How to Choose the Right Dating
Looking for Love?
Whether you’re looking for a long-term relationship or a quick booty call, there’s a dating app out there for everyone. From the hyper-specific—FarmersOnly, JDate, 3Fun—to the ones we review here, which cast a wider net, what do you need to know to find the love of your life…or just your love for the night? Bars, nightclubs, and other traditional meeting places may be starting to reopen, but how safe are they? Dating sites and apps are the way to go these days, and many even have special video services they’ve introduced specifically to deal with dating in the time of the coronavirus, as we’ll explain later.
Getting Started With Dating Apps
The first thing you need to decide is how committed you are. As in, how much do you want to pay to make your heart go pitter-patter? Some apps, like Plenty of Fish, let you view profiles and send messages for free. Most of the others let you view your potential matches without charging, but they make you pony up and subscribe if you want to actually reach out to them without limits—especially if the interest is one-sided. While the monthly charges for the apps we review here range in price from $10 to more than $40, most offer a discount if you commit to a long-term subscription such as six months or a year. (You’re not afraid of commitment, are you?)
Then there are all the add-ons. Options—letting you pay to boost your ranking in search results, letting someone know that you are really, really interested in him or her or them, or undoing a dreaded left-swipe that was supposed to be a right-swipe—will cost you extra. While some apps may advertise themselves as free, all of them will try to get a buck from you in the end. Only Facebook Dating is totally free, and that’s only if you don’t consider your existing personal Facebook profile data to be currency.
When it comes down to actually putting yourself out there and creating a profile, all apps ask for the basics: name, age, location, a photo, a short blurb about yourself, and (usually) if you can stand a person who smokes. Beyond that, it can be a bit of a crapshoot. Some apps, like Tinder, value photos over personality. Others, like eharmony, make you fill out an endless questionnaire before you can even think about browsing for your match. Still others, like Zoosk, ask so little that you’re left to wonder what’s being used to actually match you with like-minded love-seekers.
If you don’t fall into the cis-hetero dating pool, most of the apps reviewed here are inclusive. Even eharmony now finally allows for same-gender couples. However, some are friendlier to the LGBTQ community than others. For example, OkCupid goes beyond forcing users to choose between being a male or female, including options like Hijra, genderfluid, and two-spirit.
Time to Connect
Once you pick that perfect selfie and write paragraphs to sell all your best attributes to your future mate, it’s time to start browsing. This is where the big differences between these apps are apparent. For instance, Tinder, with its famous hot-or-not swiping interface, makes it quick and easy to find your next date. Bumble, on the other hand, puts all the power in women’s hands; men can’t even contact a woman unless she’s expressed interest first. Others, like Match and OkCupid, have robust profiles that let you dive deep into a user’s personality (or at least the one he or she has decided to present to you), before you decide to go on the pursuit. Hinge lets users create profiles that are a beautiful blend of visuals and text.
Now that you’ve perused the dating pool and have your eyes on that special someone, it’s time to bite the bullet and actually reach out to them. Each app offers different ways of showing your interest. Match will let you Wink at a fellow member for free, and Plenty of Fish doesn’t charge for messaging. In most apps, messaging is also typically free when both users like each other. However, free users only get so many likes per day, with Hinge being especially limited. In other instances, you’re going to get charged for the reach-out. If you’re not ready to express your feelings in words, Bumble lets you send Bumble Coins to prospective matches, for $2 a pop. Zoosk offers the slightly creepy option of giving Coins to other users to express your interest (for an additional fee, of course).
Staying in Touch
As this is 2020, all of these services, even the decades-old Match, offer both iPhone apps and Android apps. Most also have desktop counterparts for when you’re at work and want to take a break from your spreadsheet to set up a weekend tryst. Just be aware that the functionality can vary substantially between the app and desktop interfaces. For example, there’s no swiping on Tinder’s browser version. Facebook Dating and Hinge are only available as mobile apps.
Once you’ve installed these apps and signed up for the services, get ready for a barrage of notifications and email. Some, like daily match suggestions, are helpful, while others, like alerts that tell you every new “like” you get, can just be annoying. The good thing is you can easily tweak these alerts by drilling down into the settings menus in each of the apps.
Any activity that involves meeting strangers from the internet carries some safety risks. If you find yourself in a toxic situation and need to cut off contact, all of these apps let you block and report users who haven’t taken the hint. These services try to vet their profiles and keep unwanted inappropriate material from appearing. Bumble blurs nudes with AI. Tinder lets you secretly alert emergency services if you’re on a particularly bad date. There are even third-party solutions. UrSafe is a hands-free, voice-activated personal safety app with features for offline and online dating. Not having to use your hands is especially appealing during a viral pandemic, which brings us to our next section.
