I opened an online dating profile in 2003 (nope, that’s not a typo, I didn’t mean 2013).
At that time, I lived in Toronto, and there were 200-250 of us online (also not a typo).
I’ve been online for (gulp) 17 years, and over that period of time, I have been on at least 50 different sites, shifting as things evolved or as I geographically relocated or as I heard about new online trends.
Back in the early days, nobody polled their friends or Facebook groups for advice on the “best” dating site. In 2003, there was one best site, because the option was…one site. In 2020, it’s rare to be in singles circles without asking which app or site will yield the best results.
In spite of widespread efforts to create exclusive online communities of people who are the best, there’s still no one online platform that narrows the options to only those you personally find attractive, interesting, and compatible.
Only a small percentage of people are uniformly attractive to others, and the vast majority are found to be in the subjective range of attractiveness. The apps and sites actually benefit from you spending more time searching, rather than less.
So, before you pull your hair out swiping through dozens of dead ends, I put together hard-earned field guide to help you decide where to invest your online dating time and how to find which site is best for you:
Q: Is paid better than free?
A: I’ve paid for sites, I’ve paid for matchmakers, and I’ve used free sites. My opinion is that for me, paid is not better than free.
Why? I was clear in my profile, in my pre-date texts, and on my first dates about what I was looking for—which meant I generated not one iota of benefit in using a paid site. Paid does not mean more invested, more interested, more committed, or higher quality.
Paid will be “better” than free if you cannot or will not ask someone what they want in a relationship, what they are looking for, why they are on the sites, or, if you are unable to follow your own boundaries on these matters, or if you cannot, will not, or do not listen to what the other person says when they answer these types of questions.
Q: Is it better to match myself randomly or use an algorithm site with quizzes or questionnaires?
A: Scientifically, there’s no difference in the outcome or in the success rates between these two, but you need to decide if you are more comfortable asking your own screening questions or if you prefer that the site does it for you.
To repeat: studies consistently reinforce that neither option changes the outcome. It is about your comfort level in asking questions about your underlying compatibility—not about what you are going to “get” by choosing one type of site or the other.
Q: How do you want to communicate? You (again) have two options: open communication sites or communication-by-swipe sites. This essentially means: are you open to receiving communications from anyone who views your profile or do you want to have to opt them in?
A: I believe that if you are flooded with candidates, choose the double opt in. If you don’t have enough to choose from, choose a site that doesn’t require someone else to swipe right to talk to you. Keep as many candidates in your hopper as you can manage, and choose the style of the site accordingly.
Q: Should I use a general interest site like Tinder or a specialty one like Meet Mindful? Is the best site a general interest or specific interest one? Sites like Facebook, Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Match, POF are general interest: what everyone has as a common interest is “finding someone.” Specific interest sites are sites geared to hobbies, age groups, religions, career choices, and so on.
A: I’ve done both and decided that as I got older unless the specific interest was a hill to die on, I was better off on a general interest site.
That said, my favorite era of online dating was the lengthy stretch I was on a specific interest site. I met a great deal of men with common interests, which also generated the most success of meeting “platonic male friends met while online dating.”
If your interest is a “must-have” then be on a site that caters to that. Otherwise, go for a site that delivers volume. At this stage of my life, I prefer a mindful man, but quite frankly it’s not a deal breaker for me that he already owns a pair of Lululemon pants.
Q: But surely, there must be one site that’s best? Thanks for the tips, but I have to choose something.
A: The best site is one you enjoy. Every site is a pain in the rear including painful communication misfires, dropped texts (the stats are incredibly low for sustained communication, so if most of your texts don’t turn into threads longer than five text exchanges, that’s normal), and gaps in responses. Prepare to sort, filter, select on every site.
I tried at least a dozen sites last year and the bottom line was: there were two I enjoyed using. Nobody else could figure that out for me and different people have different preferences about what they find enjoyable. You will do what you are motivated to do. I suggest that you sign up for three sites, use them for three weeks and then drop your bottom 1-2 sites. Repeat if necessary.
Q: But there are not enough people in my market on the sites I see.
A: Go where the options are. There is no site that serves out the top 10 percent of candidates. Go where the most volume is, which gives you the best chance. Yes, it means more work in terms of swiping, filtering, selecting, and sorting, but there’s no way to avoid that work if you want to have viable candidates.
Q: Isn’t Tinder just a hookup site?
Q: But I hate online dating!
A: Figure out a way to enjoy the process. You go to work every day to slowly accrue the benefits of work: achievement, growth, money, and more. Sometimes you get a bonus and get promoted, or get a raise or have a party or some other special thing happens. Online dating is the same.
If you look for the special occasion in every interaction, it’s going to be a terrible experience. Focus on the benefits, as you do with your job. It’s a chance to meet new people, it’s a chance to go out, it’s a chance to get to know yourself more, it’s a chance to be giving and caring toward someone else.
And sometimes there’s going to be something special that happens.
Let me know other questions or tips you have about online dating in the comments.