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Matchmaking sites take a scientific approach to love
If you really want to find someone who "gets you," matchmaking sites want your business. These sites recommend compatible members based on your answers to a variety of questions. It's important to answer honestly, as you may not be able to search for members based on your own criteria. The process takes work, and because of that, matchmaking sites often are best for those looking for a long-term relationship.
When you want a serious relationship -- maybe even marriage and a baby carriage -- reviewers say you're best off at eHarmony (Est. $34.95 a month for six months). The sign-up process at eHarmony is extensive, and often weeds out those who are simply looking for a fling. However, the site recently debuted the ability for users to get started with a basic profile in 10 minutes, streamlining its very detailed compatibility questionnaire (users can still answer more extensive questions once they're signed up). EHarmony says it has millions of ethnically, racially and religiously diverse registered users, though reviewers say members tend to skew conservative. Traditionally, users have tended to be older, with the most core users between 33 and 54, according to the International Business Times. The site had just over 7 million unique monthly visitors in November 2016, according to Statista.
eHarmony is easy to navigate and visually appealing, experts say. Its questionnaire is both its strength and weakness. Questions focus on things like emotional temperament, social style and intellect. This data feeds eHarmony's much-touted matchmaking algorithm. However, note that you have to rely on the algorithm to select your potential mates -- you can't perform searches yourself. eHarmony also isn't cheap. To see photos and have a full range of communication options, you'll need to pony up for a membership (Est. $34.95 per month for six months, or $18.95 per month for 12 months).
Note that eHarmony makes no promise that you'll be matched, though there is a guarantee if you are: Those who aren't satisfied with their matches in three months can get three months free, subject to requirements like having communicated with five members. The site doesn't facilitate same-sex pairings and will refer gay or lesbian users to its sister site, Compatible Partners. Like other sites, members complain it can be hard to cancel a subscription. They also say you may be matched with inactive members, but there's no way of knowing this except through non-responsiveness when you try to communicate with them. The site has an extensive page of safety tips and, like Match.com, it does screen members against sex-offender registries.
Chemistry (Est. $14 per month) is a less-pricey option that also uses a personality test to match members. Reviewers say it's less restrictive than eHarmony -- most notably, it does allow same-sex matching. Experts say Chemistry is not nearly as big as eHarmony, but since it's more liberal with matches, that may not matter as much as it usually would. The site is "simple and easy to navigate," say Ask Men editors, with no annoying ads.
After completing the Chemistry questionnaire, you're shown your matches. But unlike eHarmony, you can also search for members who meet certain criteria. You also must subscribe to contact people. At the time we checked, members could join for a promotional price of $6.49 a month for six months, $8.99 a month for three months, or $13.99 for one month.
Some members complain that it's too easy for scammers to make it through Chemistry's sign-up process and, while reviewers say the site is proactive in removing their profiles, they're still inundated with fishy messages. Others complain of a tricky cancellation policy and automatic subscription renewals. The site does not screen members.
Dating apps make it easy to connect on the go
If it seems like little has changed about online dating in the past few years, perhaps you haven't been looking in the right spot. Dating apps have been shaking up the industry, especially among younger, urban users who aren't necessarily looking for their soul mate -- at least, not yet. Many of these apps integrate with Facebook, saving users from a lengthy profile-building process. Most app-only services find users' potential matches instead of relying on user searches, and many require mutual "likes" before allowing any sort of connection. Apps are often free, though there may be premium features that are only available if you pay a small fee.
Dating app Coffee Meets Bagel (Free) aims to combat two common complaints about online dating sites: That the emphasis is on quantity over quality, and that meeting up with strangers is risky. It does so by matching you with just a handful of members each day, and by searching Facebook to match you with friends of friends. Reviewers say that while this may seem limiting, the app often does an admirable job of picking potential dates. Coffee Meets Bagel says 96 percent of its users have at least a bachelor's degree, and according to AskMen.com, the site is skewed toward female users.
Coffee Meets Bagel now follows a "ladies' choice" model that works like this: Guys get up to 21 potential matches ("bagels") each day. They can express interest or pass. The app then sends women a curated selection of the men who have expressed interest, and she can choose to connect if she wants. The app is free to use, but members can also buy "coffee beans" to put toward premium features. There is also a premium membership that costs $35 a month that gives members beans as well as the ability to see a potential match's activity level on the site. It's available for iOS and Android phones.