Dating While Social Distancing
In case dating wasn’t difficult enough, right now our social lives have all been upended by the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Ideally, online dating should lead to meeting up in real life. However, right now the responsible thing for everyone to do is to stay home, and that’s creating quite a dilemma for dating apps. Fairytrail, a dating app for connecting via shared travel destination dreams, has seen a bittersweet increase in use.
The most straightforward virtual dating solution is video chatting, allowing users to at least see each other face to face instead of just through texting. Bumble, eharmony, Match, and Plenty of Fish all offer video chat. Apps with more specific target audiences are also adopting this feature, including the mobile-only Muslim dating app Muzmatch.
Even apps without video chat acknowledge the crisis in their own way, though. Hinge lets users set up a video chat, just on a different app. Tinder lets you match with college classmates or people in other countries for free for a limited time. OkCupid added personality questions about how you’re coping with the pandemic. Facebook Dating users can choose to use other Facebook communications apps such as Messenger or the experimental Tuned, an app specifically for quarantined couples.
Which Dating App Should You Use?
Dating is hard work, so we did some of the legwork for you by taking a deep dive into nine of the most popular apps. We weren’t popular enough to get into The League, the dating app for celebrities. Everyone’s needs and wants are different, so not every app will be a great fit for you. Match and Tinder are both Editors’ Choice picks because they excel in their respective lanes, lasting relationships and fast hookups. Other apps have strengths too, and you can learn more by reading our in-depth reviews. If we can help play a part in uniting you with your forever person or your Friday-night fling, we’re here to help. Just don’t forget to invite us to the wedding. (With a +1.)
For more takes on dating, check out our sister sites, AskMen and Mashable. AskMen has plenty of slices of the dating pie, including the best sites for men and women, but also sites specifically for teens, hooking up, and finding relationships. Mashable also offers its own takes the best dating sites for men and for women, but it also adds tons of narrower slices, including the best for geeks and nerds and the best for LGBTQ people—and plenty more, too.
Where To Buy
Pros: Excellent privacy and safety features
Robust free version
Fun and inclusive interface
Cons: Profiles less meaty than other apps’
Superfluous friend-finder and business-networking options
Bottom Line: Bumble is the dating app for women who want to be empowered, and men who want to let women make the first move.
Pros: Robust profiles
Multiple ways to like profiles
Great interplay between photos and text
Cons: Very limited likes for free users
No video chat
No desktop version
Bottom Line: Hinge lets users build beautiful profiles and gives them fun, flirty ways to interact with each other.
Pros: Robust, vetted profiles
Excellent filtering tool
Profile approval isn’t instant
Bottom Line: With its easy-to-use interface and detail-rich profiles, Match makes it clear why it’s one of the most enduring dating apps. This is the service to try if you’re looking for long-term love.
Pros: Most of the app can be used for free
Inclusive identification options for gender and sexual identities
Cons: Search function sometimes returns errant results
Free interface serves ads and may invite casual browsers
No video chat
Bottom Line: With its data-driven matches and inclusive ecosystem, OkCupid is a great alternative to the swipe-if-they’re-hot hookup apps.
Pros: Simple, modern interface
Swiping feature is addictive
Free to use the basic app
Cons: Geared more toward hookups than relationships
Lots of incremental ways to spend money
No video chat
Bottom Line: Tinder is the fun, easy-to-use dating app if you want to have a good time…right now.
Pros: Robust privacy and security features
Thorough profile-building process
No in-app transactions
Basic features locked behind paywall
Sign-up survey can be daunting
Bottom Line: A solid, if pricey, dating app for anyone looking for long-term love, eharmony lets data drive its matches rather than just photos.
Pros: Rich profiles are easy to build
Connects with Instagram and other Facebook services
Information not shared on public Facebook
Cons: No desktop version
No built-in video chat
Requires Facebook account
Bottom Line: If you can get over the idea of sharing even more of your life (and your data) with Facebook, Facebook Dating is a solid choice that takes good advantage of its enormous ecosystem.
POF (Plenty of Fish)
Pros: Very few messaging limits
Lots of prompts to send quality messages
Cons: Free messaging could mean more spam users
Can’t link outside accounts like Instagram or Spotify
Bottom Line: Plenty of Fish is the dating app for singles who don’t want to dip too far into their wallets to make a connection.
Pros: Effective search tool
Quick sign-up process
Cons: Bare-bones interface
Laden with ads
Confusing pricing tiers
No video chat
Prone to crashes and error messages in testing
Bottom Line: From its clunky user experience to its confusing economy, Zoosk is a basic, surface-deep dating app that offers nothing its superior competitors don’t do better.
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