With the rise of dating apps, it can be all too easy to forget that the path to true love isn’t necessarily just a swipe away. In fact, it might be a matter of clicks.
Those with a penchant for the old fashioned rituals of dating might choose to trade in the likes of Bumble, Tinder and Hinge for something a little more nostalgic. Enter, dating websites.
Sure, it’s still a digital way of dating as opposed to a real life one, but who actually does that anymore? Given that we're currently under lockdown, we couldn't find love at first sight in a bar even if we wanted to.
Not only do dating sites actually offer users the option of specificity, something that is notably lacking on its app-based counterparts, but they generally offer a much wider pool of singletons.
On OkCupid, for example, you can answer questions like “Would you consider yourself a feminist?” on your profile and eHarmony finds matches for you by asking how messy you are.
From the mainstream to the niche, here’s our pick of the best dating websites to guide you down the path to love.
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OkCupid: Free with additional pay-for features, okcupid.com
When you sign up to OkCupid, the website gives you the opportunity to choose what you’re looking for. And it’s not just “marriage” or “a quickie”. You can choose between a short-term relationship, a long-term relationship and the very contemporary moniker of “hookup”. When it comes to defining what you’re actually looking for, you can choose from 22 different genders, including non-binaries and agenders.
Next, you’re asked a series of 15 questions – ranging from “How important is religion to you?” and “Do you enjoy discussing politics?”. All of these are optional and you also have the ability to say how your ideal partner would respond to them. There are some niche questions too. Like, when asked about whether you could date someone who does drugs, one of the optional responses is “Yes, but only soft stuff like marijuana”.
Then, the website’s algorithm sets about finding you matches. The website is active in more than 200 countries worldwide and has been running for 15 years. It’s safe to say that if you have a very specific checklist, this is the dating site for you. There are additional features you can pay for (such as having no ads, seeing a list of who’s liked you before you’ve liked them, seeing who has read your messages etc), but the site is fully functional without these.
It’s also got one of the most fun designs of the lot, with a continued option to improve your matches by giving you random questions to respond to e.g. “Are sex and intimacy the same thing?”
eHarmony: Memberships from £12.95 per month, eharmony.co.uk
This dating site is unique. Not just because it’s been around more more than a decade – it launched in the UK in 2008 – but because it uses a special “intelligent compatibility matching system” to pair singletons according to 18 dimensions of compatibility. It sounds complicated, but in the world of matchmaking, maybe that’s what you need, because the more tech going into finding your matches, the more likely they are to be suited to you.
There are also more than 60 million members around the world, with five million in Britain alone, so there’s plenty to choose from. When you join, you begin by taking a comprehensive relationship questionnaire designed to determine what it is you’re looking for. Then, like other sites, it will draw up a list of matches for you to peruse at your leisure. Once you’ve matched with someone, you can start chatting to them and set up a date, if you like.
What’s useful about eHarmony is that it offers “guided communication” options, which means if you’re struggling to craft a message that is cool but shows you’re interested without being too keen (yes, dating is complex), you’ll be given some ice-breaker questions to choose from. Ideal. You will need a paid subscription in order to start speaking to someone, so do bear this in mind when you sign up. The website looks slick without being intimidating, which is a good combination in the realm of dating websites.
Elite Singles: Memberships from £25.93 per month, elitesingles.co.uk
The idea of “elite” dating has surged in recent years, with companies like Raya and The Inner Circle leading the way on the app scene by filtering through its applicants before allowing them onto its platform. Are they intelligent enough? Are they famous enough? Do they have enough Instagram followers? Such are the questions designed to narrow one’s dating pool and boost the chances of like-minded matches.
Elite Singles offers a similar service by calling for members who “hold above-average education”. It’s available in more than 20 countries worldwide and boasts roughly 13 million users. As opposed to simply loading you up with matches as the days go by, the website works by sending its singletons three to seven matches each day based on your preferences, location and responses to a personality test.
