There has been an explosion of online dating apps and websites over the last few years so it can be confusing which is the best dating app and best dating website to use.
So instead of trying to name them all, let me give you some criteria to categorize them so you can tell what kind of site to use and what kinds to avoid.
A Hookup or A Relationship?
One way of looking at dating apps is the outcome they tend to produce, from casual sex to long-term relationships and marriage. At the casual sex end of the spectrum you have apps that are explicitly designed to hook people up like Adult Friend Finder and Grindr as well as apps that tend to produce hookups due to their design and marketing strategy like Tinder.
Yes, despite what you may have heard, Tinder is designed to produce hookups more than relationships by virtue of being so attraction oriented (big on pictures, small on relationship criteria) and marketed to 20 some-things.
I’m not saying long-term relationships never start on Tinder. I am just saying that you are more likely to find hookups and people looking for hookups than looking for long-term relationships. That’s not to say you will never find people looking for hookups on apps designed to produce marriages either, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
At the other end of the hookup/marriage spectrum, you have apps that are exclusively focused on relationship factors like eHarmony and Chemistry with attraction being almost an afterthought.
These types of website make you fill out long personality surveys and then make you email back and forth for a while before you get to see a picture of each other. That all fine and good, but you can spend all that time getting to know someone and then take one look at their picture and be completely turned off.
I know because I tried those kinds of dating sites when I was newly single several years ago. After getting burned a few times by putting all that time in to communicating just to be turned off by their picture, I gave up on those types of dating sites.
Also, as a psychiatrist, I question whether or not it is even possible to predict who will work as a couple in terms of both relating and attraction with personality tests. However, if your appearance is not your strong suit or you don’t care that much about appearance, these types of sites can work well for you.
Personally, I think apps that take a balanced approach to the attraction/relationship issue are actually the most effective. They are balanced in terms of showing you pictures along with enough personal information so that you can screen out people that are not a good fit.
This type of approach does put more of the load on you by forcing you to decide on your criteria and to manually screen people out, but it will also give you more control of the process (if you like that sort of thing).
Mainstream vs. Niche Dating?
There are also specialty or niche dating sites as well that are obviously limited to just that niche, like seniors or Christians or black people. These can be great sites if you are in that niche, but they can be too restrictive with too few people on the website to make it worth your time, especially if you live in a smaller city or rural area (although one of my favorite dating apps, MeetMindful, is a niche site that focuses on the yoga/Whole Foods crowd).
If you are in a smaller city or rural are it can be tempting to look at people in nearby cities, but it is hard to get to know someone well enough to know if you will work as a long term relationship when it has always been long distance.
Sure, you can spend weekends together, but almost anyone can play nice and get along for three days. Spending three days together at a time with only phone calls in between just isn’t enough time together to tell if you can really live with someone.
My rule of thumb is not date anyone more than one hour away, even if it is in the same city. I say this because an hour is about the maximum time most people can travel regularly to see someone on a weekday. If they are more than an hour away, you will probably fall in to the long distance relationship pattern of phone calls during the week and only seeing each other on the weekend.
The key here is that you can see each other regularly during the week and not just weekends. So if you are only willing to drive/commute 30 minutes to see someone during the week, don’t search for people or respond to people more than 30 minutes away.
You may feel like you are missing out on meeting the perfect person for you, but I’ve met so many people that gave up their education or a great job to move to be with someone because of a long distance relationship only to discover they weren’t so fabulous when they spent more time with them.
How Much Should You Spend?
The next factor to consider in choosing dating websites to use is cost. At one end of the spectrum are the free apps and at the other end are expensive ones that are basically matchmaking services that can cost thousands of dollars. Thankfully, most sites are reasonably priced in the middle.
My take on cost, which is largely based on my own online dating experience, is that you get what you pay for; meaning that free isn’t always better. First, many “free” sites may let you join, but it’s a bait and switch game and they make you pay to contact other people or limit you in other ways.
The few truly free sites tend to attract people that either can’t afford to pay a modest fee or are ambivalent about online dating so they don’t check their messages very much. Plus, the quality of the programing on free sites can be so poor that pictures don’t display correctly and the sites can be hard to navigate.
Taking a step up are the moderately priced options where most online dating happens. I like these options because they have large numbers of people to chose from and they are at least motivated enough to spend some money to be there.
The only downside can be the sheer number of people there, especially in large cities. Of course you can just narrow your criteria to cut the number of people down to a manageable number. However, not every dating site is big in every city so you may have to do a little research and ask around to see what site most people are on in your area.
When to Consider Matchmaking and Introduction Services
At the top end are the pseudo-matchmaking sites that offer a personalized touch…for a price. They can be quite expensive from hundreds to thousands of dollars. I will confess that I signed up for such a site before I got good at online dating.
On the positive side, they actually did a face-to-face interview and ran a background check on me before introducing me to any other members. They also set me up on two or three dates fairly quickly. Plus, every woman I met though the service was a lovely person.
On the negative side, the service tended to fudge (ignore?) the criteria I supplied. Basically every woman I met either had children, despite my specific request for no children or they were so shy that they were terrified to try mainstream online dating sites. I eventually gave up after four dates even though I was guaranteed ten dates.
So unless you are in a special situation such as working an obscene amount or you need every one you meet to have a background check, these high priced sites are probably not superior to the standard, moderate cost dating sites like Match and eHarmony.