The Best Online Dating Sites
It really comes down to quality over quantity
To find a needle in a haystack, you want lots of needles and not too much hay. After analyzing usage data and talking to dating experts, we test-drove the top seven to see which of the best online dating sites led to the highest quality hellos. The offline part, we've left up to you.
May 9, 2017: In the original version of this review, we only tested dating platforms that offered the full functionality of a website and didn’t dive into app-only options. In this update, we tested two swipe-based apps, Tinder and Bumble, plus Zoosk, whose user base has grown in the last few years. Even with the added competition, OkCupid still came out on top.
We’ll be the first to admit evaluating online dating sites is a subjective process. Chemistry, attraction, and love are obviously difficult to quantify, and different people have different desires, needs, and goals for their romantic lives. Plus, your experience with any dating site is going to be colored by all sorts of things: your gender, age, sexual orientation, looks, location. The list goes on.
Knowing it would be impossible to evaluate the ineffable, we set out simply to find which dating sites or apps were most likely to get you a compatible match. (The actual “going on dates” part we’ll leave to you.)
Best Matching Algorithm
OkCupid's strength lies in its robust matching algorithm. It asks you a mix of open-ended and multiple choice questions about your personality, likes, and dislikes from “What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?” to “Do you think women have an obligation to keep their legs shaved?” And it lets you rate how important a potential match’s answers to those same questions are. While we received a handful of short, spammy, or rude messages (19 out of 41), OkCupid served up the most compatible matches of all the sites and apps we tested. All this is free, but to unlock features like incognito mode, read receipts, and a larger inbox, you can upgrade to a paid plan for $10 per month.
Best for First Impressions
Tinder is also free, but it emphasizes matches based on chemistry — your photos are the most prominent part of your profile. And it’s easy to get started: just upload a few photos from your Facebook profile, add an optional bio, and start checking out other users in your area. Only mutual matches can message each other — both parties have to “swipe right”, so you can be as selective as you want. A paid account starts at $10 per month and lets you rewind your last swipe and “like” an unlimited number of people.
Women Call the Shots
Like Tinder, Bumble is a free swiped-based app, but women have to send the first message. If they don’t, the match disappears after 24 hours (unless you upgrade to an $8 paid account). Bumble has a reputation for kickstarting more meaningful conversations — women can set the tone at the get-go, and men have a clear indication that their match is really interested in chatting.
Most Users Over 40
Match.com was the first real dating website, and it’s the only paid site in our top picks — you can create a profile for free, but to actually do anything it’s $23 a month. We liked that it organizes regular in-person events like speed dating, happy hours, and game nights for its members, but its matching algorithm wasn’t as robust as OkCupid and the open-ended profile questions seemed like too big of a time investment for its users — we saw a lot of incomplete profiles.
We also tested three other sites: eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, and Zoosk. While we can’t recommend them, we hope we can save you the trouble of experiencing them yourself. Take it from us, eHarmony was just a worse version of Match.com. At $46 per month it’s the most expensive option out there, but had the highest number of blank profiles. Meanwhile, Plenty of Fish lives up to its name — we received twice as many of messages compared to OkCupid. But almost all of them were suspiciously short, spammy, or just plain rude. Zoosk took it one step further — you’ll pay a monthly subscription for low-quality matches.
How We Found the Best Online Dating
Matchmaker and online dating expert Carmelia Ray points out that “as a user, you want to have the most selection and options. When you’re putting in your search criteria, and it’s coming back ‘no matches found,’ that’s a bummer.”
To find the most popular options, we turned to Alexa, a web-traffic analytics company. We tested any with at least a million active users in the US. It’s impossible to know exactly how many users are active on a given site or app (especially because mobile users aren’t reflected in Alexa data), but we’re definitely in the ballpark. In early 2017, Barron’s estimated that Tinder has about 30 million active users and Bumble is close to 10 million.
That left us with seven sites and apps to test.
