If you’re unlucky in love and looking for a partner, try online dating. Your soulmate could be a swipe away...
Long past are the days where online dating was talked about in hushed tones – nowadays it’s all the rage and if you’re single then you’re apparently an outsider if you’re not on at least one app or website. But they all offer different people and gimmicks, so it can be hard to figure out which one is going to offer you the best chance at finding love. Read on to find out our top picks for the right dating site for you.
How do dating sites work?
Dating sites use mathematical algorithms, GPS filters and profile details to match users together in a way that maximises compatibility and estimates the chances of a successful relationship forming. In order to do so, they encourage users to be forthcoming with their likes, dislikes, hobbies and preferences in order to accumulate enough information to generate an adequate reading of that particular user's romantic options.
While some sites proclaim that their "verified scientific methods" work better than others, for the most part the algorithms' functions are very similar. As such, when deciding which site or app to use, the focus is less on the technology behind it, and more on what you're hoping to achieve. Dating sites are available online and in app form, so you can use them wherever you go to find new matches in different locations.
Are dating sites safe?
One of the biggest concerns that people have when it comes to online dating is the safety – both physically and in terms of privacy. While it can be concerning that statistics tend to indicate a rise in online dating-related crimes, it’s important to remember that these occur in the context of a rising user market as well, so as long as you take the necessary precautions then you should be safe.
In order to maximise your experience without sacrificing your safety, make sure you follow the dating app ground rules.
- Read the terms and conditions of a website or app thoroughly before committing
- Talk to potential matches for a while before meeting up to get to know them properly
- Never reveal personal details like your address, last name or workplace
- Make sure someone else knows where you are while on dates
- Meet in groups or in public places wherever possible
- Don't exchange social media information until at least a couple of dates in
- Create a separate email address to use exclusively on dating sites that doesn't identify you
Conventional dating has shifted to the online space, and there are a number of places ready to introduce you to the love of your life. From forums and chatrooms to the new world of specified online dating sites, there's something for everyone. If you're after a forum that you can browse potential matches on your laptop, these sites are our top picks.
Best dating site for value for money: eHarmony
Available online and in app form for iOS and Android
eHarmony really tries to get to know you as a person before linking you up with like-minded people. As it's primarily a website instead of an app, it goes beyond the standard mechanism of swiping based purely on how the other person looks, and adds in interesting information. It’s quite an expansive set-up and registration which allows more comprehensive understanding of what your potential matches are looking for, while also adding an extra layer of depth to the quality of your matches.
The downside to eHarmony is that it can be a pretty exhaustive process trying to fill in all the aspects of your profile, and it definitely doesn’t have as many users as the bigger name apps. This can sometimes work in its favour (quality over quantity and the like) but for the most part it means that your pool of potential suitors is limited. Overall it’s a good website to use if you’re tired of the swipe game and are looking for something a bit more substantial – just be prepared that it might take you longer to find your match.
Best dating site for no-nonsense matchmaking: Coffee Meets Bagel
Available online and in app form for iOS and Google Play
Coffee Meets Bagel is designed to be a no-nonsense, professional way of matchmaking. The registration system is more in-depth than a number of its counterparts, with required fields to gauge your values, personality and preferences (including religion and ethnicity). When it comes to matching, the app places the control in the hands of the women – you swipe in favour of a specific profile (with photo and bio, but no names unless you match), and then the app matches you with your best match according to what they see in your preferences and biographies. If the woman likes the match, she can initiate conversation. Otherwise, the match is lost.
The upside and downside to Coffee Meets Bagel is that it provides you with only one curated match per day, judged by its algorithm. This purportedly allows for greater compatibility, but if you don't end up getting along with your match then you're limited for another 24-hours. It also hides certain features behind a paywall, including the capacity to increase your matches per day. Once you get past the idea of being called a bagel, it's a very straightforward approach to matchmaking which relies on extensive profiling to make successful matches.
Best dating site for privacy: okCupid
Available online and in app form for iOS, Android and Google Play
OkCupid is a service that prides itself on matching like-minded individuals, using their mathematical matching system to create long-lasting relationships. Once you fill in your profile you have the option of answering further questions that will define the parameters of your ideal match, and the algorithm works to connect you with the people most likely to align with your lifestyle, preferences and goals. They're then rated on the chances of them being a good match for you, categorising other users as potential matches, friends or enemies.
