While I fully support the decision many New Yorkers are making to go solo in love and lodging, for those of us who have four roommates, two cats, a couple stray dogs and a constant rotation of couch surfers and still feel lonely, finding a partner is both fiscally and emotionally responsible. I’m ready for love, Brooklyn style. That is, finding someone I actually like to split the rent on a sweet one+ bedroom and get laid regularly. I know, a hopeless romantic.
Of course, I still hope my love story will start by brushing fingertips as we reach for the same gnarly heirloom tomato at the greenmarket. But given that I don’t live in an HBO dramedy version of Brooklyn, and taking into consideration that about 75% of my time is spent online, it seems only logical to look online for my future co-tenant in life, love and the pursuit of an adult living situation. But which site is worth your dating dough, which is to say, preferably none at all? After strong encouragement of curious friends and editors, I embarked on what I consider a great public service and pimped myself out on some free and low-cost dating sites. Here’s what happened.
Cost: Free (full browsing, messaging and chat features). “A-List” membership is $9.95/mo (additional features & privacy settings)
You’ll meet: Hipsters, self-styled intellectuals and creatives who are too cool to be on a dating site, but are just “bored” or “checking it out.”
Best for: Finding geographically convenient drinking buddies.
Pros: Profiles have more personality and feel a bit less sleazy than some other free sites. OkC uses an algorithm that matches you with other users based upon your responses to questions about your morals, character, likes and dislikes. This feature also ranks users “enemy percentage” a good place to start if you are seeking a new nemesis and/or archenemy. OkC lets you sort and filter matches based on location, match %, and other specifics including diet (meat? no meat?). The app also has a locals feature which finds matches nearby and allows users to “broadcast” what they’re up to, would rather be doing or whether they’d like to meet up.
Cons: Can be a blow to the ego. There’s a running list on your homepage showing who’s viewed your profile. So if you send a note to someone and never hear back, you can’t just assume they never got your message. You’ll know that they looked at your profile and actively ignored you. Also, they judge. The same algorithms that allow personality and value-based matching is also used to calibrate people based on attractiveness. People who are elevated to “elite” status are shown only the best-looking people in their match results. While this may be just a ploy to make headlines, it’s also offensively superficial and just plain wrong from my experience. I found loads of very good looking dudes and I was not classified as elite (which I also disagree with, for the record). For those concerned about being ranked in the top attractiveness tier, check out this HuffPo article on drafting high impact profiles and for the love of god, ladies, stop making that godawful Snooki/duck/kissy face in every damn photo.
The app: While geotargeting is a convenient way to casually meet up with likewise bored and lonely people nearby, it is also a potential stalking feature as there is no way to disable it once the app is downloaded.
You’ll meet: Post-frat/sorority, jocks, and fist-pumping enthusiasts from Long Island, Jersey and Staten Island.
Best for: Comedy (as hilariously pointed out by Gizmodo, no one wants to see your junk, boys. Please stop putting up pics of your business on your dating profiles).
Pros: Major ego boost. PoF has a very large and active userbase. Within hours of signing up, my inbox was flooded with messages. The profile photos are not Instagram or professional head shots. These are real people, for better or worse.
Cons: Site design is rather low-budge. Photos are distorted and there’s way too much going on on the main navigation page. It’s popular simply because it’s free, which means the people who you’ll find there are likely looking for something more casual of the random rendezvous variety. To give you an idea, I received a message on the first day I signed up that read “30% less creepy than most” from HungarianSalami. Also, a significant number of the messages were written in text shorthand (“i wud like 2 speak 2 u and c wutsup wit gettin 2 kno each other”). So if you are a grammar snob, this is probably not the dating site for you.
Full disclosure, I did not try this one out. It is new and getting some buzz, but it is designed to link directly through your Facebook account, and I’m not prepared to have “Rachel went on a date with Joe Schmoe” popping up on my Timeline like the embarrassing crap I stream via Spotify.
You’ll meet: The site just launched in San Francisco and was primarily designed for LGBT community who want to meet people outside their immediate social circle. But I imagine this is also good for other niche communities, e.g., bloggers/journalists in New York.