They’re are all likely names you recognize: OkCupid, Match.com, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, Bumble, and Zoosk. Our tester tried them all. She came up with a snappy username, entered her personal information, wrote detailed but pithy descriptions of her hobbies and interests, answered hundreds of multiple-choice questions, posted photos, and browsed profile after profile. She kept a detailed log of every view, like, wink, fave, and message she received. We used it all to find the best.
We looked at how easy it was to create a great profile.
Good online dating profiles are both extremely important and surprisingly hard to find. Krissy Dolor, the director of dating at eFlirt says, “When online dating, people skim through profiles, so it’s important to stand out in the crowd. Avoid being generic with clichés like ‘live, laugh, love’ or ‘I like to laugh and have fun.’”
One way for a dating app or site to help users avoid that trap is to offer lots of fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice questions — that way, you don’t have to come up with any clever turns of phrase. But of course, without your voice, it’s hard for your personality to shine through in your profile. The best ones strike a balance between both approaches.
And how accurate the algorithms were.
All of our top dating apps use an algorithm to match you with people you should be compatible with and interested in — and keep those “automatic nos” out of your feed. This is the real heart of online dating (anyone could sift through profiles on their own) and some sites and apps do it better than others.
We wanted meaningful interactions to outweigh mediocre ones.
Since our tester was a straight woman, her experience with online dating is weighted more toward receiving messages than sending messages. (According to a study from OkCupid, the majority of women don’t send the first message in online dating conversations — but they get great results when they do.) To keep our judgments as objective as possible, we used a rubric to categorize each message:
- Good messages mentioned a common interests or asked about something in our profile (aside from physical appearance). They were free of any major spelling or grammar errors, and sometimes they were funny.
- Mediocre messages were boring and impersonal: “Any plans for the weekend?” or only focused on physical appearance: “You have incredible eyes”.
- Bad messages included anything extremely short (“Hi”) or generic (“I found many features of your profile interesting”). Anything passive aggressive, like “You probably won’t respond to this, but…” or “I like your big nose” was out, as were threats, obscene comments, and spam.
Unfortunately — but perhaps not all that surprisingly — the majority of the messages we received on traditional dating sites were mediocre or downright bad. But swipe-based apps like Tinder were different. To send someone a message, both users have to indicate they’re interested by “swiping right” on their profile. We still got a few bad messages, but the overall quality was better compared to the traditional dating sites we tested.
We received too few messages on eHarmony and Bumble to provide an accurate comparison.
Cost was a factor, but not a big one.
Because none of the platforms we tested were exorbitantly priced, we didn’t weigh cost too heavily when ranking them. That said, the fact that OkCupid, Tinder, and Bumble are free definitely stands out.
Our Picks for the Best Online Dating Platforms
Of the seven dating apps we tested, we can confidently recommend four.
Best Matching Algorithm
No matter what you’re looking for — casual hookups, marriage, polyamory, relationships with men, relationships with women, a little bit of everything — OkCupid can accommodate. It’s by far the best-looking and easiest to use of our top four, on both browser and mobile, with intuitive iconography and streamlined features. Two factors really set OkCupid apart from the competition: It produces the best profiles, and it uses the best matching algorithm.
OkCupid sports a clean layout on both desktop and mobile (left) and it’s playful enough (right) to make for a fun overall experience.
The standard fields you fill in on your profile are open-ended without being too general, which lets people come up with creative, interesting answers almost without trying. Yes, it includes the standard prompt to list your favorite movies, music, and TV shows, but it also asks you what six things you couldn’t live without and what you spend a lot of time thinking about. With those kinds of questions, it would be hard not to come up with unique answers that show potential dates what makes you you. Unlike on most of the other apps we tested, we didn’t find any OkCupid profiles left blank or populated by “I’ll fill this out later.”
In addition to the more free-form profile prompts, OkCupid also lets you answer multiple-choice questions, which it uses to produce its famous match percentage. Like many other dating sites, OkCupid algorithmically compares your answers to those of other users to determine if you’re compatible. But unlike most dating sites, it (a) lets you choose the answer you want your partner to give, and (b) lets you rank how important the question is to you.
