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Do dating sites work? All about finding love online

Do dating sites work?
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

With increasingly busy schedules, focus on our careers, and time spent on the Internet, it seems like we're finding less and less time to find a love match. Although these aren't the only culprits behind our loneliness, the best dating sites have filled a void we can't ignore. And in this digital age, it only makes sense to join a dating app or site if you're single and in the market for a partner. Whether you like them or not, or have signed up or still undecided, you're likely asking yourself: do dating sites actually work?

How do dating sites work?

As much as we'd like to think that they give everyone a fair chance at finding love, the truth is that dating sites actually use an attractiveness scale to determine, in part, who appears as a potential match. Some algorithms will rate your attractiveness based on your photos, while others will rate it by user response to your profile. 

While that's not exactly encouraging, especially to those who feel that their looks may not be their strong suit, or those who feel that their look is too unique to be lumped in with the general population's, these algorithms also often take into account the details you provide on your profile, such as your intentions, interests, and hobbies, and the distance between you. These are all data points that may or may not be used, depending on the dating site or app you use. 

Essentially, whichever one you choose, you will be subject to an algorithm: whoever appears as a suggested match did not land that spot randomly. 

Depending on the dating site or app, you will be prompted to browse or swipe on profiles. Once you've found someone who strikes your fancy, get chatting!

Are dating sites safe?

Generally speaking, dating sites are as safe as you make them. Some apps, particularly the ones aimed at older adults, have increased security measures to make sure that profiles are real, and were not created by bots or scammers. Some apps, like The League, require users to link their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles not just to collect information, but to verify that you are a real user. 

Regardless of the dating site or app you choose, there are some general rules you can follow to keep yourself and your personal information safe. 

Some ways to identify a fake profile:

  • Empty sections on their profile
  • An excess of grammar and spelling mistake on their profile or in messages
  • Only one photo available
  • If the photo looks fake or like a stock photo
  • Generic messages
  • If the user asks for money or personally identifying information like your SSN

These are just a few of the clues that can indicate whether or not the person you've been chatting with is real or fake, or a scammer. 

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Dating site catfishing and other dangers

These fake profiles and bot-generated profiles are just there to annoy you: ultimately, they want information that will earn them access to your money or identity. People will also pose as individuals they are not and try to earn your affection until you willingly give up that information or send them money without ever having met them before. Older adults, particularly women, tend to the targets of such scams, but everyone should err on the safe side by looking for common signs of fake profiles and practicing precautionary measures to make sure that they are, in fact, chatting with a person with legitimate intentions. 

If you end up going on a date with someone you met on a dating site or app, there are additional measures to take, such as never getting into a car with them alone, letting friends know where you'll be going and with whom, and always being in a public place. 

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What dating site is best?

We can tell you what we think are the best dating sites and apps out there, but it depends on who you are, what you're looking for, and what's important to you. Some dating sites have more security features than others, some cater to a specific demographic, and other have features that can help you find a great date and partner. But ultimately, only you can know which one suits you the best. Give a few of them a try, and you'll likely know which ones are best for your needs within a few weeks. 

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Are dating sites worth it? How to make dating sites work for you

Even though you have millions of people and their profiles at your fingertips, giving you the possibility to meet people you would have never otherwise met, that by no means ensures 100% success. Some people join dating apps only to realize that they're not for them, or go on many dates without meeting a worthy match. 

It happens, and it happens a lot. 

However, statistics say that it's actually worth trying, regardless of who you are and your personality type. Did you know?

  • 5% of Americans who are married or in a committed relationship say they met their significant other online
  • 52.4% of online dating site and app users are male, and 47.6% are female
  • Match.com has 23.5 million users
  • eHarmony alone is responsible for 4% of U.S. marriages

If you are still hesitant to try a dating site, join a free one to test the waters. Interact with a few people, and if you feel comfortable, you can join other or more dating sites and app. While some people ultimately decide that dating online is not for them, it doesn't hurt to try out what everyone has been talking about. 

Dating site alternatives

While there is no true replacement for dating sites, you can try other ways to get to know people in your area without the awkward messaging back and forth. 

Matchmaking: If you have the cash to spare, seeing a matchmaker can be an option. 

Meeting friends of friends: This can be tricky, as there are some friendships you don't want to risk for a date that ended badly. But meeting people through other people is still one of the best ways to get a good read on the chemistry between you and another person. Plus, you can always ask your friend if you think you two would be a good fit!

Shared hobbies: Now, instead of dating sites, you can join online communities that meet in person regularly. Love to read? Join a book club. Love to rock climb? Join an adventure club. Want to do good in your community? Volunteer. You and the people you'll meet already share a passion!

Sports teams: If you want to play a sport, meet someone new, and just have a good time, joining a sports team may be the move for you. It's not for everyone, but the camaraderie and teamwork associated to playing sports can make meeting someone new both easier and more fun. 

Pick out your favorite local spots: If you prefer going at it solo, pick out some of your favorite spots around time and make time to enjoy them and visit them regularly. Try a coffee shop, a museum, a public park, or a new lunch spot. You may meet someone who catches your eye at one of these locales. 

Bars: This method isn't new, but maybe trying to get a date the old-fashioned way is for you. A small dose of alcohol can help you have the courage to talk the pretty or handsome stranger just a few feet away - and score a date!

Speed dating: While speed dating has fallen out of fashion in recent years, it seems like it's picking up speed again, slowly - no pun intended. Folks exasperated with online dating are turning to older methods of meeting someone new, and while speed dating may not be the most effective way to score a partner, it doesn't hurt to try and have some fun while you're there. 

At work: While many companies discourage dating between coworkers (and especially between managers and subordinates), others are fairly lenient. It's important to set some ground rules and to establish how to act if you and your coworker break up, and how you'll navigate questions about your relationship if they arise. 

While you're weighing these many different options, they all have one aspect in common: they all require some degree of effort. It seems that for some lucky people, love simply "happened" and they met their partner out of sheer luck and circumstance, but this isn't true for everyone. Willing for love isn't enough for many, so put yourself out there and you may be surprised by the result!