Finally, dating in real life has become an option again (if still a nerve-wracking one). The pandemic may have changed dating forever, but one thing that hasn't is that meeting people can be really hard.
Any person who's been single and looking for love at some point (read: basically everyone) knows that finding someone who actively wants a long-term relationship versus a hookup or situationship can feel next to impossible and minorly destroy your faith in love. Though dating apps offer a place to meet people, actually meeting that person who wants the same sort of relationship you do and clicks with you makes the whole needle in the haystack search look like a cinch.
All of this to say, apps or otherwise, finding your person takes some time. However, there is hope — dating apps and sites are not the strictly casual dating space that they're sometimes made out to be. Over the past year, people have been "prioridating," which means they're caring less about the superficial characteristics and more about finding genuine connection and compatibility. This shift is reflected in the dating apps, too — more and more include dedicated sections about intentions right on your profile — including on the ever hookup-friendly Tinder.
So if you're ready for some commitment and don't know where to find these daters, or simply just need the breakdown of what apps are best for whom, know that you have more options out there than eharmony and Match.
Can you really fall in love with someone online?
The long-term potential of online dating is still met with a cloud of doubt. However, there is evidence that relationships that started online might have a stronger foundation than those that started offline. A 2017 study cited in the MIT Technology Review found that people who meet online are more likely to be compatible and have a higher chance of a healthy marriage if they decide to get hitched. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in late 2019 found that 3 in 10 Americans had used a dating site or app, and 12% of Americans had been married or in a committed relationship with someone they met from an app. Whether it involves marriage or not, online dating seems to be a good recipe for a satisfying, long-term relationship.
No one is saying that online dating is the variable that changes everything, but the research does point to the fact that people who sign up for dating sites that require thoughtful responses are more ready to settle down.
Enter: The pandemic that made inviting strangers over to bang and leave a no-no. 2020's uptick in dating app sign-ups — due to sheer boredom or the forced realization that it'd actually be pretty nice to spoon on a nightly basis — mathematically upped your chances of meeting someone special.
Some first dates have returned to their natural habitats (a dimly-lit bar with shitty beer) instead of the emergency video date features instated by multiple apps during quarantine, but plenty of people are still down to try out a first date via video call. Basically, these days, there are plenty of different ways to find love via the internet.
How the online dating scene has changed since the start of the pandemic
Covid changed dating forever, and for reasons past "I'm fully vaccinated" becoming a turn-on. Communication skills were forced to evolve in the year that most human connection was facilitated through a screen. People learned to voice their boundaries and have serious talks (like about social distancing) early on. Covid anxiety became a natural conversation starter and universal way to bond.
Though you can meet up in person, virtual first dates are still a regular part of people's screening process. More single people may now be more comfortable with delving into deeper subjects with someone they met online — a great thing for serious relationship hunters, if true. Tinder thinks the honesty will carry over when things are back to normal, and hopefully the aggressively horny people will continue to weed themselves out. At the very least, isolation may have simply forced more people to realize that they might crave more company than a booty call, or are down to be upfront with you if that's all they crave. Tinder says that more daters are open to "seeing where things go" than they were before the pandemic began. That means that you could have more luck finding something serious on a dating app that has historically had a reputation for casual relationships and hookups.
Divorced people and single parents have particularly high untapped potential on online dating sites, too. Being in the over-60 group may mean that more people your age are already off the market — but online dating can prove that the mature dating pool isn't as bleak as you think, even if your local one is. People over 50 actually have an advantage over the younger crowd: Many people in their 20s and 30s just aren't ready to settle down. With life experience and possible previous marriages under your belt, older daters know the red flags and what they want. Like one person in the Reddit thread from r/datingoverfifty suggests, if you want commitment, a dating site with a high barrier to entry — like eharmony, match, or Elite Singles — could help to weed out people who aren't about to pay a high monthly price just to mess around.
What makes a dating site better for relationships than others?
Do we even need to get into why Tinder is a long shot? Is being introduced to nearly every person in a 10-mile radius worth the cliché bios quoting The Office or how they're "not looking for commitment?" Sure, Tinder has its fair share of those lucky success stories, but it's also the dating app where ghosting, breadcrumbing, and every other disheartening dating trend flourishes.
Singles looking for something serious ASAP might get frustrated with sites that only give a limited number of matches per day. But choosing sites that force you to be selective really heightens the focus on what you're truly looking for in a perfect match — and gets you closer to cuffing status.
For online daters who want the power to peruse the dating pool, you need to seek out detailed, high-energy profiles that give a well-rounded idea of who you're messaging. Apps and sites that guide your search with compatibility scores based on questionnaires — like eharmony and OkCupid — can give a greater sense of direction in your search than location-based apps like Tinder. Plus, seeing an actual compatibility number attached to someone's profile just makes more sense than occasionally being thrown "top picks" you seem to have nothing in common with (looking at you, Hinge).
Beyond putting all your faith in the power of the score, you can tell how much other daters care about the process by how much effort they put into their profile. If a single sentence about being drama free is the extent of someone's bio, you can assume that 1. they're not taking this seriously and 2. they create drama. When you're looking for something real and long-term, hearing what an algorithm has to say along with being discerning and following your gut can take you far.
OkCupid has a particularly strong red flag game: The site has found that personal politics are a major deciding factor for young people choosing a partner, and profile building revolves around make-or-break stances on things like women's issues or whether they bother to vote. Aside from a compatibility percentage, OkCupid shows what issues the person gives a shit about (or not) so you don't get stuck on a first date with someone who's on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Potential matches will analyze your dating profile, so make sure it does you justice
On its face, it makes sense to question the legitimacy of a connection with someone who is only showcasing their best self. Then again, how much more information are you really getting from the tipsy person hitting on you at the bar aside from what they look like IRL? The dating sites that let users express themselves with prompts — from favorite movies to where you want to retire — are setting you up for success by avoiding an unnecessary argument six months in.
The best way to attract genuine people? Be authentic yourself. That's easier said than done when your biggest worry is that a truthful answer — like the fact that you might not be as good of a communicator as you would like — will deter "the one" from swiping right. But deep down, you know that lying on a compatibility questionnaire probably won't lead to a healthy relationship. It's crucial to remind yourself that people who get freaked out by your honesty aren't ideal potential partners, anyway. Besides, relationships can be hard enough work without all the effort it would take to upkeep a version of yourself that simply isn't real. Trust that your right person will also want to date a person — as in a flawed but lovable human being and not a perfect partner robot. Speaking of robots, we've left out the dating sites that get torn apart in reviews for being ravaged by scammers and fake profiles, but asking to video chat before meeting up IRL is a smart way to confirm that the photos match the person behind them.
Until a smarter AI can read minds and simply ban hookup seekers from serious sites, these are the best datings sites for serious relationships: