There are only a few kinds of websites that really make money – one of them being online dating. It will cost you anywhere from $20 to $50 per month on well-known sites such as eHarmony, Match, or Yahoo Personals. They entice you by saying they’re “free to sign up”, but actually contacting another person requires a full, paid membership. However, there is no need to be lonely if you’re on a budget. There are several excellent options for finding dates online, without spending a cent.
1. PLENTY OF FISH
The daddy of free dating sites is www.plentyoffish.com. Plenty of fish in the sea, get it? According to the site’s operator, Plenty of Fish actually is the top dating website in the world, racking up about 37 million visits; about 800,000 members log in each day. They get as many people as eHarmony and Match combined, so you’re likely to find a good number of dates in your area.
Plenty of Fish makes money by running ads on their site, rather than charging users. That’s fine, but the look of the site is the main drawback. In a word, it’s ugly. Cluttered, clunky design, unattractive typefaces, and intrusive ads are the rule. The site also doesn’t have some of the cute features of other sites, such as being able to “wink” to show interest, and there’s none of the high-tech personality matching that some other sites offer. Basically it’s more of a simple search-and-browse experience. And they do have a very active forum section where you can read and post opinions on many topics, both dating and non-dating related. The forums also include “Plenty of Fish get together” listings where members plan nights out at local restaurants and clubs, so you can meet people in person.
Design gripes aside, Plenty of Fish does what it sets out to do – get you dates. I’ve met many nice people and had good dating experiences with this site. As with any site, your results may depend on your location, age, gender, appearance and interests. See the end of this article for some general online dating tips.
2. OK CUPID
Occupying a much lower rung on the traffic rankings, www.okcupid.com is nonetheless worth checking out. Like Plenty of Fish, it’s totally free. Unlike Plenty of Fish, it’s attractively designed, clever and a fun site to use. It has room for very detailed profiles and you’re asked to list favorite books, music, and food. You also can upload many pictures. So the profiles tend to be very clear, specific, and enjoyable to view, assuming the user bothers to fill them out.
The site also uses some interesting matching technology. You answer questions about various topics such as relationships, politics, religion and sexual preferences. You also choose how you would want your ideal match to answer. You can answer as many questions as you want (the more, the better your matches) and you can skip questions you don’t like. Then the site correlates with other people’s answers to find your matches. You further refine the matches by choosing age range and location. OK Cupid is also well known for its fun quizzes. You can find out your personality type, dating style, IQ and more – and you can view others’ results. Other cool features include winks, a star rating system for profiles you’ve viewed, and a button which shows you whether a user “replies often” or “replies selectively”.
Overall, OK Cupid is a very nice site. Its main drawback is simply that it doesn’t get as much traffic as some other sites, so there are fewer potential dates to choose from. Note: this is not much of a problem if you’re 20-something; the site tends to draw mainly younger users so you may have better luck if you’re in that age range.
3. OTHER SITES
There are numerous other free dating sites out there – just do a search on “free dating” and you’ll find them – however, they’re a lot smaller than the ones mentioned above. I checked out a couple of sites where I saw that most people hadn’t even logged on to their profiles in months.
There’s one new free site worth mentioning since it’s from Match.com. Seems a little odd for Match to start a free site while running their paid site at the same time. But anyway, it’s called www.downtoearth.com. ; Match describes it as ” a clean dating site that attracts singles looking for relationships with down-to-earth people who have strong values… zero tolerance for lewd behavior and inappropriate photos to keep daters honest when creating profiles and posting pictures.” I don’t know how they’ll police it. But it’s not a bad idea. Women especially get concerned about the creepy or hookup factor on some of the dating sites.
4. FACEBOOK and MYSPACE
Obviously www.facebook.com and www.myspace.com are overall social networking sites, not specifically dating websites. However, many people can and do use them to find dates. It makes sense…you can post personal information, marital status and photos, so there is just as much information about you as there would be on a dating site. You can search for people in certain age groups and locations and “friend request” them. However, the person who receives your friend request won’t know you’re interested specifically in dating, since many folks are on Facebook and Myspace just for networking and platonic friends. So the next move is up to you.
The downside of social networking sites is the TMI factor. Once someone is your “friend”, they can see all your activity such as your friends’ comments to you and the events you’re attending. Just imagine a potential date seeing your friend tell you “hey man, how’s the parole going?” or “boy, you sure were wasted last night!”. Even if those are just jokes, your potential date won’t know that. However, you can cover yourself to a certain degree by editing the privacy settings on your profile. This will allow you to control what other people see about you.
Again, not specifically a dating site, but www.meetup.com is a great way to find people who share your interests, completely for free. You enter your location and browse or search for groups on your favorite topics. For example, there are meetup groups for music, movies, hiking, bicycling, politics, and almost anything else. When you join a group you can view their calendar of events and see who else is attending each event. You also get a personal profile so you can show your location, interests and photos. And although this isn’t specifically a dating site, there are meetup groups for singles, so obviously if you join one of those, it should be clear you’re looking for dates. The nice thing about Meetup is that whether or not you find dates, you’ll at least make new friends who share your hobbies.
ONLINE DATING TIPS
If you’re new to online dating, there are a few things you should know:
1. Be safe. Don’t post your address, phone number, or any other information that would allow someone to stalk you. Also, if you have children, do not post photos with your kids in them. Sorry, but there are some creeps out there. First dates should be set up in a public place, and not too late at night. Coffee dates are a popular, low-cost option.
2. Market yourself. You can’t expect someone to want to date you without providing them with an appealing photo and a good description. Remember, they know nothing at all about you; all they have is your profile to judge you on, so make it good and make it accurate. Please don’t say you like candlelight dinners, walks on the beach, or other personal ad cliches. Talk about what you do for fun, the sports you play, the books you’re reading, or the music you listen to. Figure out what makes you interesting and write about it. If you have a hard time with that, ask your friends for help. For photos, a poorly lit camera-phone-in-the-bathroom-mirror shot DOES NOT count. Neither does the ten-year-old blurry vacation snapshot of you in a hat and sunglasses. Get a friend or relative to take a good photo that clearly shows your face…and don’t forget to smile!
3. Be courteous and appropriate. Initial emails and first dates should be simply a pleasant chance to get acquainted. Ask the other person about their interests. This is not the time to go on a rant about previous boyfriends or girlfriends or your ex-spouse. Really, it’s never the time to go on a rant; if you feel that need, you may have too much baggage to be dating right now anyway. And if you meet someone and decide it’s not a match, write a polite email saying thanks for the date, but you’ve realized you’re unfortunately not compatible and you wish them the best of luck in their search.
4. Men and women usually have quite different experiences with online dating. An attractive woman may be deluged with emails without having to do much. Men, on the other hand, typically have to make a lot of contacts before finding a woman who’s interested. So guys, don’t take rejection personally, just move on and make other contacts. And ladies, it’s okay to make the first contact if you see someone you like, but if you feel uncomfortable doing that, you can ‘wink’ or ‘favorite’ a guy to show interest, and hope that he will take it further.
Photo Credit via Flickr