Even if you’ve never used dating apps or websites, you know the big names in the game, from Tinder and Hinge to more classic picks like match and eharmony.
Dating apps and sites have been a pretty common way to meet potential partners, even before the pandemic had us living much of our lives online. In February 2020, the Pew Research Center released data that three in 10 adults have dating apps, a proportion which rises to 48% for 18 to 29-year-olds and 38% for 30 to 49 year-olds. And again, this is all before quarantines and social distancing had us all turning to the apps for human connection.
So when it comes to dating online, where people are finding potential matches isn’t exactly the biggest mystery. However, how people navigate these apps and sites to find the type of relationships they’re looking for can feel a bit less obvious.
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Even though algorithms are involved, making a connection with someone out of a sea of strangers still involves some degree of luck and patience (who said dating apps couldn’t have some meet-cute magic?). But signing up for the right app can go a long way in helping you find that connection you’re looking for.
How do you choose the right dating app?
Spoiler alert: There’s no one dating app or site that’s better than all the rest. Some are good for more serious relationships, some for hookups, and some for simply seeing where things go.
Eddie Hernandez, a San Francisco-based online dating consultant, has no singular app he tends to recommend. “I get a sense of not just what the ‘best’ app is, but what I think would be the most appropriate with where [clients] are in terms of their dating expectations,” Hernandez said.
Dating can be a dumpster-fire, and online dating can at times feel like the least romantic and most overwhelming way to meet someone. You don’t want to add even more fuel by trying to make things work on Tinder when you already know you’re a more commitment-bound eharmony type.
Ultimately, finding the app (or apps) for your unique expectations is how you can find the “right” online dating experience, and turn that dumpster-fire into the warming flames of love and connection.
What makes an app or site popular?
For the apps that we consider most popular, we took a few factors into account, such as user numbers (wherever applicable), name recognition, cultural significance, and app store chart status. We also paid close attention to which apps were mentioned again and again over the course of numerous interviews with daters.
It’s not common practice for all apps and sites to release hard data on how many active users they have, so considering the multiple ways an app or site can be popular is important to getting the most accurate picture. Plus, while looking just at active user numbers may give you somewhat of a clear breakdown, it doesn’t adjust for the fact that an app like HER, made specifically for queer women, is going to have lower numbers than say, Tinder, despite its undeniable popularity within the queer community.
What’s the benefit of using popular dating apps and sites?
The simple math is that popular apps have larger user bases, which means a greater chance for meeting someone you really vibe with. Yes, using popular apps can mean you’ll spend more time going through profiles of people you’re not super interested in, and yes, it can mean that the whole experience becomes a tad more overwhelming than you might like.
But if you’re willing to take the leap, going on apps with plenty of users means you’ll avoid the situation of running into the same three profiles over and over again. In other words, once you find the app that seems to match your dating expectations, you want to be sure there are actually active profiles on it — otherwise, what’s the point?
Meri Sutton-Hatcher, a 36-year-old quality assurance engineer, uses three apps from this roundup — Tinder, HER, and OkCupid. “I have a pretty niche dating pool. I’m lesbian, polyamorous, and I’m trans. So that really narrows it down, so getting the dating apps that have the largest amount of people on it gives me a better chance of actually finding people I can connect with.”
With other popular apps like Coffee Meets Bagel or Hinge, you’ll receive a limited number of matches or swipes per day, so though you have access to a whole wide world of people you wouldn’t usually, you also don’t have to drown in potential choices.
Is it worth paying for dating apps?
Almost every app or site out there has a paid version which, if you pay attention, to the promo material, might seem like it guarantees that you’ll find your perfect match in absolutely no time at all. In reality, finding a person you actually click with — whether that’s casually or for a long-term commitment — can take some time, even if you are paying a few extra bucks a month.
That might just have you leaning toward sticking with the free versions, but there are some benefits to paying. If you find that the sheer amount of options is overwhelming or you simply want to minimize your swiping time, many apps’ paid features allow you to curate your matches and see who matched with you first, so you can save time in the actual searching process .
Multiple dating app users we spoke to for this article mentioned that they liked Match(opens in a new tab) and harmony(opens in a new tab) because everyone on the site is a paying user. When you’re spending your dollars on finding a partner, you drop the pretense that you’re there to just kill some time — likely, other people just like you are looking for something serious. Ultimately, paying for apps really depends on how much time you want to spend online dating and what you’re looking for, but it’s a decision that’s definitely worth weighing.
As for other considerations when selecting from popular apps and sites, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you — check out our top 10 picks below, in no particular order.