials for each other. It can’t hurt (as long as he doesn’t bring up the part about the projectile vomiting last weekend) and can certainly help.
Again, I wasn’t impressed with the selection of women here, compared to Match or Plenty of Fish, but what I did notice is that women on Zoosk seemed much more playful and tuned-in. If that matters to you, give it a try.
Monthly Cost: Free (extra matching features $10/mo)
The OkCupid logo is a beaker, which is your first clue that this site is about science! In fact, in complete opposition to the above two sites which use virtually no matching technology, OkCupid is almost entirely about matching. You could spend weeks on all the questions and tests that get you just a little more finely-adjusted matches.
Not to mention it’s fun to find out more about yourself, and explore the various traits of women you’re interested in. See if she’s earned the “More Kinky” badge, or find out her “Lover Style.” You can search on a number of criteria, but matching is always at the heart of OkCupid. You can improve matches by answering more “matching questions,” about everything from politics to TV shows to your fingernail-grooming habits. OkCupid also tracks (anonymously) the habits of its users and also does independent testing, and can tell you that those shirtless photos do work.
Best of all, it’s all free. Okay, nothing in life is really free – OkCupid makes its money selling something called the “A-List Subscription.” This gives you more search features (sort profiles by personality traits or popularity), messaging features (attachments) and visibility (“A-List” profiles appear in a special section on search pages—this would seem to defeat the point of matching, but whatever). Also, paid users don’t see ads, although they’re already the least intrusive of any site.
Since basic matching and contacts are free, you’ve got nothing to lose.
There are dozens, maybe hundreds of other places to find an Internet mate, from the simple-but-free DateHookup.com to the “intimate dating” site Mate1.com to ethnic- and religion-specific sites like BlackPeopleMeet or JDate. Match started up Chemistry.com to win some of the personality-match market from eHarmony. Some long-time standbys like Lavalife and Date.com still exist. If you have the time, check a few out.
There’s only one site I’ve had trouble with: True. Billed as the “safe” dating site, they certainly offer a number of matching options. However, the price to contact other users is prohibitive ($50/mo or $130/yr). And what’s more, the “safety” apparently ends outside the walls of True, as I was relentlessly spammed by them. I couldn’t turn it off. I tried sending them e-mail but it didn’t gain a response. I had to take the radical step of training my e-mail provider to treat them as spam. I’d like to go back there and check them out for you but I just won’t take the chance again.
And Then There’s Craigslist
If Craigslist is the Internet version of want ads, their personals are the Internet version of alternative-weekly personal ads. The people you meet will be a mixed bag, and there’s no searching or matching. Just either write up an ad or go look through the “Women Seeking Men.” The beauty of Craigslist is that no matter what you’re looking for, you just might find it. The downside is that you might find a lot of what you don’t want as well.
I could do an entire series on using Craigslist personals, and I just might, but for now let’s stick with some structure.
Your mission is to try a site or two. Sign up for free and explore, and let me know what you like or don’t like about the sites you check out.