OkCupid uses your answers to these questions to do a bunch of math, so that whenever you look at another user’s profile, you see a “match percentage” (which measures ways you’re compatible with someone) and an “enemy percentage” (which measures ways you’re not compatible with someone). Though OkCupid emphasizes high match percentages, it’s just as important to have a low enemy percentage.
OkCupid’s multiple-choice questions offer users an impressive amount of options. (Right) Match Percentage gives you a quick glance at your compatibility with other members.
Regardless, of the 90 matches we browsed during our week of testing, 31 seemed promising — a higher percentage than any other dating site. On the receiving end, we got 43 messages (a good amount, but not too many to deal with), and 28 percent were good. That’s lower than on Tinder, but still pretty good for a site where anyone can send you a message. Speaking of Tinder, if you want to get in on that swiping action while still taking advantage of OkCupid’s superior algorithm, use OkCupid’s new Double Take feature. It emphasizes photos and swiping right or left, but you get to see more of a potential date’s profile info than you would on Tinder, and of course you can click through to see all their answered questions and other relevant details.
Upgrading to “A-list” for $10/month unlocks bonus features like incognito mode, read receipts, and a larger inbox, but all of OkCupid’s core features — messaging others, answering questions, and checking your match percentages — are free to use. Our advice: start with the free version. If you’re not getting any hits, spring for the $2 “boost” feature — it puts your profile in front of a LOT more users in a mere 15 minutes (878, in our tester’s case).
Best for First Impressions
Tinder is the exact of opposite of OkCupid — matches are based purely on mutual attraction — but it works just as well. Instead of spending hours in front of your screen trying to find a soulmate who meets all of your criteria, you basically play a quick swiping game when you have a few spare minutes. When you find someone you think is cute, you get off the app, go on a date, and see if any sparks fly.
It has evolved from its early days as a hookup app to an app for all kinds of dating, but it maintains its casual, carefree aesthetic by doing away with the extensive questionnaires of first-generation dating sites. Your photos are by far the most prominent part of your profile, and you only get 500 characters (about four or five sentences) to describe yourself.
That may sound a little superficial if you’re on the market for a long-term partner, but there is something to be said for the kind of chemistry that a computer can’t calculate for you. And Tinder’s “Smart Photos” feature automatically sets your most swipe-right-able photo as your profile pic.
Tinder does use an algorithm to match people, but it’s based more on attractiveness than on suitability as a partner. To oversimplify a bit, the more people swipe right on you, the higher your desirability rating, and the app shows you people with desirability ratings similar to yours.
On more traditional dating sites, men generally send a lot of messages to women, most of them pretty bad. But on Tinder, you can only exchange messages with someone once you’ve both swiped right, which reduces the flood of messages to a more manageable stream. People (of any gender) can of course still send bad messages, but the self-selection factor tends to cut it down a bit. Our tester received a higher proportion of high-quality messages on Tinder than on any other dating app: 6 of 15 messages were good. You’ll likely get fewer messages, but the ones you get will probably be higher quality.
Basic functionality — browsing, swiping, messaging — is free, interrupted by occasional ads. A paid account (one month for $20, six months $78, and a year for $96) gives you some bonus features that are nice but not necessary, like rewinding your last swipe. For users under 30, that price is cut in half.
Women Call the Shots
Like Tinder, Bumble is a swipe-based dating app, but with one big distinction: straight men can’t make the first move. After a mutual match, women have to send the first message and if she doesn’t make a move in 24 hours, the match disappears forever — unless, that is, you have a paid account, in which case either person can extend a match by another 24 hours or even reconnect with expired matches. For same-sex matches, the 24-hour rule still applies, but either person can message first.
