Choosing an Online Dating Site

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

– “Eleanor Rigby”, by Paul McCartney

I don’t think that anyone necessarily plans to be alone and lonely; sometimes it just happens. Perhaps it’s because they got caught up in a career race, or they live somewhere with a limited dating pool. Maybe they’ve been dating the wrong person, they’re divorced, or perhaps it’s because they have simply postponed couplehood until nearly everyone they know is paired up, and the ones who aren’t simply don’t look appealing. However it happens, there comes a day when as satisfying as being a singleton may have been, they suddenly realize that they…are lonely.

Now let’s personalize the experience.

So here is how it often happens: you are sitting at home watching the television, alone of course, and a commercial comes on. Smiling, happy, loving couples flounce across the screen, and an announcer starts talking about how you don’t have to be alone anymore. That there is someone out there that is just like you, someone that will “get” you, someone that will understand why somebody as wonderful as you is still single, because that person is still single too – and they are just as wonderful.

The logical part of your brain will kick in at first. “Give me a break, the only people who would ever join an online dating service are losers; people who are socially inept or who are looking for a hook-up.”

But still, those couples taunt you…and you wonder.

Then something happens. Someone you know, perhaps a friend of a friend, admits that the wonderful guy or girl they are dating is someone that they met online. You can’t help yourself, you’re intrigued. You think that maybe there is something to it, maybe you should give it a try. But still, you feel that there is a stigma attached. You think that it would make much more sense to meet someone in the traditional manner…being set up on a blind date, meeting someone at church or at a bar, joining a gym, attending a “parents without partners” meeting, getting a part-time job, taking lessons – cooking, dance, shooting, wine tasting, pottery, photography, whatever.

But alas, the good ones all seem taken, and toads abound. Seeing how few acceptable options are available might even make you feel even a little bit more lonely. Maybe that ex from high school or college that made you swear “never again” will start to look appealing. You might catch yourself giving people you wouldn’t have ever considered before a second look. This is simply unacceptable, and you realize that if you aren’t going to reconcile yourself to being single forever (so dramatic, aren’t we?!), that you must broaden your horizons and look elsewhere.

You see the same type commercial again, but this time it’s for a different service and from a different perspective. “It’s okay to look” you are told. “Okay fine, I will” you think, and you do. And what you find are a lot of other lonely people – many of them searching for the same thing that you want: someone to talk to about their day; someone to cuddle with; someone to share life’s ups and downs; someone who will love them, support them, appreciate them, and understand them.

And for just a moment, you consider your options: “If I am going to do this, how should I do this? What site should I use”

And that’s precisely the question, isn’t it?

Several years ago I was first approached by a reader about doing an article on online dating services, and over the years I have received other similar requests. For the longest time I have been in one relationship or another, and although I could have easily put together an overview of the general sites and their practices, it wouldn’t have been from the perspective of someone who had actually tried a single service. When I was recently approached by another reader about which online dating sites I thought were more reputable, I didn’t have a clue. But this time I was single (alone, but not necessarily lonely) and in the position to take a look. I’ll admit that I came into this experiment with many preconceived notions and prejudices. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I was hoping to get from this experience, but I very quickly learned that there was a lot more to online dating than simply joining a site and meeting a match or two.

What was supposed to be a single article about my experience (with a few choice quotes thrown in from others) has evolved into what will be a four-part series. I have been entrusted with stories I can share, a few where the names have been changed, several that were for my ears (and eyes) only – both good and bad. Obviously, there was no way that I could (or would want to) join, much less talk about every online dating service out there – even just the more popular ones, so I settled on actually  joining one. I’ll talk more about which site I took seriously later in the series, but for now I want to talk about some of the different types of online dating sites available.

You have to realize up front that there are sites for every interest group imaginable: geeks, jocks, nerds, socials, interracial, white-collar workers, Sugar Daddies, millionaires, fetishists, bored housewives,  collegiates, people with health conditions, intellectuals, LBGT, Pagans, Indians, Jews, Atheists (and no – I don’t know why misspelling it returns more results!), Agnostics, Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Vegetarians…shall I keep going? And oh yes, there are even mail order brides.

There are so many online dating networks available, that when I went on Twitter and announced I was doing an online dating service article, I was immediately buzzed about one aimed specifically at twittering types…



The choices of specialized online dating sites available can be simply overwhelming. That’s why I think so many people choose to go with one of the more popular catch-alls including, eHarmony, and Yahoo Personals (just to name a few). I’ll let you read a few quotes about these and some others from readers just like you along the way as I give you my thoughts on the big three…

I’ve used, but I don’t think I met anyone on that site. – Jennifer, 44 [Yahoo,, eHarmony]

I went to first, because it’s the one of the two that is so commercially visible. I’d had a little bit of experience with Match already, when I helped my friend Grabb refine his profile and pictures there last year. One of the things that I like about it is that there are a lot of people on there, many from my area and many from within 100 miles. What I don’t like is how open it is; I was able to set up a free account using a fake name, and without completing a profile and without paying any money, I could see everyone’s profile. Of course, if I could see theirs, then that meant that they could just as easily see mine. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with that.

How uncomfortable it made me was driven home when I went out to eat with friends the other night and saw no less than two of the men I had just seen profiled on Match. I guess it’s a little bit hypocritical of me, because I am already all over the web, but it bothers me to think that if I walked into a restaurant people I don’t even know might recognize me and remember that my favorite wine is a Tempranillo. Just kidding, that’s not actually on my profile anywhere, even though it is true. 😉


Match allows men seeking women, women seeking men, women seeking women, and men seeking men. You can be single, separated, divorced, widowed, or of course lying about any of the above; they aren’t going to go through your court records or anything.

Match allows you to search for matches, or allow them to match you. Both processes are explained here:

Choosing an Online Dating Site
Q. What is the difference between searching and matching?
Choosing an Online Dating Site
Choosing an Online Dating Site A. The short answer is this: Searching is done by you, and looks for a member with certain characteristics, location, age, etc. Matching is done by us, and matches you with another member based on what you both have told us you’re looking for. Now for the detailed answer.When you perform a search, you are specifying what types of members you want to see. We have many different kinds of searches available, including:

  • Quick search: The fastest way to see who’s available based on gender, age, and geographic location.
  • Custom search: Narrow your results by specifying what physical characteristics, lifestyle, background and values you want your match to have.
  • Keyword search: Find people with interests similar to yours by entering a keyword (ex: kayaking, travel, Dallas Cowboys) in this search. We’ll find members who used that word in the “About me and who I’d like to date” section of their profile.

You can also save searches so that you can quickly get the newest results with just one click. Just look for the “Save this search” box on the right-hand side of the page whenever you perform a search. You can even have new results sent directly to your email Inbox.

Matching, on the other hand, also takes into account who you are. When you post a profile, you provide certain information about yourself as well as about the kind of person you are looking for. We can use this information to find those members who meet your criteria for a match, and who also have specified that they are looking for someone like you. Remember, you must have a profile in order to use our Matching technology. If you’ve asked to receive by Mail, we’ll send your new matches directly to your email Inbox.

Once you’ve registered on Match, you are “encouraged” to complete your profile, but as I mentioned, you certainly don’t have to. is priced as follows: one month is $34.99, three months are $59.97, and six months are $101.94.


I had dated online off and on for a couple of years using several different sites. I did meet several interesting people in the good sense of the word but I also met several that weren’t anywhere near what I expected. Most of the sites were the same, you looked at ads and expressed interest in someone based on a paragraph and a short list of likes and dislikes. Basically I was the “new kid in school” and had to socialize with everyone to see who actually met my personal criteria. It was a long drawn out process that at times left me wondering what in the hell I was doing this for. – Steven 32, [eHarmony]

eHarmony was a complete waste of money and time. Takes FOREVER to get to communication and in the interim most people close you out or delay responding. The profiles are all boilerplate so you are in what I refer to as the “online dating beauty contest” (which is what happens when all you have to sell yourself is a picture and generic profile text). – Wayne

eHarmony was a little trickier. In order to get into the site I still had to register, but in order to see people I had to complete the seemingly endless personality profile. eHarmony says that their “436-question Relationship Questionnaire is just one of the key ways we screen singles for deep compatibility with you on as many as 29 dimensions”. Whatever you do, don’t start treating the questionnaire like a connect the dot game, because you will not be able to go back and retake it.

