ESME’s Dating Guide, Kathleen Laccinole, reports back from the online-dating trenches
What’s a Solo Mom to do if she wants to date? If you had potential dates at work, you’d be dating them already, and you can’t hang out at bars or ballroom dancing parlors, as you are a Solo Mom. Your friends say, “Join something. Do a hiking group!” But unless you can tote a toddler or teenager on that hike, you aren’t going anywhere. And let’s face it: it’s hard to be flirty when your kid is having a tantrum.
That really leaves us with one reasonable option: online dating.
In the old days, they were called Personals and were printed in your local hipster paper and considered risqué and dangerous. Today, they’re called Tinder, Match.com, PlentyOfFish, or any number of odd names, and they are considered commonplace.
My advice is to take it slowly. Research, read reviews, and educate yourself before signing up for any fee-based dating site. And remember, the “free dating sites” are designed to get money out of you somehow, and information equals empowerment.
So in an effort to understand, clarify, and save you time, I joined all of them but one. (And, yes, I’m exhausted.)
The following are the top six most popular dating sites. Notice I did not say the “best” sites because everyone prefers his or her own flavor of ice cream. And notice I said “six” because I couldn’t narrow it down to five. I tried!
This is the most popular site with the most success stories. Because you have to pay for it, though, it tends to be geared toward those who are serious about finding a mate.
The process. You fill out a fairly long questionnaire with basic lifestyle questions and write a dissertation about who you are and what you are looking for in a match. (Note: mine was only a paragraph long. I’m a Solo Mom; I don’t have time for essays.)
How it works. Matches are based on criteria such as age, distance, ethnicity, and any number of specifics that are fed to hungry algorithms.
My take. I found that a lot of men on this site lie—about marital status, age, weight, you name it. This wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t for the fact that they had to actually think about the lies and then work at them by filling out the necessary questionnaire. In short, it creeped me out. Nevertheless, I know several people who are happily married thanks to Match. So I’m giving it a third chance.
A more conservative, fee-based site that also boasts a high success rate, eHarmony attracts people who are serious about finding a partner. In fact, the site may reject you for not being suitable dating material, and you can only message someone to whom you’ve been matched.
The process. Users fill out a grueling, comprehensive (more than 400 questions) personality survey.
How it works. Matches are based on compatibility of character, intellect, and values, deduced by a magic algorithm.
My take. I found it easy to navigate but was extremely frustrated that after writing the PhD dissertation of all dating questionnaires, I did not connect with one man in the three months I was on the site. I was not presented with any men who met even half of my reasonable preferences, and I was presented only men who were substantially older than me and who lived far away and, frankly, had nothing in common with me. eHarmony insists the longer you stick with it, the better your chances. But to me, if practice makes perfect, and I’m paying to “practice,” then I’d like to get at least one date.
Nevertheless, because it caters to an older, more financially secure audience, it could be the best choice for a Solo Mom with little time to spare. At the same time—what Solo Mom has time to answer more than 400 questions?!
What started as a simple Facebook application has grown into a global online-dating site. Marketed as a “free” app, it is unique in that it watches the patterns of your choices to determine future offerings. Zoosk is integrated with Facebook and other e-mail programs. Touting itself as a “social networking site,” it is really just one massive dating app.
The process. Most users give their age, relative location, profile name, and a photo. Completing the actual profile is optional, but the more information you enter, the more precise the search will be.
How it works. Matches are determined by Zoosk’s “behavioral matchmaking” technology, which learns from members’ actions. Originally free, it has been gamified, offering “coins” to purchase various features on the site.
My take. This is the one site I did not join: the user reviews were not good. Apparently, the Facebook component opens you up to a basket of freaks, and in order to get more information, Zoosk makes you pay. In other words, it draws you in by dangling the carrot of love and then makes you give money to bite it.
Zoosk is also known for using fake members to lure back those who leave the site and write glowing reviews of their Zoosk experiences. As one user stated, “Oh boy! Hey everyone, look! It’s someone from Zoosk promoting Zoosk!”