Because of these features, the paid version of Bumble is substantially better to use than the unpaid version (unlike Tinder and OkCupid, where there’s not a huge difference between paying and not paying). Bumble is $3 a week, $8 a month, $15 for three months, or $24 for six months.
Tinder co-founder, Whitney Wolfe conceived Bumble as a “100 percent feminist” way to reduce that harassment in the online dating world. She says forcing women to make the first move is good for both genders: Women not only receive less harassment but also don’t get trapped in a passive role they don’t want, while men have to do less work and get to feel “flattered” instead of experiencing “rejection and aggression.”
But the real question is: Does the ladies-first policy work?
This was kind of a difficult claim for our tester, a straight woman, to evaluate. On other dating sites and apps, men messaged her, and she could sort the messages into good, bad, and mediocre. On Bumble, she had to send the first message, in which she revealed she was just testing out the app for a review. Most men simply never replied, a few responded warmly and talked about their experiences on Bumble, and a couple responded with hostility. Those who responded also mentioned that most of the messages they received from women were just as lackluster as the ones men send on other sites.
Most Users Over 40
Match.com has a reputation as a better place to search for long-term relationships than more hookup-friendly platforms like OkCupid or Tinder. Its users skew a little older — more thirty- and forty-somethings than those in their twenties — which means they’re more likely to be looking to settle down. And science backs that reputation up: According to one study, Match.com and eHarmony produce the most marriages of any dating sites or apps.
It’s free to build a profile, but you have to pay to send or receive messages. It’s by far the most expensive option: $70 for three months or $240 for a year, and that fee isn’t refundable if you choose to cancel.
Like OkCupid, Match.com tries to strike a balance between letting you use your own words and helping you fill in pre-fab questions and fields. It does a decent job, but not an outstanding one. The information it asks for is more boring (how many times a week you exercise) and often too open-ended (describe yourself in your own words), which means people often don’t complete their profiles, or they fill them in with the kind of clichés Dolor warns against.
Match.com’s open-ended prompts can lead to incomplete or cliché-filled profiles.
The design is more cluttered than OkCupid, so it’s harder to take in information at a glance, and it seems a bit redundant to offer winks, likes, and faves. But the app is more streamlined, and everything is easy enough to use, whether you’re accessing the site from a laptop or phone.
In the past year, Match has tweaked their algorithm to resemble OkCupid’s, at least outwardly, even displaying a tiny match percentage in some places on the site.
But without the full sophistication of that algorithm, it often matched our tester with people based on meaningless similarities: “He shares the same birth month!” Match did a decent job at showing our tester potential dates she was actually interested in (of 88 profiles browsed, 11 seemed promising) — just not as good as OkCupid, Tinder, or Bumble. The site may be better suited to the user who wants to browse matches on their own and decide for themselves whom they consider compatible.
We received 35 messages — a few less than on OkCupid — and we would classify five of them as good. Eight were mediocre, and 22 were bad: That’s only 14 percent good messages. So while Match is, statistically speaking, better for marriage-minded daters, not everyone using it is marriage-minded enough to take the process seriously or put in enough effort.
One great feature that sets Match apart from other big dating sites is that it organizes and promotes regular in-person events like speed dating, happy hours, and game nights. As Dolor says, “The only way people can truly evaluate whether or not they’ve made a good match is by turning online conversations into offline dates, and seeing where things go when they’re face to face with someone.” No dating site facilitates that better than Match.com.
Other Sites and Apps We Tested
We can confidently recommend OkCupid, Match.com, Tinder, and Bumble. But we also hand-tested three more: eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, and Zoosk. While these three are all big names in online dating, we were not impressed.
As a dating site, eHarmony has a reputation for being old-fashioned and marriage-oriented, and it likes it that way. “Do you want fast or forever?” one of its TV commercials asks. Like we mentioned, eHarmony and Match.com are neck and neck for the most marriages, with eHarmony eking out the top spot by 0.7 percentage point.