eHarmony allows men seeking women and women seeking men only; same-sex seekers need not apply. You should also be advised that if you indicate you are separated but not divorced (even if you haven’t seen your spouse in a year and your divorce will be final in 30 days [I’m using their example]), eHarmony will not allow you to join; I suspect that a lot of people fudge on this. 😛


One of the lamer things about eHarmony according to my friend Grabb (yep, he tried this one, too), is that you can be matched to people who have not paid for a subscription. If they look interesting to you and you decide to communicate with them, they will have to join in order to reply; many are just lookie-loos and they won’t join. The good news is that you can’t just go searching for someone based on name or location with eHarmony; I like the implied privacy that offers.

So how does eHarmony work their matches?

Who Knew Science and Love Could Be So Compatible? How eHarmony Works

  • Personality Evaluation
    Each new eHarmony user is asked to fill out a comprehensive, 436-question relationship questionnaire. This inventory was developed by Ph.D. psychologists and is designed to identify a person’s key characteristics, beliefs, values, emotional health and skills. eHarmony is the only dating site that delves this deeply into the important aspects of personality that influence our romantic relationships. Members receive two free in-depth research reports: the Personality Profile which provides insight into the member’s needs and values and the Compatibility Profile, which outlines the type of person with whom the member would be most likely to enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship.
  • Scientific Matching: Compatibility Is Key
    Once the profile is complete, eHarmony’s patented Compatibility Matching System™ matches people based on the 29 key dimensions that are necessary for compatibility and relationship success. Users only see matches eHarmony has found to be compatible, thus eliminating the frustrating process found on other sites where people must search through a database of singles who may not be right for them. These 29 dimensions were identified through studies of more than 5,000 married couples in which, eHarmony exhaustively researched what makes marriages succeed and fail. The results are high quality matches unlike those on any online dating service.
  • Expert Guidance
    Once the matching technology has found a pool of compatible candidates, eHarmony guides members through a four-stage process for meeting their matches and making intelligent decisions about whether to initiate contact. Through guided “rounds of communication,” eHarmony helps singles communicate step-by-step, beginning with identifying the characteristics that are most important to them in a mate; then providing a forum for singles to ask potential matches the important questions right up front instead of waiting months to discover fundamental issues that can break a relationship; and finally, presenting singles with a safe avenue to begin directly communicating with each other.

Once you are “in”, eHarmony will deliver potential matches via email each night. While it is possible to narrow your results to those just from a certain geographic area, I have not found a way to open up the service and view anyone that you haven’t been specifically matched to…and I like that.

eHarmony prices are as follows: three months for $110.85, six months for $173.70, and one year for $251.40. I can hear a comedian somewhere exclaiming “Damn! That’s expensive!” Well yeah, it is. 😛

In January of 2004, I decided that I needed to take time to myself to re-evaluate what I wanted in a relationship. This was mostly due to several disappointing relationships which ended badly. I had my son to focus on, my career, and my family. I really didn’t feel like anything was missing….until around Christmas 2005, I was sitting in a Christmas Eve church service and looked around at the husbands with their arms around their wives, the families that would be going home together and waking up together Christmas morning. I just felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and happiness at the same time. I felt sad that I would be waking up alone, and happy because I finally felt ready to find “the one”. That was the first step to finding the love of my life, Steven.

I hadn’t tried any dating sites before, but had always thought the ads for eharmony looked realistic. Realistic was what I wanted in a person. Someone who would love me for exactly what I was and someone I could love for who they were. So the eHarmony process began. June, 24 [eHarmony]

Yahoo Personals

Yahoo Personals had more casual people, and two that I met who stared at me as if i just parked my spaceship outside the restaurant (luckily I’d been on about a dozen meets prior – so it didn’t spook me). – Wayne

Holy cow, have you taken a look at Yahoo Personals? It’s like the Sam’s Warehouse of dating. I did a quick search of my zip code, and hundreds of men popped up. I was even able to view a couple of profiles before Yahoo shut me down and made me join. Okay fine! Gah.