The benefit of OkCupid is that as an established company they've been around for a fair while and thus have a relatively large user base – maximising your chances of finding someone suited to you. They also are one of the most inclusive dating sites, catering for LGBTQIA+ users. You don't need a Facebook account to join up, as it requires only your email address, postcode, birthday and country of residence. One of the most popular features is a section in the biography titled "You should message me if:", which allows potential matches to get straight to the point about whether they'd be compatible or not.
Best dating site for variety: Zoosk
Available online and in app form for iOS and Android
Zoosk is one of the biggest dating sites worldwide, with an international user count of over 30 million people. In Australia it's got quite a large following, which makes for an increased amount of potential matches. You can register using either Facebook or Google+, which serves to automatically import a number of basic details instead of manually entering them in. Zoosk also has a fairly extensive verification process, which adds another layer of security and privacy protection. While it does match you with suitable partners (the Smartpick function), the site also allows you to search for specific elements.
The website also has a feature called Zoosk Carousel, which is very similar to the Tinder mechanism where you're given an assortment of photos and you're asked to either "like", "dislike" or indicate "maybe" on them. The big downside for Zoosk is that although it offers free registration and basic membership, in order to actually message any of your matches you need to purchase a subscription – as well as additional website-specific currency to boost your chances. This significant paywall can be disheartening if you're heading in expecting a free website and find yourself blocked at the first sign of communication.
Your checklist for creating a successful profile
- Include a wide variety of photos (at least eight - photos with animals are always popular).
- Write a fun biography that shows off your personality – this is where you can get creative!
- Be truthful – your matches will want to meet the person they've met online, not an alter-ego.
- Indicate what you're looking for. If you're looking for a fling, say so. If you want more, same deal.
- Do a spelling and grammar check! A lot of people find errors unattractive.
Dating on mobiles
It's the new world: love at the swipe of a finger. Accessibility is one of the biggest advantages of using a mobile app for all your dating needs, and there are a few apps that we think definitely hit the mark. If you're always on the go or have an unhealthy addiction to your phone, these are the best picks for you.
Best dating app for casual use: Tinder
Available for free on iOS or Android, with optional paid upgrades
Tinder is probably the most well-known dating app in the business, and it’s definitely built itself a reputation. The premise is simple: swipe left to "pass", swipe right to "like" and swipe up to "super-like", which tells the other person that you’re really interested. Though the app is largely focused on aesthetics, profiles still include a short bio in addition to the main details (name, age, distance away) so you can see if your potential match has personality before agreeing to chat.
The upside to Tinder is that it’s got a very wide range of customisation options – would you rather go out with a group? Narrow your search to a specific age range and distance? Link in your Spotify and Instagram? If you upgrade to Tinder Plus, you can even get unlimited likes and rewinds (for a fee, of course). The downside is that it’s been used far more often as a hook-up site rather than an actual dating site so there’s still a reasonable chance you’ll receive an inappropriate opening line, but Tinder opening lines are renowned for being a bit more adventurous – and often the cheesier the better.
Best dating app for women: Bumble
Available on iOS, Android and Windows
Bumble is what happens when the girls take the lead and it’s rapidly increasing in popularity for that very reason. The principle is similar to other dating apps, where you make the decision to either "pass" or "like" various candidates, but the twist is that you will only chat if both parties swipe and the female speaks first – and they only have 24 hours to do so. Bumble’s founder, Whitney Wolfe, originally co-founded Tinder but left after suing for sexual harassment, so she created Bumble as a means to ensure women are safe in their prospective relationships.
The benefit to Bumble is that it makes the app feel and seem a lot safer than its counterparts for women. It’s also possible to change your settings to seek friends (Bumble BFF) or to network with other professionals (Bumble Bizz) if you’ve had enough of the dating scene but still want to get use out of the app. The downside is that if you don't message within the allotted 24-hours, you could be missing out on matches. Some of the more handy features of the app are also behind paywalls, which can be a turnoff for anyone wanting to use the app for casual dating fun – if you’ve accidentally swiped left or want to extend your 24-hour time limit, you can pay for the privilege.
Best dating app for searching nearby: Happn
Available for iOS and Android
The premise of Happn is pretty straightforward, in that it will match you exclusively with people whose location settings deem to have crossed paths with you. So if you’re into someone who goes to your gym or frequents your favourite coffee shop, this is the app for you. Happn also shows a variety of people at the one time, instead of the usual swiping method employed by other dating apps, and you can even revisit a profile if you’re not sure yet. The app imports your information from Facebook, so it will have access to your name, age and employment status (as well as any groups or pages that you may have liked). You also have the capacity to link your Instagram and Spotify.
