Finding your soulmate is priceless. Sure. But do you have to use a paid site to find a real relationship? Does a monthly fee really weed out people who aren’t taking the process seriously?
This wasn’t really an issue before 2012, but the Tinder-led surge of 30-second profiles and instant access to all single folks within 10 miles gave older sites with tedious personality analyses and upscale subscriptions a run for their money — literally.
Free online dating sites that actually work
Vox said what we’re all really thinking: “At what point in the completely nightmarish process of online dating does one decide that it’s worth spending money on making that experience slightly less terrible?”
Is it worth paying for a dating site?
According to Reddit and Consumer Reports, not really. This Consumer Reports survey found that free sites actually scored better than paid sites on this when it came to overall satisfaction because they’re “better value.” Unless you’re absolutely lost without those heavy-duty matchmaking algorithms, many free sites still offer the questionnaires, detailed bios, and compatibility ratings that indicate red flags and users you wouldn’t get along with.
There’s no one dating site that everyone is particularly psyched about. Swiping exhaustion and creepily persistent users are an omnipresent part of all online dating. Sorry, but a paid subscription isn’t a metal detector that pulls all of the upstanding, faithful singles up out of the crowd. When there are sites that can offer millions of users for free and success stories to prove they work, why not try them before spending $40 per month elsewhere?
A hefty price point doesn’t guarantee the absence of fakes or catfishes, either. (Before the Tinder Swindler hype, in 2019, some guy on match posed as a millionaire and stole $80,000 from the woman he was talking to. In 2020, money lost to online “romance scams” hit a record high.) For what it’s worth however, many free sites are just as big as paid ones on privacy and safety, requiring users to verify themselves through Facebook to increase transparency about age and first names. Plus, no paid sites have the safety features that Tinder does, which was the first of the Match Group apps to offer 911 assistance and location services to make meeting a stranger safer.
The aesthetic experience certainly isn’t what your money is going toward, either. Many of the older, subscription-based sites have been slow to modernize their UX designs, still relying on the very 2000s style of bombarding you with notifications for every wink, message, and whatever else.
Can you actually fall in love with someone online?
We’ve all accepted that online dating is great for finding a friend with benefits, but telling family members that it’s getting serious with that person you met online still takes convincing. However, recent studies show that meeting online can foster a pretty reliable romantic foundation.
A 2017 study cited in the MIT Technology Review found that people who meet online are more likely to be compatible and have a better chance at a healthy marriage if they decide to get hitched. Another study found that heterosexual couples who met online were quicker to tie the knot. These stats don’t take anything from correlation to causation, but they do make the case that people who sign up for dating sites that require thoughtful responses are in a better spot to settle down.
There’s an unspoken assumption that people on free dating sites are young, horny people with no disposable income and that people on paid dating sites are mature, employed individuals who are ready to settle down. But nowadays, eharmony, Match, Tinder, and OkCupid have rather similar age demographics, all with surprisingly close splits between people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Which dating sites are actually free?
Waters get muddied when basically every damn dating site has some sort of paid and free version. Truly free apps let users access its key features as a baseline, and then offer paid perks such as the ability to see everyone who has swiped right on you or boosts for your profile for a certain amount of time. Free-but-not-really apps are the ones that are technically free to use, but where you have to pay to do just about anything, including read or respond to messages(opens in a new tab).
Premium memberships of “freemium” apps are an affordable way to get more control over your pool of potential boos, but they probably don’t do much to expedite the grueling swiping process. When Tinder first released Tinder Gold, it beat out Candy Crush as the Apple Store’s top-grossing app. People were that willing to pay to see who swiped right on them. That might be handy knowledge if you’re looking to get laid, but it’s hard to tell if it would help find someone that you like enough to share your life with. No one I know has kept a paid version of a free app for more than a month.
At any rate, there’s a certain serendipitous feeling that comes with the possibility that, out of the millions of users Hinge could have shown you that day, your soulmate popped up in the crowd of 8 likes you can give out per day (compared to the unlimited likes that come with Hinge Preferred).
These are the best free dating sites for finding a serious relationship in 2022.