Yahoo is probably the most free-wheeling of the three. You can be a man seeking a woman, a woman seeking a man, man seeking a man, woman seeking a woman, single, separated, cheating, don’t feel like disclosing…whatever. It’s okay, no one is going to check.

A pleasant surprise that I discovered on Yahoo was that you had the option of allowing people to see you or not. Here are the choices:

Yes, make my profile searchable only on Yahoo! Personals.

Yes, cast my net even wider! Show my profile on both Yahoo! Personals and partner websites.

No, do not make my profile searchable. I would only like people I contact to see my profile.

By creating a non-searchable profile and submitting it, I was immediately returned 129 people whose requirements I matched, and only one who met mine. Booo – I can’t believe that there is only one guy within 250 miles who matches me; am I really that picky? FAIL. At least the searches are configurable.

The most depressing thing that I saw was that so many of the guys who were on Match were also on here. Oh wait; technically I was too, so who am I to judge? 😉

A subscription plan is available, which according to Yahoo is “where the magic happens.” What does that mean?


Rates are 25.99 per month, or you can do a three-month plan for $53.97, or a six-month plan for $83.94. Feh…I signed on for one month. We’ll see what happens. 😛

I’d like to end this installment with a quote from Rabbi Dan Cohen, which he specifically wrote for me when I told him I was having issues with internet dating, and I suspected a lot of readers might be, too:

Technology and Isolation- Part of the Problem/Part of the Solution

A number of years ago Robert Putnam wrote a book entitled Bowling Alone. In it he illustrated the decline of community and the increase of isolation in our society. He points out that while more people are bowling now than ever before fewer of them are bowling as part of a group. Putnam uses the demise of bowling leagues as a jump off point to illustrate that society has become increasingly isolated in modernity. The bowling leagues that thrived one generation ago- not only offering a chance to bowl but also creating a sense of camaraderie, are, he noted, in steep decline. As a result many of us spend more and more time alone, isolated and unconnected. Yes, people are bowling but they are bowling alone.

The myriad causes for this trend include a disproportionate number of technological breakthroughs.

–television provides a surrogate to true relationships by creating the illusion of intimacy with characters on a screen. Tens of thousands of people actually know more about the people on CBS’s program Big Brother than they do their own neighbors or even their own extended family. And they don’t see it as a problem.

–automobiles enable us to move from one place to the next without ever encountering another human being. Road rage happens, in part, because the person in the other car is a non-person to us.

–computers, smartphones, pmps etc. (all of which are embraced by those of us who read and/or contribute to tech blogs) have the potential to slowly increase our isolation from one another as we spend more and more time in our own web-world and less and less tim with one another. (Twitter is great at connecting someone in Texas to someone in New York but it potentially distracts each from the person standing right next to them.)

And if all of these make creating and sustaining Bowling Leagues difficult imagine their impact on the ability to meet the “right” person. As Will Miller and Glenn Sparks suggest in their book, Refrigerator Rights,

“today’s lifestyle is so conducive to isolating us from each other that hardly anyone is immune…”

Elsewhere they note that

“Our culture is…in denial about our problem of interpersonal isolation. Instead of facing up to our need for more relationships and deeper intimacy, we distract ourselves with other mental activities to help us pretend we’re just fine…” (refridge pg 108)

But there is hope- and it comes from the very source of the problem. While technology plays an unquestionable role in creating or deepening the problem of isolation, technology can also help solve it. Email has become ubiquitous in people’s communication with one another and while not a replacement for direct contact it allows contact in new and varying ways that were never before possible. And while Twitter isn’t the same as taking a walk or grabbing a movie with someone, it does let you share in their enjoyment of the day or excitement at the latest film.

The same holds true for internet dating. It takes the very technology that creates or adds to isolation and uses it to CREATE, rather than WEAKEN ties between people. In fact, for someone who might be a bit shy it has the potential to lower social anxiety and make new social opportunities possible.