Speaking of the test, it’s one of the most detailed on the web, with more than 200 questions covering everything from politics to food preferences. There’s a psychological hook too, given that the test is based on the Big Five personality traits, which consist of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism. Its website design is nothing to write home about, but the selection process is the main attracting factor for users here.
Match.com: Memberships from £9.99 per month, match.com
There have been 443,855 marriages among Match.com users in the UK alone. That is a stat worth taking note of. The popular dating site is active in 25 countries. It’s unique in that not only does it have a super sophisticated algorithm designed to find you the best matches, but it also monitors the time that you’re logged on and will try to set you up with people who also happen to be online at that time. It’s terribly Black Mirror, but it might just find you a lifelong partner. Match.com also organises events for its users, giving people the chance to meet in real life in a safe, mixer-like environment.
Soulmates: Memberships from £16 per month, soulmates.theguardian.com
The Guardian’s dating website has been pairing star-crossed lovers since 2004, which is practically a millennia in the relatively young world of online dating.
It’s different in that it allows users to actually browse profiles before joining. If you see someone who catches your eye, then you can sign up to one of its paid subscription options. You can join for free, of course, but this leaves you with limited options in terms of what information you can list on your profile and how many photographs you can add.
As a paid subscriber, you’re given the option of advanced searches and most importantly, messaging, which you can’t do otherwise, rendering joining without paying somewhat pointless. It goes without saying that this is a good one for Guardian readers to join considering 80 per cent of its members are among that demographic.
My Single Friend: Memberships from £10.50 per month, mysinglefriend.com
My Single Friend was co-founded by Channel 4 presenter Sarah Beeney in 2004. The original USP of this site was that users were required to relinquish control and put their friends in the driving seat: they were the ones who designed your profile according to their vision of you and what kind of partner would be best suited to your needs. Now, though, that system seems to be largely defunct and singletons are encouraged to create their own profiles like they would on any other dating site.
Like most of its counterparts, My Single Friend is free to join, but you must be a paid subscriber in order to read messages from potential matches and send a custom reply. So it’s probably worth paying, otherwise you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle when it comes to trying to get the attention of any potential partners.
It also has a useful search function, which means you can type in what you’re looking for (based on age, gender and location) and instantly see a whole host of users. In a more advanced search option, you can find out which users are the most popular on the site (i.e. have the most matches) and who is online at the same time as you.
Dating Direct: Memberships from £12.99 per month, datingdirect.com
Dating Direct is very handy in that it gives users access to more than 20 million users across Europe – and five million in the UK alone. It also sends out a daily email to its members with six profiles of people you might be interested in. This is useful, because often half the battle with using dating sites is actually finding the motivation to trawl through endless profiles.
Which are very detailed, by the way. You can include some quick facts at the top of your profile, such as whether you want children or not and whether you’re a smoker. Then, scroll down and you can add some more info about your likes and dislikes and what you’re looking for in a partner.
You can also choose to browse the site in “incognito mode”, which enables you to view dating profiles discreetly and only appear to members who you have already expressed an interest in. Or you can browse in “zen mode”, which means you’ll only be contacted by people whose profiles match your stated criteria.
Plenty of Fish: Free with additional pay-for features, pof.com
Plenty of Fish is one of the biggest dating websites around, with more than 150 million registered users worldwide. Established in Vancouver, Canada in 2003, the site has been leading the way on the digital dating scene for many years now, and claims to be responsible for creating more relationships than any other free dating app.
Its interface is nothing special and looks a bit like it might be trying to sell you software as opposed to true love, but considering how long this company has been in the dating game for, clearly they know a thing or two about finding romance online. So maybe we shouldn’t let appearance deceive us in this instance.
Plus, if you’re feeling despondent, the website has an entire section dedicated to documenting its success stories, which are straight outta a Richard Curtis film. The most essential features (messaging, searching and matching) are all free, but users can pay a little extra for special benefits, such as seeing who has liked your profile you before you’ve matched with them.
The verdict: Dating websites
Ultimately, OkCupid wins in terms of appearance, diversity and opportunities. In the murky world of online dating, it seems to be one of the least stressful and easiest sites to use. Good luck.
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