Online Dating: How to Find Love AND a Bargain

Photo (cc) by Don Hankins

Remember when Meg Ryan met Tom Hanks in an AOL chat room? In the 1998 hit movie You’ve Got Mail, they fell in love online. The rest is romantic comedy history.

Today online love is big business. In 2009, 22 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples met online, according to CNN.

As a single woman myself, I decided to try three of the biggest and best-known services – but to find a bargain, not a mate. I wanted to find out which online matchmaker offers the most bang for the buck (no pun intended.) After a month of dutiful searching, here’s what I found.

1. eHarmony

Cost: Ranges from $19.95 per month to $59.95 per month.

Background: eHarmony claims it’s responsible for 5 percent of U.S. marriages, but the lengthy application process was responsible for giving me a headache. To sign up for eHarmony, you answer a series of basic questions, followed by a lengthy questionnaire eHarmony uses to develop your “personality profile” – 307 multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions in total. I spent more than two hours rating my intelligence, love of video games, and frugality on a scale of 1 to 5.

My biggest gripe with eHarmony is the cost. You get a discount if you sign up for a year: $19.95 a month for a basic plan, billed in three installments. Shorter contracts are billed much higher…

  • 12 months – $19.95 per month
  • Six months – $29.95 per month
  • Three months – $39.95 per month
  • One month – $59.95

To add insult to injury, you’ll have to stay on top of your account unless you want to get charged again. From eHarmony: “In order to ensure uninterrupted service, all eHarmony subscriptions will be automatically renewed 24 hours before they expire.”

After you get through the grueling sign-up process, eHarmony is a decent site, but I didn’t find many matches. Searching only returned 65 profiles within my age group and personality type – in the entire country. Other age groups returned more matches, especially 35 to 45.

Conclusion: If you’re older than I am, and don’t mind high fees and long questionnaires, this might be for you.

2. Match.com

Cost: Free to browse, up to $34.99 per month for full access.

Background: Match.com also has a lengthy application process, but unlike eHarmony, the majority of the questions are basic interests and lifestyle choices. So instead of grading my charitable nature on a scale of 1 to 5, I spent half an hour listing movies I liked and coming up with my personal motto. (I chose, “It never got weird enough for me.”)

You can sign up, create a profile, and receive messages for free. But if you want to respond to messages and have full access to the site, you need to order a basic subscription. If you want all the perks, you’ll have to sign up for a “value plan.” The prices look like this…

Basic plans:

  • One month – $34.99
  • Three months – $19.99 per month
  • Six months – $16.99 per month

Best value plans:

  • Three months – $22.99 per month
  • Six months – $19.99 per month

I chose the free subscription. My friend chose a basic plan. The only difference I noticed: She was able to send messages to other members first, while I had to wait for members to contact me before I could respond. The “value plan” gives you a highlighted profile, and your profile will be one of the first emailed to new members. But that wasn’t worth the extra cost, in my opinion. I did find an even distribution of age groups on Match.com.

Conclusion: You get what you pay for, and free means waiting for someone to find you. So a basic plan is probably worth it.

3. OkCupid

Cost: Free for most services, $9.95 a month for a few advanced features.

Background: With OkCupid, starting your profile requires answering only a few questions, and photos are optional. I signed up in 10 minutes. But if you want an accurate match, you can answer any number of user-submitted questions – and there are hundreds of them to choose from. My friend has answered 1,301 questions, and there are still more to go. OkCupid compares your answers with the other user’s answers and gives you a “match percentage” based on the number of similar answers.

OkCupid isn’t the easiest site to navigate. But it does have one thing going for it – you can use any feature on the site or the app for free, although that means dealing with ads and tracked viewing. OkCupid‘s privacy policy explains they “track your use of our site” and “the information we obtain in this manner enables us to customize the services we offer our website visitors to deliver targeted advertisements.” But for $9.95 a month, you can browse anonymously and ad-free. I didn’t pay for that – wasn’t worth it to me.

Overall, I like OkCupid. I did get more “OMG! Ur hawt!” messages on OkCupid than I did on Match.com or eHarmony, which implies a younger audience. And what can you really expect from a free dating site? I did, however, have a few decent conversations.

Conclusion: If you’re just testing the whole online dating thing, start with OkCupid. You’ll get a feel for browsing through thousands of profiles and sending messages – and you may actually meet someone.

My results

While I didn’t have a You’ve Got Mail moment, I did make a few new friends. And that was worth signing up for, especially free. What would I pay for meeting the love of my life? Hard to say. But for me, it’s not yet worth an outrageous monthly fee on the off chance it happens.

Another option might be to look for love closer to home. Check out 7 Jobs Where You Can Find Love – and What They Pay.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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