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Online Dating Sites:
Online dating sites are interactive websites which are oriented towards matchmaking and meeting people for the purpose of dating and romantic relationships. Some online dating sites can also fulfill the function of helping people to develop new friendships or meet people for other purposes like doing activities together.
On this page, I will talk a little bit about my general feelings about online dating, and I will then provide reviews of the dating websites with which I have had personal experience.
My general feelings about online dating:
In general, I am skeptical of online dating and think it is not the best way to meet people for romantic relationships. The lack of social context when meeting someone online is my biggest reservation; I also think that dating sites to some degree attract people who are less social, do not have as much time available for dating, and/or who are less interested in putting themselves out there--none of these things apply to me, and I have found that dating sites thus self-select a group I'm likely to have less in common with.
I prefer meeting people in the "real world":
Spending too much time on online dating can be frustrating and is not great for my self-confidence. I always seem to get much more attention from the opposite sex when I'm out in person, doing various things that I enjoy, or at social gatherings where I already know a lot of people. In "real life", I often seem to attract people like a magnet, and there have been times when my biggest problem has been too much unwanted attention. Online dating, on the other hand, is the usual story of most people ignoring my messages, and there being fewer people that I find interesting and attractive.
Online dating is better for making friends:
However, I have found online dating sites to be a good way to make new friends, especially when I have moved to a new area where I did not have much of an existing social network.
I have used online dating sites for years. I first signed up for Yahoo personals (which has since merged into Match.com) when it was first launched, back when it was free and available to users under 18 (I was about 14 at the time, I think). I used the site to make penpals all over the world. It irritated me when the site booted under-18 users (before I turned 18) and changed to a pay-only site. I've tried other dating websites, including free trial memberships offered as special deals, but I have never paid for a subscription. The only site that I keep an active profile on is OkCupid.com (my OkCupid profile).
My Dating Site Reviews:
OkCupid is a free dating site and is my dating site of choice. However, it is not without its drawbacks. Many of my friends have used Okcupid, and I've made some lifelong friends through the site, and even had two relationships with people I met on the site. In my experience, the site is better for meeting people in general (for friendship) than for dating, but I know people who have had good experiences meeting actual long-term partners through the site. As I see it the advantages of the site are:
- Moderately large user-base, big enough to find lots of people in most major metro areas and a few people in smaller areas.
- Highly self-selecting user-base. OkCupid is quirky and attracts people who tend to be a little less mainstream and a little more nerdy and random, which in my case is a good thing. Even though the number of users of OkCupid is lower than that of a number of other dating sites, I have found that in my case, there is a larger pool of people I might actually want to meet.
- The match system is completely customizable: you answer match questions, and not only specify which ways your ideal match would answer each question, but weight the questions by importance. You can thus decide exactly how you want the site to match users with you. I find that the matching system is a surprisingly good indicator of my potential to connect with various users: nearly all of my close friends, upon signing up, have match percentages of 80% and often well higher. When I've met people with 90% and up matches, I've nearly always had a lot to talk about with them and meshed well with them.
- The site is fun and has numerous interactive features, such as quizzes, forums, and a journaling system. I have even found the forum and journaling system to be a half-decent way of publicizing material on my other websites. In short, the site is valuable as a social networking website even if you do not use it for meeting people.
Disadvantages of Okcupid:
- The fun interactive features like online quizzes and social networking features attract and retain a substantial number of users who are not actively looking to meet people. Some people are single but join the site mainly out of curiosity and are not really interested in meeting people. And the fun nature of the site and its various features make it so that users tend to keep their accounts even when they have settled into serious relationships. Together, these factors make the amount of available people on the site slightly lower than what you might think from the number of users alone.
- Some time mid-2010, Okcupid issued a creepy mail to certain users that alienated a large number of users by referencing a secret matching system that was favoring the most "attractive" users. Bitch magazine covered this in their article http://bitchmagazine.org/post/okcupid-has-less-than-ok-policies-especially-if-youre-ugly"
- Most women I know who have used the site have complained about a fair amount of unwanted attention from men who have little in common with them and sometimes contact them in mildly offensive ways. Some people seem to have had more of a problem with it than others. The free nature of the site and a lack of any good system to crack down on these users seems to make this problem a little worse than on the paid sites. As a man, I have not had this problem.
- The site's forums have a nasty streak to them: the forums are filled with comments that range from superficial, cynical, and negative, to outright mean or offensive. I do not find that these behaviors are indicative of the users on the site as a whole, whom I have found on the whole to be much more respectful as well as deep. I do not know what creates the unpleasant dynamic in the forums, but it makes the forum element of the site less enjoyable to me, to where I basically avoid posting in them.
PlentyOfFish is the other main free online dating site, besides OkCupid. While PlentyOfFish boasts a much larger user base, I have found it is ultimately much less useful for actually meeting people that I have a lot in common with. I also find there are numerous negative aspects to the site which make me reluctant to use it. The site administrators' attitudes towards the users is patronizing and condescending, and boils down to: "Play by our rules or don't use our site." In particular:
- The site requires a validated email address and sends a lot of email, and the only way to stop the mail is to delete your account: one cannot opt-out of the emails announcing new matches, for instance.
- The site gives users very little control over privacy. User profiles, including photos, are publicly viewable and indexed by google, and the site requires you to upload a photo in order to use the site, so using it basically requires putting a photo of your face out there on the internet on a public dating site. Furthermore, this policy is not announced openly.
- My own personal experience was that the user base of this site was much less self-selecting than OkCupid. Although I did meet some very interesting and intelligent people on the site, they were a minority. Browsing profiles, I found more profiles here with poor grammar and broken English, and more boring profiles.
Match.com is the theoretical leader among the paid dating websites. It boasts the largest user base. However, there are concerns about Match.com creating fake accounts and otherwise fraudulently inflating their figures about numbers of active users.
The dominant dynamic on Match.com is that men tend to pay for subscriptions whereas women create profiles and passively wait for men to message them. I do not like this setup as it reinforces traditional gender roles and I tend to be most interested in a partner who is skeptical of or wants to move beyond traditional gender roles. I also think that Match.com has a very large portion of users who are looking for casual encounters and who see these encounters in material terms (i.e. women who want the man to pay for the membership, and the date, in exchange for "giving up" sex). I find this dynamic extraordinarily unwholesome. Match.com does not exactly encourage or promote this dynamic, but it seems to arise within the structure of the site, possibly due to the fact that it is a pay site and has a large user base.
If you are a highly mainstream individual, you may find that Match.com works for you, but I would not recommend it.
eHarmony is a paid match-making site that is somewhat different from the others. It has a matching algorithm involving questions, but the matching is much less customizable than okcupid. I find that eHarmony favors a specific type of user:
- eHarmony seems to attract people with more traditional values about relationships.
- The highly structured communication system of eHarmony seems to attract people who are hyper-concerned with privacy, who prefer communication to progress slowly and spend a lot of time communicating online before meeting in person. I found that a large number of eHarmony users do not post photos, for instance. As someone who spends enough time in my day staring at a screen, this factor majorly turned me off to eHarmony.
- eHarmony is exclusively oriented towards dating leading towards serious relationships (presumably leading towards marriage). By design, it is not a good medium for meeting people to become friends with. As someone who prefers to make friends first, and who is less interested in diving right into "dating" with someone I met online, this focus of eHarmony also turns me off to the site.
eHarmony may work for some people, but it is definitely not a useful site for me.
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