Best For Finding People On The Same Page Politically And Socially
- Free features: Unlimited messaging and can see your mutual likes (aka matches)
- OkCupid Basic perks: No ads, unlimited likes, dealbreakers, and more intro options
- OkCupid Premium perks: All features of Basic, plus see all users who like you before you like them, and see all public answers to questions before you answer
- Almost everyone on the app is going to be on the same page politically and socially
- Modern app design is actually fun to use
- User base might not be big in smaller towns
- Free version has pop-up ads
For young, liberal voters, politics aren’t just a “well if we agree, it’s great” thing when looking for a serious partner — it’s the make or break for a solid foundation. OkCupid’s 2017 redesign is more than just millennial aesthetics: It’s geared toward ensuring that you don’t end up on a date with someone who doesn’t pay attention. The addition of 12 gender identities and 20 sexual orientations makes it a safer space for non-binary and queer individuals to find love while using the pronouns they love.
Don’t let OkCupid’s cheeky ads about being “left-leaning” (like politics, but also…you know) make you put it in the “hookup” category. The focus on such weighted issues and profiles that require thought are a pretty big deterrent for people who aren’t taking dating seriously, and you can tell that most users are putting effort into finding lasting connections. Users can illuminate the issues they hold dear and weed out people they’d argue with by answering deal-breakers like “Would you date someone who keeps a gun in the house?” or “Should the government require children be vaccinated for preventable diseases?” Liberal ladies found that this worked to their advantage, as OkCupid’s own statistics showed that liberal-leaning answers made users 80 percent more likely to find love on the site. There’s also a newer option to add a badge to your profile that tells potential matches you’re vaccinated — a helpful feature for dating while still being COVID-conscious.
Politics aren’t the only compatibility factor here. OKCupid has in-depth user bios, but profile building isn’t long or tedious at all — the questions are smart and dive into your dating style without being too mushy. You’ll even get to see the percentage of how much you have in common based on question answers. It’s an algorithm that OKC has been perfecting since launch, just a few years after eharmony.
Best For Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Credit: Coffee Meets Bagel
- Free features: Unlimited messaging and liking/passing on suggested matches
- Premium perks: 8 discover likes per month, monthly profile boost, see all your likes at once, get read receipts, and get access to “skip the line” feature
- Users are looking for more serious relationships, so you don’t have to do the weird “is this just a hookup?” dance
- Limited number of matches means you won’t just be another face to swipe yes or no on
- Limited number of matches means finding The One could take longer
- Will probably run into fake or scam profiles
Grabbing coffee is the low-pressure date idea that lets you skip trying to choose a dressy-but-not-too-dressy outfit for a concert or a restaurant. Coffee Meets Bagel is aiming to bring the easygoing “let’s just meet for coffee” vibe to the world of dating apps.
Having millions and millions of active users is usually a plus. It is nice to know that your options are virtually limitless, but things go from flattering to chaotic real fast when people hit you up 30 seconds after matching. This happens on eharmony and Tinder alike — people want that connection, and they want it NOW. CMB’s slow and steady approach is great for singles who are rusty, a bit more introverted, or who simply don’t feel like scrolling every time they have a free minute. Every day, CMB offers seven of its best matches (bagels) for you, chosen by your answers to prompts, who you said yes or no to in yesterday’s batch, and who have already expressed interest in you, too.
CMB encourages users to get the ball rolling by only keeping your match for seven days. It’s less pressure than Bumble’s 24-hour time limit but still eliminates a list full of matches who don’t care enough to plan a meet-up. Plus, not being bombarded with available hotties 24/7 gives you more time to contemplate whether you genuinely want to get to know them or you’re just messaging them because you’re bored.
Your bagels are limited regardless of whether or not you upgrade to a paid account, which doesn’t offer much past increasing your allowance of daily likes. Premium perks can also be earned for free just by using the app.