Reviewers say one of the potential downsides of Coffee Meets Bagel is running into "bagels" that you may have passed on in real life -- after all, many users are friends of your own friends. A few others complain that they don't get enough information about their "bagels" to decide whether pursuing a potential connection is worthwhile. Safety-wise, most users seem to be more enthusiastic: Since they're connecting within their own social circle, they're more confident of avoiding scammers and predators.
While Coffee Meets Bagel is about restraint, Tinder (free) is the opposite -- its massive user base and more casual interface mean the possibilities are endless. Tinder claims it has made more than 20 billion matches in close to 200 countries. Reviewers also say it's easy to use -- so easy that users can like or pass on dozens of potential matches in mere minutes. However, this also means the majority of Tinder users are not looking for something serious, say Ask Men editors. Tinder users also skew younger, with a median age of 26, according to Bustle.
When you open the Tinder app, you're shown another member's picture, which you can also click to view their profile. Swiping left means you're not interested, swiping right means you are. If that person also swipes right, the app allows you to chat with each other. Like Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder is free. However, there are two premium versions, Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold. These versions let you change your location to connect with users on the go; take back an errant swipe; and lift limits on how many times you can swipe right (put in place to discourage users who might swipe right for everyone just to see what kind of responses they get). Tinder Gold also adds the ability to see who's liked you. Tinder Plus starts at $9.99 a month; Tinder Gold is an extra $4.99 on top of that. The app is available for iOS and Android phones.
Some Tinder users complain of scammers with fake profiles who lure them into conversations only to start spamming them or requesting money. Others complain that the app can be glitchy and customer service is spotty at best. Like other dating sites and apps, Tinder has a page of safety tips, but it does not screen users against sex-offender databases or conduct background checks.
Another popular dating app, Bumble (free), is much like Tinder in that users simply swipe left or right to show whether they are interested in someone. Though not as popular as Tinder, Bumble is still among the most popular app-only dating services. According to TechCrunch, the app was yielding 4 million matches a day from 220 million daily swipes at the end of 2016.
The major difference between Bumble and Tinder is that Bumble puts more of the power in female hands: In the case of mutual interest, only the woman can decide whether or not she wants to connect. If she doesn't initiate a chat within 24 hours, the match is lost. The aim is to empower women to make the first move and connect on their terms. For guys, Ask Men notes, this can be either liberating or frustrating – they no longer have to be the initial pursuer, but have to give up a bit of control. It also makes the app slightly less hookup-focused then Tinder, they say.
Like most apps, Bumble is free but has paid premium options: Bumble Boost (Est. $9.99 a month) which lets users extend the window where they can show interest in another user, rematch with users once the window has closed, and instantly match with users who've "liked" their profile. You can also buy Bumble coins (Est. $1.99 per coin) to use on "SuperSwipes" that show an increased level of interest.
Bumble also allows users to verify their profiles so that others know they are real, active users, adding a measure of safety; it also requires a connection to Facebook accounts. Complaints here are fairly common to most dating apps: The experience can be too looks-focused, some profiles are dated or expired, or the app freezes and crashes.
In addition to these app-only sites, most of the other dating and matchmaking sites that we discuss in this report have apps as well. However, they may only be available as part of a paid subscription.
Niche dating sites cater to very specific groups
If you've got a specific dating deal-breaker -- for instance, you prefer not to date anyone who doesn't share your religion or race -- you may be in luck. Many specialty websites cater to those seeking love within a certain religion, ethnicity, geographical area or age range. While these sites typically have fewer members than more general services, that might be a plus for some users who find too many prospects overwhelming. You're also guaranteed to have at least one thing in common with every other member.
Among the most popular niche sites are OurTime.com, which caters to the 50-and-over crowd, and Spark Networks' religious-focused sites, including ChristianMingle and JDate, for those looking to date someone of the Jewish faith. If those aren't specific enough for you, several sites even zero in on lifestyle choices, physical traits and interests. Among them are InterracialMatch.com, FarmersOnly.com for the country-minded folk, GlutenFreeSingles so you never have to make two different meals, Biker Planet for those who want to rev up their love life, and Bristlr for beard growers (and beard lovers).
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