Though it’s not exorbitant, eHarmony is the most expensive of the sites we tested. The most basic plan costs $46 a month, and you have to pay for three months minimum upfront. That’s $138 before you have any idea whether you like its services or not.
Our experience on eHarmony was mostly negative. The design is buggy on both the website and the app, which makes it harder to use. Our tester got way fewer views (8) and messages (1) than on any other site, and we encountered way more blank profiles (13) than on any other site, perhaps because of the super long and soon-to-be-optional compatibility questionnaire. That was extra disappointing considering how much money the site cost. If you’re looking for older users on a traditional dating site, Match.com surfaced better profiles and cost half as much.
eHarmony often offered potential matches based on the flimsiest of connections — like a love of cats.
The one interaction we did have, however, was more pleasant because of a great eHarmony feature: Send a Question. If talking about yourself isn’t your strong suit, the Send a Question feature can help you out by providing prewritten questions like “What’s your idea of a fun date?” or “What is your dream getaway vacation?” as well as prewritten answers (although they do give you the option to use your own words if you want). There are also questions about more serious topics like how you feel about having kids and how to handle conflicts in relationships. This feature spared us from having to field messages that just said, “Hi sexy ;)” and spared the people messaging us from the stress of coming up with something fresh and snappy on the fly.
eHarmony’s Send a Question feature can help when you’re struggling with what to say.
People looking for same-sex relationships can’t use eHarmony at all. If you try to sign up, you’ll be shuttled to eHarmony’s sister site, [affiliate id=”64034″ anchor=”Compatible Partners”, which may be the only gay and lesbian dating site on the market with a name obviously invented by straight people.
Plenty of Fish is difficult to use, not too pretty to look at, and frankly overwhelming, at least if you’re a straight woman. We got way, way, way more activity than on any other site: a total of 683 views and 135 messages. This would be a good thing — more potential matches, more choices — except that most of the interactions were extremely low quality. Only 11 of those 135 messages were good. Twenty-seven were mediocre, and 95 were bad. In fact, our tester was propositioned to exchange sex for money twice.
Many times, we weren’t sure if the messages we were receiving were from a real human or a spambot, because they just said “hey” or something similar. Clicking through to the sender’s profile didn’t help; most people don’t spend very much time filling out their profile on POF, and it was hard to tell if something like “……..” was written by a scammer who didn’t want to invest too much time in a fake profile or a guy genuinely looking to date who just got bored while filling out his info.
(Left) We weren’t too impressed by the quality of messages we got through Plenty of Fish. (Right) By default, the POF app is set to notify you of all sorts of interactions, which got tiresome quickly.
But Plenty of Fish is still useful for two main reasons: It’s free, and, like all our top sites, has millions of users. Plus, if you actually do put effort into crafting a great profile and sending high-quality messages, you’ll really stand out.
As of 2015, Zoosk accounts for 5 percent of the online-dating market. That’s relatively small compared to the other dating sites and apps we looked at, but it’s remarkably high for such a substandard product.
Zoosk takes the worst parts of Plenty of Fish — bad user-experience design, an overwhelming amount of low-quality messages, and a more or less useless matching algorithm — but instead of giving them to you for free like POF, Zoosk charges money (1 month at $29.95, 3 months at $19.98/month, 6 months at $12.49/month).
On top of that, you can pay extra for virtual coins which can be exchanged for features like read receipts, boosts, and “gifts.” “Gifts,” by the way, are little images of hearts and teddy bears you can send to other users to indicate you’re interested. Who on earth wants to pay extra to show a stranger a tiny pixelated image of jewelry?
Zoosk gives you a much worse product than its competitors. Take, for example, their “wink” system. If you choose to “wink” at someone, it just sends them a message that says “wink wink” with a winking emoji, resulting in an inbox full of one word repeated over and over again. Even worse, Zoosk automatically sends a reply from you to the person who winked at you. Its default message: “Thanks. If you’re interested in contacting me, please drop me a line and tell me more.” So now both people have an inane, impersonal message from each other, killing any possibility of an interesting conversation before it even starts.
