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 general 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, with new services cropping up all the time. A dating app that only works on Thursday? What a concept! Many even have special video services they’ve introduced specifically to deal with dating in a post-COVID world, as we’ll explain later. With so many choices, how can you find your perfect, loving match?
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Getting Started With Dating Apps
The first thing you need to decide is your commitment level. 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 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, you’ll be happy to know that 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. Other apps target identities beyond gender and sexuality. For example, Kippo’s nerd-friendly features attracts gamers, while SilverSingles reskins EliteSingles for a senior audience.
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 first expressed interest. 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 dating apps, messaging is 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’ll get charged for reaching 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 buying coins to anonymously browse profiles, as well as reward anyone who views your own profile (for an additional fee, of course).
Staying in Touch
As this is 2021, 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 online daters who are looking to meet up with their matches in-person. 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, which lets you at least see each other face to face instead of just 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. Snack introduces TikTok-style video functionality to dating profiles.
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 10 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 things don’t work out, we a have a handy list of the best breakup apps, too.