Therefore my suggestion to people is this… if you feel embarrassed by the idea of internet dating… do what you can to get over it. After all, how different is meeting someone online than maintaining connections through email, Facebook and Twitter? In each case the technology only makes the connection possible. What you do with it is up to you.

I’m the first to admit that I am skeptical about finding a true match in this manner, but what the heck. I am going to take the ride and see where it goes. If nothing else, maybe I’ll make a few new friends. 🙂

Other Articles in this series: Online Dating: Creating Your Profile, Online Dating: The Do’s and Dont’s

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

9 Comments on "Choosing an Online Dating Site"

  1. TrvlngDrew | June 7, 2008 at 2:04 am |

    And so the ‘quinology’ begins.. 🙂

  2. Great article – and you have captured the essence of online dating (aka OLD).

    I know there is lots more good stuff to come.

    A couple things that I’ve really found annoying about the sites you mentioned:

    eHarmony – It’s been a while since I was a subscriber – and I only used it for a little while. But when I was on it (complete waste of time and money imho) I think you could not see the other person’s pictures unless you were a paid member.

    eHarmony also have a VERY lengthy process of what is essentially sending question and answer multiple choice quizzes to your matches. You go through several rounds of this until you get to “open communication” where you can freely email. I found the whole process exhausting. And my estimate of a week to get to open communication is an optimistic one – many people take weeks to fill out the questions. ZZZZZ.

    For anyone shy about writing a profile , eHarmony is a pretty good choice. It’s just soooo damn generic. You cannot get any type of feeling about what the people like to do or who they are.

    As an example of generic:
    On eHarmony there is NO indication of whether the other person has children. I have two. They’re age 8. Do you think I’d match up with someone who had kids in the middle of high school (My experience: No). On eHarmony it can take you easily a week to get to the stage where you email each other (and ask some of these more detailed questions that their checklists doesn’t cover). Too long in my opinion. Also a big fat waste of time.

    Reading eHarmony profile after profile (which are almost entirely bullet point listings with very little free form text) about how the person loves their family, likes to go to the gym, can stay in or go out. Well jeepers why don’t these profiles just say they like to breath. I mean they’re so generic and full of “me too” words that I found the profile text nearly useless.

    What eHarmony is great for is the folks who are terrorized that their next door neighbor might be browsing a site and see their photo. Since eHarmony only exposes your photo to those you match with – there is very little risk of someone discovering that you’re online dating. It is also good for people who “don’t know what to write” in a profile (Tip: Write about anything that other people don’t – this makes you stand out).

    When your profile text is generic (as I feel it is with eHarmony) you are in what I call (and you talk about) as the “Match beauty contest”. I would tell people that if they don’t have a good profile text that the only thing anyone would be able to go on is their photos (which most people choose poorly and ignore the “standard set of 3” must have photos – head, body, candid).

    Match – There are a lot of annoying things about Match. The biggest pet peeve I had back when I did OLD is that you could not view other profiles without having a membership yourself.

    Now that membership doesn’t have to be paid – but you have to create a user name and login. And unless you hide it – the profile is viewable to everyone. I hated when a site required you to join just to view – which most of them do.

    And one of Match’s features (which a user who is browsing cannot opt out of) is that your profile shows up on anyone’s page that you looked at in the “who’s viewed me”. For women I think this could cause unwanted attention if you’re looking at a profile out of shock or because it’s funny (in a bad way).

    To me it isn’t anyone’s business if I’m looking at their profile.

    (Note: On Match there is ONE way around showing up in the “who viewed me” and that’s to make your own profile “invisible”. But as soon as you make it visible again I think it shows up retroactively).

    So after a while I fought back. When I was OLD I didn’t think it was anyone’s business if I was looking at their profile. And I did a LOT of profile reviews for people and didn’t want to be showing up as looking at their profile several times as if I were a creepy stalker.

    Instead of logging in as myself, what I would do on Match was create an extra profile. But because I found profile writing fun – I was at least creative.

    Here’s the guy that I used to use for browsing only (Note: This was a non-paying account and I NEVER contacted or did anything but browse with it).

