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Best Online Dating Sites – Comparing Free vs. Paid Subscription Sites

By Susan Borowski

online datingBeing divorced for several years, I have tried my hand at online dating, experimenting with a number of different sites, and I know from experience that for someone new to the process, it can be rather intimidating and confusing.

You might be wondering which site is best for you, and if you should bother paying for a membership or not. To help answer that question, keep the following in mind: Free sites are geared toward casual daters, while paid sites tend to be for people looking for a serious relationship. Of course, it’s not always that simple, and there are exceptions. But the key to finding the right site (or sites) for you depends on what type of relationship you’re in search of.

Free Online Dating Sites

If you’re just dipping your toes back into the dating pool, free sites can be a great place to start. You may even find that online dating isn’t right for you – if that’s the case, all the better to find out without investing much into the process.

Free sites generally offer more flexibility for different types of relationships, including casual hookups and same-sex relationships. In fact, they’re not even exclusively for dating, as OkCupid allows you to be married or in a relationship but looking for friends. Free sites may also work better for individuals who are separated, but not yet divorced (or separated with no immediate intention to divorce).

1. PlentyofFish

plenty of fish logoPlentyofFish (POF) has a range of features – these are a few of the most popular:

  • Specify Relationship Type. One of the best features of PlentyofFish is that it allows you to specify exactly which type of relationship you’re looking for, from a hookup, to friends, to casual dating, to a long-term relationship, to marriage. The site matches you up based on a variety of factors, such as location, interests, and even your browsing history – this means that if you input that you are looking for someone in his or her 40s, but are browsing people in their 20s, both will show up as matches for you. 
  • Personality Test. PlentyofFish also offers a personality test to better match you with others. You are asked to describe your personality in one word or phrase, such as “homebody,” “coffee snob,” ”techie,” or “foodie,” and you can search for matches by personality type.
  • Browse Anonymously. When browsing profiles, many users choose to set their profile to “anonymous,” which has proven to be a popular site feature. Browsing is further customizable by utilizing basic search or advanced search (which narrows your parameters), searching by username, or by searching for those looking for the same type of relationship as you.
  • Free Chat and Emails. Communication with other users on PlentyofFish is incredibly simple – you can chat for free, as well as send and receive emails. You can even set the parameters for who can email you. For example, you can choose an age and geographic range, specify that they must not be married, are nonsmokers, and so on.
  • Users Can Rate Your Picture. You may see this as a benefit or a drawback. However, a higher rating allows you to be viewed more often and more positively by other members. It goes without saying that you want the picture you post to be one of your best.

While technically a free site, PlentyofFish offers you the option to purchase a membership upgrade. This allows you to find out who’s viewed your profile, find out if your messages were read or deleted, browse ad-free, send unlimited gifts, and increase your profile’s traffic. Upgrading costs $35.40 for three months, $51.00 for six months, or $81.40 for one year.

PlentyofFish has spun off a new dating site called eVow, which is only for those seriously looking for a long-term relationship. You can view matches and send messages and “winks” for free on eVow, just like on its sister site.

2. OkCupid

okcupid logoOkCupid may offer a more personalized approach to free online dating.

You’re Matched According to Answers
OkCupid matches you with others not only based on your browsing activity on the site, but also based on the way you answer a number of introductory questions. Examples of the questions include:

  • Which is more important to you, sex or true love?
  • Is your astrological sign important to you?
  • Could you date someone who is very messy?
  • Would you consider an open relationship?
  • How important is religion in your life?

You can set your answers to be publicly available, or you can choose to set all (or some) to private. The more questions you answer, the more information the site can use to match you with others – and the more others can determine whether you are a match for them. When someone contacts you, you can see how much of a “Match,” “Friend,” or “Enemy”  they are based upon how their answers compare to yours.

By continuing to answer questions, you actively update your profile, which leads to more views. OkCupid also features quizzes created by members, which can help you determine if someone is a match for you – just be aware that some can be rather x-rated.

Other Features
Like PlentyofFish, OkCupid offers a range of useful features:

  • Users Can Rate Your Picture. You can “rate” other members, and they can rate you. If your image gets high enough ratings often enough, the site says they will make your profile more visible to other highly rated members.
  • Free Chat and Messaging. Communication is possible via live chatting or messaging someone on the site. You can also save favorite profiles, which not only allows you to access them in the future, but also lets the other party know that you’re interested.
  • Specify Relationship Type. You’re not limited to looking for a long-term relationship. In fact, you can search for friends, penpals, people to casually date, to date short-term, or to just hook up with. You can search within a specific age range, and you can even use the site if you’re married. However, you can also specify that you’re only interested in members who are single.

Also like PlentyofFish, you can upgrade to a paid membership, which provides ad-free browsing, preferential placement in search results, storage of up to 5,000 messages, and anonymous browsing. The cost is $14.95 for one month, $29.85 for three months, or $47.70 for six months.

online dating

Paid Subscription Dating Sites

If you have no interest in casual dating and are looking for a more meaningful relationship, you may want to subscribe to a paid site. Keep in mind, many paid dating sites often run promotions, such as free weekends or a price cut on subscriptions. If you’re interested in a particular site, watch for these promotions.