OkCupid (OKC) is Zoosk’s biggest rival in that it has a similar user-friendly interface. OKC attracts more eclectic people and tends to be more popular among the younger crowd and open-minded singles. Again, it’s a free site with fees to upgrade.
The process. You must complete an ever-changing, wide-ranging, and sometimes off-the-wall questionnaire. (Questions are submitted by users and chosen by OKC staff.) You rate the importance of the questions that your potential mate answers in a like manner. Maybe you don’t care if the guy chronically smokes pot, but if he doesn’t wear Converse sneakers—forget it!
How it works. The site uses this information to show the percentage of “match,” “friend,” or “enemy” you are with other love seekers. The higher the percentage of “match,” the better the chance for a love connection.
My take. This Solo Mom found it not only to be difficult to figure out but also to have the most “sexually aggressive” members—as in, GROSS! And I’m a pretty open-minded gal. I had zero reasonable matches during my three months on the site, aside from one match whom I quite liked—until he confessed to being in a relationship. But could he “save my number in case things didn’t work out?” My answer rhymed with “Ruck roff!”
The PlentyOfFish (POF) app aims to combine the ease of a simpler matching service with the intelligence of the “personality test” sites.
The process. As you would with any other dating site, you fill in your basic information, but you can also complete a “chemistry test,” something recommended for those seeking an LTR (long-term relationship).
How it works. Matches are based on mutual interests. The more information you feed the algorithm, the more effectively it matches you. It also has a nifty “Meet Me” feature that quickly offers you men in your area who match your interests. POF functions on the premise that you get what you give—the more information you provide, the more meaningful matches you receive.
My take. I was so confused! Finally, my seasoned cousin showed me how to work it. She likes the site; me, not so much. After four weeks, I am finally getting the knack of it . . . and have yet to find a date. Plus, like other sites, when you want more information (read: you are a Solo Mom and don’t have time for useless dating), it asks you for money. Swipe left!
You didn’t think I’d forget Tinder, did you?
Any breathing person over the age of seven has heard of Tinder. A cousin of the original gay-oriented hookup site, Grindr, Tinder was born with the reputation of being a hookup site for straights. Nevertheless, it is one of the most popular dating apps for people looking to find love as well.
And although it often is used as a doorway to casual encounters, it also connects you to others quickly by skipping endless questionnaires and profile presentations.
In short, it’s a good choice for a Solo Mom who is nervous about online dating and wants to get her feet wet, practice her flirting skills, and meet new people relatively quickly.
The process. Write a really short blurb about yourself and what you are looking for in a date. Assemble some pictures, and bam! You are on. Tinder runs off of Facebook, so if you do not have a Facebook account, you will need to create one.
How it works. Swipe! You are presented photos and blurbs of a bucketload of men in your desired age and distance parameters, and you are shown if you have mutual Facebook friends. If you don’t like the person, swipe left. If you do like the person, swipe right. If that person swipes right as well, you are a match. Let the texting begin.
My take. There are definitely creeps out there, online and in real life. This is a free site with an ill-deserved bad reputation. If you aren’t looking for a “hookup,” then say so in your profile. If he says he is, then swipe left.
It is very easy to do and a good place to cut your teeth when reentering the dating world. I was able to get a lot of dates—some good, some horrible. The more I did it, the better I got at it. And I met some good guys who are still my friends and help me if my car won’t start. Bottom line, Tinder is a game and something fun for a Solo Mom to play while falling asleep at night.
So there you have it. Aside from the above “big six,” there is a virtual smorgasbord of other dating sites: smaller sites (Hinge), new sites with innovative concepts (Coffee Meets Bagel), or niche sites based on personal beliefs and preferences (JDate, FarmersOnly.com, VeggieDate); there’s even a site for Solo Moms (SingleParentMeet).
I’ll examine those sites next time—though I can’t promise I will be able to join them all. I’d end up in a hospital. And I can’t right now . . . I’m a Solo Mom!
For more advice and conversation, join our confidential Dating Sister Chat.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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