I’m on set at a Zombie-Valentine-themed boutique lingerie shoot (don’t ask) chatting to long-term single, serial-dating model Melis*. She’s tried pretty much every mainstream online site going, but confesses that she isn’t really looking for love.
“It’s more like a game of snap” she tells me. “When someone expresses an interest in you, whether it’s with a message, a ‘like’ or a ‘wink’ it’s like ‘BOOM!’ Next! It’s this little daily self-esteem boost – A way of flirting with no consequences and without even having the leave the house”.
I ask her how she met the last man she went on a real date with. “On Twitter, actually” she says, clearly surprising even herself with her answer “which in a way is better. People only reveal a very specific corner of their personality on dating sites, but on social networks you get to see what they think and feel about a whole range of topics, as well as what their sense of humour is like”.
With dating sites being used as a form of social networking and social networking sites being used to find dates, it’s clearly a confusing world out there for the modern singleton. Yet with the online dating industry worth £170 million by 2012, and a 2014 study predicting that more than half of couples will meet in the digital world in 20 years’ time, it’s clear that dating websites have an enduring appeal. A study by Chicago University in 2013 also found that couples who meet online are 25 per cent less likely to end in divorce or separation than those that began through friends or chance.
In a bid to pour some clarity on the issue, I investigated the vast and (occasionally) terrifying world of dating websites. I found sites fit broadly into four categories: Standard, Specific (sometimes laughably so), weird and plain wrong.
Probably the most popular choices for tech-dating newbies, these include sites like Match, E-harmony, Plenty Of Fish, Tinder and Guardian Soulmates. Tinder and Plenty of Fish are free to use, so prime stomping ground for the Melis’ of this world, whose approach to dating is much like a cat toying with a ball of string. Plenty of Fish is the largest dating site and has over 90 million users, but you can also get a paid premium service. Tinder is set to introduce the same, so users can undo a hasty swipe.
According to year long Plenty of Fish member member, Brian*, "Profiles tell you so little about a person. Everyone likes going out sometimes and staying in sometimes. Everyone has friends or family that are important to them. Everyone likes nice food. While POF may seem more in depth than Tinder, all you really do is judge people physically".
Those on a more serious quest for love tend to choose sites like E-Harmony, which has a giddlingly huge list of compatibility criteria on which it pairs its users. This comes with its own set of potential pitfalls, however, since first dates with this kind of ‘good-story-to-tell-the-Grandkids’ expectation can be terrifyingly intense.
The best, worst, and most unusual dating sites
The best, worst, and most unusual dating sites
1/18 Clown Dating
"It's no fun looking for love when you're a clown, behind all the make-up and the red nose is a lonely heart. Clowns are unique entertainers loved by some yet feared and hated by others. Luckily Clown Dating is here to help."
2/18 Dead Meet
"A dating networking site for death industry professionals"
"Tinder is the fun way to connect with new and interesting people around you. Swipe right to like or left to pass. If someone likes you back, it’s a match!"
4/18 Plenty of Fish
The largest dating site has over 90 million users
5/18 Ashley Madison
Ashley Madison "offers services to married folks looking for something on the side". It already has over a million members, as chief executive Noel Biderman said that British adults were most likely to have an affair than in other comparable countries
6/18 Sea Captain Date
Sea Captain Date website claims to be the only place for Sea Captains to connect with men and women who share a love of the ocean
Those on a more serious quest for love tend to choose the UK’s largest dating site for professionals such as E-Harmony, which has a huge list of compatibility criteria on which it pairs its users
8/18 Feet Dating
The cybersphere also boasts a plethora of dating sites for those who want to tailor their sexual fetishes like Feet Dating ("to please everyone who has a foot fetish")
9/18 Guardian Soulmates
"Soulmates community features thousands of smart, modern, independent people who are worth getting to know"
10/18 Singles with Food Allergies
The founder claims that dating can be a nightmare for those who suffer severe reactions, since popular venue choices so often include food and drink
11/18 Herpes Dating Service
"Living with HSV is something that initially may take some psychological adjustment for some patients. It does not mean the end of your sex life or that you will need to remain unmarried for the rest of your life."
Probably one of the most popular choices for tech-dating newbies
13/18 Miss Travel
Miss Travel website asks users to select from two options "attractive" and "generous", and pairs wealthy globe-trotters with hot companions
14/18 Pensioner Dating
Pensioner Dating offers a forum for "older people who want to meet new friends and companions"
Singleparents.ie is "Ireland’s number one dating site for single moms and dads"
16/18 S&M Dating
S&M Dating describes itself as a site for "beginners to the S&M and BDSM devotee"
17/18 Sugar Daddie
On the site, it says: "Sugardaddie.com is a high quality dating site for successful men who have financial security and confidence and attractive single women."
18/18 Uniform Dating
With more than 135,000 active users, Uniform Dating says each of their users receives an average of 22 winks and flirts each month
For those with a more definite idea of what they are searching for in a partner, these sites promise to sort the wheat from the chaff. Singleparents.ie is “Ireland’s number one dating site for single moms and dads” whilst pensionerdating.co.uk offers a forum for “older people who want to meet new friends and companions”. Both of which are completely normal and understandable niches.
You can find your first mate with Seacaptaindate.com, which claims to be the only place for Sea Captains to connect with men and women who share a love of the ocean. The Singleswithfoodallergies.com founder claims that dating can be a nightmare for those who suffer severe reactions, since popular venue choices so often include food and drink. Last week a new app for weed smokers launched in America, dubbed 'Tinder for stoners'. For those with specific tastes in the bedroom rather than the kitchen sandmdating.com describes itself as a site for “beginners to the S & M and BDSM devotee”. The cybersphere also boasts a plethora of dating sites for those who want to tailor their sexual fetishes from feetdating.co.uk (“to please everyone who has a foot fetish”) to latexfetishdating.co.uk.
This may provoke an outpouring of indignation from those for a penchant for a fireman or a nurse, but I find the concept of uniformdating.com, a site for “those who work in uniform or fancy those that do” very strange. I’m clearly in a minority, however, as at last count it had 500,000 members.
Clowndating.com, a clown dating website is similarly a bit odd (not least because most people either associate clowns strongly with their childhood or find them nightmare-inducingly terrifying), as is dead-meet.com “a dating networking site for death industry professionals”. I can’t decide whether Herpesdatingservice.co.uk, a place for people with herpes to meet one another, represents a really responsible attitude to take to one’s incurable and highly contagious STI, or whether it’s weird to restrict one’s choice of partner to people who have the same disease as you. Either way, it’s going in the weird box (as it were).
As I’m surfing the web, researching more and more of the baffling array of choices for the online dater, a pop-up box keeps appearing, beseeching me to click on it because a “single millionaire wants to travel with a pretty girl just like you!”. Intrigued, I click on the link is to Misstravel.com, which asks users to select from two options “attractive” and “generous” (it is, as we all know, absolutely impossible to be both) and pairs wealthy globe-trotters with the hot companions they are apparently so desperate to seek. Sugardaddie.com, a site for mature, wealthy men seeking young women also leaves me with a distinct sense of unease.
The latest contender in this arena is ashleymadison.com, which “offers services to married folks looking for something on the side”. It already has over a million members, as chief executive Noel Biderman said that British adults were most likely to have an affair than in other comparable countries. Although, as Melis is quick to point out, “half the guys on Plenty of Fish are trying to approach you for a ‘discrete encounter’ anyway, so it’s probably better that they all have a place to go where they can be upfront about it”. Quite.
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