1. Match.com

match logoMatch.com uses keywords in your profile to match you with others who share like interests. For example, keywords can include topics such as “wine tasting,” “historical fiction,” or “travel.” You can browse and “wink” at members for free, but you must subscribe to contact members via instant messaging or email. One benefit of Match.com is that users can browse for same-sex relationships; however, regardless of preference, there is no way to know what type of relationship someone is looking for, whether casual or serious, unless they specifically state it in their profile.

The cost to join Match.com depends on your location, and you must register and click “subscribe” to see the prices. But generally, a one-month subscription costs around $31.99; a three-month subscription costs about $17.99 per month for ”standard” or $20.99 for “value”; and a six-month subscription runs about $15.99 per month (standard) or $18.99 per month (value). Match.com offers a guarantee that if you don’t find someone in six months, you will receive another six months for free.

2. Zoosk

zoosk logoZoosk began as a Facebook application but is now an independent site with more than 50 million members. It is similar to Match.com, but is geared toward a younger demographic.

Unlike other dating websites, Zoosk requires you to upload a photo, and it can integrate information from your other social networking accounts to create your profile. As a nonpaying member, you can purchase “coins” to spend on additional features such as boosting your profile in search rankings, or sending virtual gifts. Also, while free members can browse, wink, and respond to emails they receive, they cannot initiate emails. However, upgrading to premium status allows you to chat and send emails to any other members. Premium status costs $29.95 for one month, $19.95 per month for a three-month subscription, or $9.99 per month for a full year.

3. eHarmony

eharmony logoeHarmony uses a more advanced system to match people based on a large number of questions you answer when you sign up. The downside is that if there are no matches for you, there isn’t much else you can do on the site.

eHarmony is exclusively for users seeking long-term relationships, and subscribers must be single, widowed, or divorced – separated individuals are not allowed to set up a profile. While the eHarmony site allows only for opposite-sex matching, there is a companion site called Compatible Partners, which is for those seeking a long-term same-sex relationship. The cost of eHarmony in the U.S. is $59.95 for one month, $39.95 per month for a three-month subscription, $29.95 per month for six months, and $19.95 per month for 12 months.

4. Chemistry.com

chemistry logoChemistry.com is the sister site to Match.com. Subscribers take a personality test and are matched with other subscribers based on the results. You must determine whether your personality type is “Explorer,” “Negotiator,” “Builder,” or “Director.” It offers more guided support than Match.com by offering activities for matches to get to know one another.

Although the user base isn’t as large as that of Match.com or eHarmony, it is growing – and unlike eHarmony, Chemistry.com also allows same-sex matching. Free users can take the personality test, see photos, and get matches; however, you must subscribe to contact other members. The cost to join is $39.99 for one month, $26.99 per month for a three-month subscription, and $20.99 per month for a six-month subscription.

5. Our Time

ourtime logoOur Time is a site specifically for singles over 50 looking for a serious relationship, and has been steadily growing in popularity. It is free to set up a profile and browse, but you must subscribe to contact other members.

Our Time is yet another site originated by the creators of Match.com, so it is similar in style to that site, as well as Chemistry.com, and uses a matchmaking algorithm to generate matches based on your personality profile. However, like Match, you can choose your own matches, and it also allows searches for same-sex relationships. It costs $19.99 for a one-month subscription, $17.99 per month for a three-month subscription, and $11.99 per month for a six-month subscription.

Group-Specific Sites

There has been an explosion of group-specific sites in recent years, aimed at people of specific age groups, religions, belief systems, ethnicities, and even financial means. By browsing a group-specific site, you might have more luck finding like-minded people.

Some group-specific sites include:

online dating

Online Dating Precautions

Regardless of which online dating site you choose, there are four things you should always remember:

  1. Use caution in sharing personal information about you and your family members.
  2. Always meet in a public place.
  3. Don’t expect everything you read in a profile to be true, nor should you assume the photo is current.
  4. Never give money to someone you’ve never met, especially if they are out of the country – it’s a scam.

Lastly, as someone who has been around the online dating block a time or two, let me add a positive piece of advice: Nothing you write, no matter how eloquent, beats a good photo.

Final Word

Most online dating sites don’t conduct background checks or verify information – an exception is True.com, which conducts felony checks and kicks out married members. You may come across people with criminal records, married people, and people who may be mentally unstable.

The key is to trust your instincts. Get to know someone via email before talking on the phone, and have a few phone conversations before arranging to meet for a first date. Have fun with the process, but be cautious.

Which dating sites have been most successful for you? Do you know anyone who met their spouse on a dating site?

Susan Borowski
Susan Borowski is a regular contributing writer to online and print publications, as well as a science blogger, which allows her to express the science geek in her. As a former corporate and litigation paralegal, human resources manager, and HR editor, she is knowledgeable in various areas of law and business.

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Comments

  • John@TheMoneyPrinciple

    It’s an interesting industry, so appropriate for the internet and so much more acceptable these days, particularly with our hectic life. Genuine online dating sites are probably better than using Facebook etc. I just don’t think I need one! Lucky me!

  • http://mydebtucation.blogspot.com/ Mario

    Oh wow. Those aren’t crazy expensive but certainly more than I would have guessed.

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