Pros: It’s easy, fast, and real. The site builds profiles from your Facebook profile, plus a few generic questions about who you are and what you are looking for. The database uses Facebook to filter out people in your social circle so you won’t accidentally end up on a date with a colleague or someone connected to an ex. It is also aimed at offering you the best possible geographic compatibility: “There’s someone across the street who may be your next significant other, so you may as well meet them first,” said Justin Krause, founder of Circl.es.
Cons: You can’t hide behind an online avatar; must sign up with your real name and allow the app to “edit” your Facebook profile. Despite assurances on their FAQ, I’m still worried about getting a call from my mom asking about the “new beau” she saw on Facebook. Also, since clicking on a Circl.es thumbnail photo takes potential suitors directly to your public Facebook page, users must be very vigilant about Facebook’s frequently changing privacy settings. I’m also paranoid about random friend requests. (I’m far more likely to accept a man into my bed after a few dates than accept his friend request.) Another arguable con is that the filters are very specific and only show matches when they meet all of your selected criteria and you meet all of theirs. Do we really know what’s best for ourselves? Left to my own devices, I would only be matched with struggling musicians and wanderlusty bartenders.
You’ll meet: Musicians and people who like sleeping with musicians.
Best for: Bonding over mutual admiration of obscure artists, carpools to music festivals, karaoke duet partners.
Pros: This site is based on the High Fidelity dating mindset that compatible musical taste makes for happy relationships; users are not required to fill out profiles (but can), instead just sync your last.fm profile or add your favorite artists and be matched with others who dig your musical style. We all love music, but some people take it WAY more seriously than others. For example, being heavily into death metal is a deal breaker for me. Tastebuds allows you to include bands you dislike as “Turnoffs” and will filter out users who are into them. There is also an events tab that shows users that will be attending upcoming shows in your area so you can find concert buddies.
Cons: Seems to be more about promoting your band than dating. And regardless of how much of a turn on it is to utter the phrase “I’m with the band,” having dated musicians before, I’m done feeling like I always come second to their own reflection.
Cost: Free to sign up and browse dates and profiles, but you can’t send or read messages. Membership: $28 (1 month); $18/month (3 months); $12/month (6 months); $8/month (1 year)
Who you’ll meet: Pseudo-normal folks just looking for activities buddies and maybe a spark along the way. Also saw a few OkCupid crossovers.
Best for: Cutting the back and forth messaging BS and actually going out on dates.
Pros: This site is not free, but it has been gaining traction in the NY Metro area. HowAboutWe is unique because it focuses on the date rather than the personalities. A member posts a suggested date (e.g., “How about we… go for a motorcycle ride over the Brooklyn Bridge”), then people who are interested in that date can let the user know they are “intrigued,” if both are still interested after a profile view, they set the details and go do it (the suggested date activity, that is). Build your profile by answering various questions as opposed to writing lengthy, often boastful/boring autobiographies. Their blog, The Date Report, is blunt, funny and on point. The staff is also very interactive with users, responding to requests for profile reviews via Twitter and recently launching a Skillshare series aimed at helping improve the dating experience (including how to craft a impactful profile) as well as other social events. Even if you don’t want to pay, it’s still a great resource for creative date ideas.
Cons: The focus on taking the date immediately off line instead of feeling each other out via email/chat exchanges first may be uncomfortable for some. Personally, I would be less inclined to go on a date with someone I met online without a little back and forth messaging banter and thorough Google-stalk vetting first. Although studies do show that people do form strong bonds over shared new experiences (e.g., vacation sex phenomenon).
I chose these sites because I went into it thinking, I’m just a normal chick looking for a normal dude to do normal Brooklyn-y stuff together. For the most part, the sites are just another social forum, like a bar or book shop. Most of the guys I’ve been out with are people I could just as likely have met out there in the real world. But maybe I played it too safe. Maybe I should be looking for an adventurous romance on the high seas. AllhandsonDick seems like a catch.
Follow me: @raeinbk