The biggest bonus of Happn is that it really does match you with people within your vicinity. The GPS system is incredibly accurate and can provide matches that fall beneath your specified radius, though it’s up to you to "like" them or use the "say hi" function to speak with people who haven’t matched you (this uses credits, which you can purchase for a small fee). The downside to Happn is that it can make you feel exposed and vulnerable to have your whereabouts listed so prominently. When the app matches you with someone it automatically gives them a radius of when and where you crossed paths, which can be a bit scary if the conversation goes downhill or if you’re in a lesser populated area.
Best dating app for detailed profiles: Plenty of Fish
Available for iOS, Android and Google Play
Plenty of Fish uses an extensive registration process to narrow the parameters of your search, asking everything from your religion and ethnicity through to your income and parents' marital status. The 33-point Chemistry Test helps iron out who will suit you and what kind of relationship you're looking for. When it comes to matching you with potential partners, everything is taken into consideration to try and achieve maximum compatibility – however if you don't match with someone you're keen on, you can still contact them using the "Spark" messaging feature (which takes an element of their profile and uses it as a conversation starter).
The downside is that sharing so much personal information can be a privacy risk, and Plenty of Fish does confirm that it never sells your information, but may provide it to affiliates and third parties acting in the "normal course of business". If you're comfortable with that arrangement, then Plenty of Fish can be a comprehensive and detailed way to get to know someone before meeting them out in the real world. You can also upgrade your profile to see who's visited your profile before.
Are dating sites expensive?
Most dating sites are free for the basic model, but will include optional upgrades that will cost extra. These upgrades can range from additional "likes" or time limits, increased likelihood of being seen, finding out who’s already "liked" you, unlocking certain areas of the app/site, or simply as a subscription fee to the program itself. These in-app purchases range in price from just a few dollars through to regular payments of over $20 a month.
For the most part they merely build upon already existing features, but there are some apps that will restrict you from matching with anyone without a longer-term subscription, so it's important to check the terms and conditions before signing up. If you’re subscribing to the service, it’s also important to keep track of rollover dates so that if ever you choose to cancel the subscription you can do so without being charged additional fees. Most contracts range in length from one month to 24 months of service.
Are dating sites worth it?
Online dating streamlines the dating process and makes it far easier to get a look at what’s out there in a shorter time span. When you factor in things like social anxieties and a lack of time to meet people, online dating is a fully viable and appealing alternative for a lot of Australians – in 2015, one in ten Australians aged 18-24 were on Tinder alone. When you're evaluating whether or not dating sites are worth the risk, you have to understand that you're definitely not the only one wondering the same thing.
With so many people using them, it stands to reason that there’s a fairly good shot at meeting someone you click with. As such, in terms of value for money you can certainly get a good outcome from using dating apps/sites even without paying for the upgrades. The stigma of embarrassment that used to come with online dating and chatting on forums is no longer an issue, with online dating rapidly becoming the preferred method for a lot of millennials. There are a lot of people out there who have uttered the phrase, “I have a friend who met their partner online and now they’re married”, so it’s definitely possible to find success.
Is using a dating site desperate?
A lot of first-time users worry that it's desperate or embarrassing to use dating sites to find love, however nowadays there's almost more people on them than those that aren't. Though dating sites were seen as taboo or awkward ways to meet people in the late 90's, it's definitely a new era and a whole new attitude towards the dating market. As such, nobody who uses a dating site should worry about being seen as desperate if they're genuine. A large majority of dating site users are millennials, influencing the popularity of the medium for the new generation.
It's also important to understand that it's not embarrassing to admit that you met someone online. Sharing positive online dating experiences helps to de-stigmatise the process and make others more comfortable to use it in future. As such, if you meet the love of your life on a dating site or app, be proud that you're a successful user.
Online dating scams: what to look out for
Unfortunately no matter what site you use, there are always going to be a questionable profile or two. The most common online dating scam is catfishing, which is when people use photographs of attractive people to lure you into giving them your details, money or other information. Some sites and apps are now using extra software to verify users and prevent this from happening, but it's important to ensure that you're not handing out any information to someone you don't know yet.
It's also important to make sure you're using a reputable website or app, and that you read all the terms and conditions before signing up or paying for a description. Now that online dating is so popular, there are a lot of new sites out there claiming to be able to find you the one (for just a small fee, of course). When choosing your preferred site, if you do your research and take precautions, you'll be perfectly safe.