A single's guide to online dating

eHarmony: For tradtional daters

According to the New York Times, eHarmony was responsible for 2 percent of American marriages in 2007, or nearly 120 weddings a day. eHarmony’s website is slick and easy to navigate, and I found that it made going back and adding more information about myself simple. Plus, it presented my matches well. Don’t be fooled by the “see your matches for free” shtick, though: You have to pay to see anything about a potential match aside from age, name, and location.

However, the more autonomous date-seeker could be deterred from eHarmony, which refuses to let users browse for their own dates. Instead, users are required to answer a 258-question personality test, and then the site picks potential partners. This algorithm is the creation of Galen Buckwalter, a former research professor who gave 5000 married couples a personality survey and then correlated the answers with the couples’ marital happiness. The resulting “29 core traits” that eHarmony prides itself on include emotional temperament, social style, cognitive mode, relationship skills, and physicality, among others.

eHarmony's personality test helps to match you with compatible daters.

Although eHarmony seems modern and exciting, I recommend this site for the more conservative or traditional dater seeking a long-term relationship. The questions and website goals made me feel slightly out of place, as I’m not especially traditional or looking to get married anytime soon. On the upside, this site doesn't seem to have a specific target age range, so all ages are welcome.

OKCupid: Something for everyone

OKCupid is my favorite of the sites I’ve used, and it’s the one I’ve had the most luck with—I’ve had one long-term(ish) relationship with someone I’ve met through the service, and I am currently seeing someone I met on OKC with whom I have chemistry. This free site is incredibly popular with the 19-to-35 age group; it’s user friendly and it presents information in seven different ways so you can customize it to create the environment you like best. What I like most about OKCupid is that it partially determines matches by assessing your responses to a variety of questions, and you can choose which ones to answer; I love taking surveys, so this setup is right up my alley.

Occasionally described as “hipster,” OKC’s profiles put emphasis on wit by giving users the opportunity to write a lot about themselves. The result can be a surprisingly pleasant and intellectual experience. It doesn’t hurt that the site runs a pretty neat blog with good infographics.

OKC's profile pages have lots of room for personality.

OKCupid is open about how its algorithm works: The more complete your profile—including both the basic "who I am and what I’m looking for," as well as the unlimited survey questions—the more accurate the matches are likely to be. The site collects data on daily activities as well as on how important certain questions are (for example, having strong emotions about art is very important to me, while the need to be in contact every day—always—is not) to calculate match percentages. It determines matches by the number of questions you agree on (taking into account your answer and the importance value you attach to it), enemies by the number of questions you disagree on both at face value and in degree of importance, and friend potential by the number of answers you have in common.

Once your profile is complete, OKC matches you with friends, with potential partners, and with enemies to steer clear of.

Many of my friends and acquaintances have used OKC, and although about half said they’d met crazies on the site—a self-described "King of Sex" who assumed he could stay the night; one who couldn’t distinguish a “group hang” from a date that she suggested; an “onion lady” who, although she didn’t smell or make the guy cry, got nuttier with each successive layer he peeled off—the other half met long-term partners and are in successful relationships. If you are seeking a wide variety of relationships (including friends, casual dates, people who are looking for an open relationship, and long-term exclusive partners), OKC might be up your alley.

Dating wins and woes

During two years of on-and-off online dating across several sites, I experienced my share of doozies and snoozies, rude dudes, and even a few seriously groovy guys. I went out with one good-looking, successful lawyer who seemed excited to meet me, but then wouldn’t say a word when we met up for drinks. I dated an easygoing teacher for a couple of months before he spent the entirety of one of our dates ignoring me and texting another girl he had met online.

Although some of the email conversations, dates, and relationships I had were frustrating, confusing, or downright ridiculous, I appreciate the experience of getting to know the men I met on different dating websites. At the most basic level, dating is a numbers game, and I figure that any opportunity to get to know people is better than sitting in a suburban city council meeting with people my parents' age.

In the end, the success of these sites and online dating in general completely depends on the user and their willingness to be patient, put themselves out there, and deal with the occasional dud who takes liberties or makes assumptions. But in that respect, it doesn’t differ terribly from offline dating, does it?

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