    A couple other sites that deserve mention:

    Plenty of Fish – – free (and freewheeling) – lots of casual daters. To me it seemed that 80% (or more) were there just to email or chat. The site also has some bizarre restrictions on what you can write in your profile and should you break the rules they’ll delete your profile without any warning or recourse.

    Craigslist – – free and only a good spot for those very experienced with OLD. Almost all the profiles are pictureless — so you need to be experienced and know how to ferret out the creepy from the just plain weird from the potential matches.

  3. Wayne, thank you for all of your comments! I swear, your experiences are an article in themselves!

    I think a few things have changed on eHarmony about the process…you’ll see. But I totally agree with you on the odd matching and lack of disclosure on some items (not just children).

  4. questionfear | June 7, 2008 at 3:49 pm |

    I just wanted to chime in briefly. I didnt reply to your request for stories, because I was busy running around and dealing with stuff, but here’s my quick .02:

    I signed up for just to give it a shot because I liked the ads and thought I’d give it a shot. Bear in mind that I am a woman and was looking for other women so it made my scope more narrow. I’d tried gay-only personals, but you saw the same 10 people everywhere, and I wasn’t impressed. was ok, but I got a wink one day from someone. And to make a rather long story short, 7 months later we’re still going strong. And while I dont necessarily credit match’s methods, I think the accessibility and “hip and young” factor of their website is what made me sign up.

    One other thing: Don’t forget that in addition to being anti-separated people, eharmony also won’t deal in same-sex pairings. For most people I recognize this is not a deal breaker but it should be known. Also, the founder of eharmony is a strong proponent of no sex before marriage. (I thumbed through his book back when I was a bookstore slave).

  5. @guestionfear – you mean those winks actually work?! 😉 😆

    Man! I had that eHarmony was Hetero-only and it must have got dumped in one of my draft revisions. I’ll re-ad. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    Congrats on finding a match! If you want to send more details for one of the next installments, I would love to hear more about your story. 🙂

  6. OK, Judie, I know I was supposed to email you about this, but I totally forgot. Bad reader!

    I had incredible success using the online dating service that is attached to I believe it’s called Spring Street Personals and is accessible through other popular websites as well. It is very similar, from what I’m given to understand, to It’s worth checking out, I think!

    Judie, if you still want to hear my story, I’ll email it to you! It’s a good one with a happy ending, I promise. 😀

  7. Oh Jessica, I totally stalled on emailing you about a phone…so, bad email buddy! 😆

    I would love it if you would send me your story, and YAY for happy endings. 😀

  8. sparkbliss | June 8, 2008 at 11:32 pm |

    My attempts to discover meaningful companionship using popular online dating sites proved feeble. As a result, I founded Sparkbliss[dot]com which leverages what has always been the best way to meet people – introductions from your circle of friends. In fact, “63% of married couples met through a network of friends,” according to a recent Temple University study. As it clearly improves your chances of finding your soul mate, why not let friends and family play matchmaker?

    Today, there is growing public concern over personal privacy on the internet. A problem with the majority of online dating sites is they require members to create a searchable public profile. By doing so, members effectively surrender control of their personal information. I am sensitive to the privacy issue, but there is also something disturbing about sharing a public profile with strangers who tend to superficially and subjectively evaluate its content. My disenchantment and preference for protecting my personal privacy are shared by a significant percentage of the 100 million single adults in the U.S. who currently avoid online dating.

    For many single “professionals” exposing their personal lives on the public internet can be quite embarrassing or even career jeopardizing. For example: a lawyer avoids online dating because his colleagues will ridicule him if they find him on a dating site; a teacher is reluctant because students and parents can easily search and find information which could compromise her authority. For individuals who require an online dating experience with privacy, there is an alternative that embraces truly private online dating.

    Sparkbliss helps discover meaningful companionship through your private circle of friends. It works like this: each member decides who can view his/her bio and thus makes romantic introductions on their behalf; members have complete control over whom they invite into their network. In an era where the online dating market appears largely satisfied, Sparkbliss is remarkable by using a private social network to bring together individuals of similar interests, backgrounds and values.

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