Even ignoring the multitude of winking emoji, our tester received only two high-quality messages out of 45. That’s 95 percent bad or mediocre messages, worse than any other dating app we tested.
The only semi-compelling reason to use Zoosk is that it has a larger active user base than niche sites. But even then, the other dating apps we tested have more users and better features for less.
What About the Rest of Us?
Because of our tester’s age and orientation, our reviews are necessarily skewed toward people who are straight and on the younger side. But other demographics — LGBT people, middle-aged or older people, people in small rural towns, and so forth — are trying to find potential dates in inherently smaller pools of people. In a 2012 academic paper, researchers Michael Rosenfeld and Reuben Thomas termed those smaller pools thin dating markets.
The internet is especially important in identifying potential partners in thin dating markets.
In fact, dating sites and apps have been so successful for thin markets, especially LGBT people, that Dale Markowitz, a data scientist at OkCupid, says she thinks they’re “actually driving the mainstream popularity of online dating. For example, gay and lesbian members made up a larger portion of our member base back in 2010 than they do today.” As dating online became more mainstream, more straight people joined, and that proportion changed. “This isn’t to say users in thin markets are using online dating less than they did before,” she says, “but just that they saw value in online dating way before everyone else did.”
And although the proportion of younger, straight people using dating sites and apps has grown (tripled, in fact), they may not all be using it for the same reason. “I would still be willing to bet their rates of ‘success’ are lower,” says Kevin Lewis, a sociologist at UCSD. “Many young adults using these apps might never go out on a date at all, or are using these apps to supplement face-to-face meeting opportunities.”
Let’s say you’re in a different sort of thin dating market, and you only want to date others who share your race or religion. Are you more likely to find success if you sign up for a site that caters to that specific demographic — say, Christian Mingle for Christians, or JDate for Jews — or should you stick with a bigger site like Match and use filters to hone in on people with your desired traits? All the experts we talked to agreed: Stick with the big catch-all sites and apps.
“Even if OurTime is dedicated only to seniors, it might still be the case that, due to the sheer size of Match, there might be more seniors on Match then on OurTime,” says Lewis. And “generalist sites” will probably “do a better job of also matching on other dimensions of compatibility” because “they are better at the science of matchmaking.” If you’re a senior, you’re seeking someone more specific than just someone in your age group — you’re seeking someone who’s in your age group and loves traveling as much as you do and shares your political beliefs (or whatever your preferences are).
Big dating sites may be able to find that person for you better than niche sites. If you do use a niche site or app, it’s better to do so in addition to, say, OkCupid or Tinder, just because they’re so big.
If you’re looking for that kind of supplement, there are approximately 2 bajillion to explore, ranging from the obscure (matches based on your pet) to your looks (redheads only). A few have become popular, and while their user bases don’t compete with our top picks, they’re still worth a try.
- Our Time — Best for Seniors: One of the only dating sites that is geared specifically to users 50 and older, Our Time (formerly called Senior People Meet) is also the most active, with over a million monthly users in the US. (Dating For Seniors, by comparison, has only a little over 16,000.)
- Christian Mingle and JDate — Best for Religious Affiliation: Obviously there are more than two religions, but these sites are ubiquitous and, on sheer number of users alone, blow every other faith-oriented dating site away. ChristianMingle and JDate are both owned and operated by Spark Networks, the parent company of some 30 niche websites, and boast several hundred thousand active American users each. While most online dating sites have search tools that can prioritize religious orientation, ChristianMingle and JDate build it into their communities: ChristianMingle includes a prayer wall and faith-based profile questions, and JDate claims to be responsible for more Jewish marriages than all other dating sites combined. As of mid-2015, both ChristianMingle and JDate branched out into the app world, with JDate buying out its biggest competition, JSwipe.
