May 14, 2014 at 12:10 PM ET
The more times you pay for a drink or dinner with someone who isn’t your type, the less you feel like paying for the dating site that set you up. Fee-based services such as Match.com and eHarmony trumpet success stories on TV, but some of the best free sites harbor similarly large, enthusiastic communities and feature effective mechanisms for matchmaking. Whether you have in mind a one-time hook-up or “as long as we both shall live,” Cheapism.com recommends three services to try.
OK Cupid asks users thousands of questions designed to suss out who might make a good match. The queries range from, “How important is religion/God in your life?” to “Would you ever eat something out of the trash?” Visitors spend an average of almost 15 minutes a day on OK Cupid, according to Alexa, which measures web traffic. Members who upgrade to an A-List account (starting at $9.95 per month) can browse anonymously, filter matches, and see when messages they send have been viewed, among other features. But reviewers consider the site fully functional and user-friendly even without those frills. A highly rated mobile app is also free.
Plenty of Fish bases matches on a personality test, which some users find illuminating regardless how effective it is on the matchmaking front. Lively forums circulate dating advice and connect people with common interests a little more organically. The sea of registered users numbers more than 70 million worldwide (although certainly not all are active or genuine, much less dateable). This is not the prettiest site, but looks aren’t as important to many reviewers as free access to all the necessary features and to other users, as well as a free app. A membership upgrade (starting at $6.78 per month) reveals whether someone has looked at sent messages and promises other benefits.
Tinder caters to people who don’t want to invest the time to craft an alluring profile or go through an extensive questionnaire aimed at finding matches with long-term compatibility. Users of this free app want a simple way to pair up for a casual meeting, and perhaps nothing more. They browse photos and biographical tidbits plucked from Facebook and indicate whether they like what they see. Messaging is allowed only if the other person expresses interest, too. Some might be turned off by the emphasis on appearance, but satisfied users counter that this mirrors the way someone might catch your eye offline, with the added benefit of knowing that the person is available.
Of course, appearances can be deceiving, both online and off. A government website warns of the scams that arise on dating sites and plenty of online daters tell more benign sob stories. Yet there’s no denying that algorithms and apps now rank with workplaces, bars, social circles, serendipity, fate and whatever else commonly brings couples together.
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