- Exclusively LGBT Online Dating Sites: With the exception of eHarmony, which shunts its LGBT users to Compatible Partners, each of our top picks has a thriving gay community. The low user numbers for same-sex sites indicate that they’re not as compelling as the major players — Gay.com has fewer than 40,000 monthly users; Compatible Partners’ user total is even lower.
Did You Know?
Accurate algorithms make a difference — but online dating is still a crapshoot.
OkCupid’s algorithm stands out because, while most online dating sites rank you as more compatible with someone if you both answer a question the same way (and less compatible if you answer it differently), OkCupid lets you choose what you want your potential match to answer — and how important that answer is.
For example, on OkCupid, we answered “no” to the question, “Do you ever intentionally try to make people angry just to see how they react?” Any algorithmic dating site would pick up on the fact that we would be more compatible with someone who also answered no to that question. And indeed, we chose “no” as the answer our partner should give (and marked it very important). But sometimes the “both answer the same way” approach doesn’t work so well. One OkCupid question asks, “How would you describe your body?” Our tester chose “slender” — but that’s not necessarily the answer she wants a potential date to give. In reality, she doesn’t care very much about body type at all. OkCupid let her specify that her possible partner could choose any answer: slender, average, athletic, or voluptuous.
And while that did seem to net our tester the most appealing partners, scientists have long discredited the notion that algorithm-based matchmaking definitively produces more lasting relationships — in fact, there are studies that show similarity (and complementarity), have “virtually no impact on relationship quality.” This is not to say that online dating doesn’t work — no one is claiming that. But the real benefit, scientists say, is bringing together singles who find it difficult to meet others through more conventional methods: work, hobbies, friends, etc.
Source: Pew Research Center 2013 Online Dating & Relationships Study. Data was not available for Tinder, Bumble, or Zoosk.
A good profile goes a long way.
A complete profile not only makes you more approachable, but also boosts your chances for an accurate match. “After question number 40, I’m pretty sure people just go ‘right, right, right, let’s just get this over with,’” says Ray. “They don’t go through it.” But when you get bored and quit putting effort into your profile, you make it harder to find a match: If the site you’re using employs an algorithm, you’re giving it inaccurate or insufficient information. (This is one of the reasons sites like OkCupid “gamify” the process of building a profile — you can watch your match percentages rise and fall as you fill out more questions, swipe via their Quickmatch functionality, etc. — which all informs who you’ll be matched with.)
One last piece of advice from Dolor: “It’s best to keep your profile action-driven, so talk about things you enjoy doing, not the personality traits you possess. Ultimately, positivity is key.” Still need help? Ray, Dolor, and other matchmaking services and online-dating experts can be great resources.
Beware of scammers and harassment.
Dating sites aren’t all fun. You’ve heard the stories: obscene photos, cruel messages, persistent creeps. Online dating can also be prime hunting ground for scammers and catfishers. These scammers prey on people’s trust by pretending to be madly in love with a user, then convincing them to send cash — sometimes lots of it. Worst of all, you may have no legal recourse, especially if the scammer lives in a different country. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is not true,” says Mark Brooks, who runs the website Online Personals Watch and acts as a consultant for online-dating companies.
Percent of online daters by site who responded yes to “Have you been contacted by someone through an online dating site in a way that made you feel harassed or uncomfortable?” Source: Pew Research Center 2013 Online Dating & Relationships Study
Key takeaway: Watch out for red flags. According to Brooks, “a typical pattern for scammers is to get users off the dating site ASAP. Once they’re off, they’ll build confidence over a period of months, and then make a small ask, followed by bigger and bigger asks. By that time, their victim is hooked, and the sunk-cost fallacy kicks in.” Other signs, according to UK company Scamalytics, include bad grammar, fake photos (you can do a reverse image search on Google to see if the picture is actually of, say, a model), and inaccurate locations (someone who says they are in NYC but has an IP address that points across the country — or the world).
How can you protect yourself? Don’t be afraid to use the “block” button. And get advice from friends, says Brooks. “Don’t send money. Do a video date. Listen to your inner voice. It’s usually right.”