Best Serious Swiping App
- Free features: Unlimited messaging and filters for gender, age, distance, ethnicity, and religion
- Hinge Preferred perks: Extra filters like weed use or height, a grid view of everyone who has liked you, and unlimited number of likes to give
- More genuine connections than Tinder without the pressure of a serious dating site
- Prompts provide conversation starters, so you aren’t flooded with “hey” messages
- People on Tinder and Bumble tend to be more upfront about what they’re looking for, where on Hinge you might have to suss it out by having That Talk
- Can’t send photos, which sucks for sharing memes, but rocks for not getting unsolicited explicit pics
Young people looking to at least go on a few dates with the same person instead of everything turning into a friends with benefits situation was a major blind spot for dating sites — until Hinge blew up. The premise and user base might be in the same realm as Tinder and Bumble, but Hinge’s unique profile criteria and algorithm based on that criteria set the scene for matches with real-life potential.
Despite the fact that we’re actively seeking out new dating apps and feel a rush every time a cute contender swipes right back, no one looking for something serious wants to be on these. The whole point of online dating is to find your person so you can stop looking for your person. That’s the whole idea behind Hinge’s 2019 rebrand to “the dating app designed to be deleted.” But catchy slogans mean nothing without real-world success. Based on the “we met” feature, which asks Hinge users how their first dates went, some 90 percent said the first date was great and 72 percent said they’d be down for a second date.
There’s a common understanding among users that Hinge isn’t just for sex, but there’s no pressure to rush into a relationship either. Instead of extensive cheesy questionnaires and spam emails about the 50 winks you were sent, Hinge uses your personal prompts, ethnicity, religion, education, and more to help you find matches. Prompts range from “The most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done” to “Two truths and a lie.” Seems like a good recipe for a first convo that’s not about sex, right? With the free version, you can send up to eight likes per day and you’ll have to go through each of the people who liked you one by one. You can technically get more than eight matches per day, depending on how many people have liked you.
Best For Lesbians Who Hate Tinder
- Free features: Add friends, view profiles, start chats, view events, and join communities
- Premium Gold: Ad-free, premium filters, view who’s liked you, change location, incognito mode, rewind profiles
- Premium Platinum: Unlimited swipes, see who’s online, read receipts, one free boost per month, all Premium Gold features
- Something for every type of queer woman
- Space for community events
- Might run into fake profiles or couples looking for a third
- Interface isn’t the most user-friendly
Between creepy men pretending to be women and straight girls looking for another girl to have a threesome with their boyfriends, most heteronormative dating sites don’t give lesbians, bi women, or other LGBTQ femmes a great shot at finding a relationship. HER, an award-winning app made for queer women by queer women, is the perfect place to go if you’re tired of the only lesbian you know being your ex-girlfriend.
The app that wants to “introduce you to every lesbian you’ve ever wanted to meet” is growing rapidly: HER has grown to 4.5 million users since its rebrand in 2015. According to Statista, that’s pretty damn close to what Bumble is working with — and they’re ALL. WOMEN. If you tried HER a few years ago and were discouraged by swiping through the same people, your experience will be much different this time around.
In 2019, HER revamped its minimalistic profiles to let users get more specific in categories like gender, sexuality, pronouns, diet preferences, and star signs, as well as a “What does this mean?” field in the sex, gender, and pronoun categories to create more well-rounded understanding of identity. There’s also a space for a text bio where you can showcase your sense of humor or describe what type of relationship you’re looking for.
Your Best Option Overall
- Free features: View matches and send and receive winks, but no messaging
- Standard perks: Unlimited messaging, see who has viewed and liked you, remove users from view
- Premium perks: All perks of the standard plan plus read receipts, voice calling, monthly boost, unlimited rewinds, weekly super likes, anonymous browsing, and see who’s upgraded their account
NOTE: Though the free features are pretty limited, this site is great for long-term love. Dive deeper into our picks for the best dating sites for finding something serious.
- Huge user base
- Compatibility-based algorithm
- Have to pay to use the best features
- Younger people might not find too many others in their age range
Long-term relationships are the name of the game at match. You can admit that it’s kind of comforting that you’ve been seeing TV commercials about the success of match for the past 20-some years. Launched in 1995, its decades in the business help match bring a comforting level of experience to the table for singles wary about online dating. The OG site is so confident in the blueprint it’s been perfecting over the years that it guarantees that you’ll find someone in six months. If you don’t, you get six months for free.
Match continues to solidify its spot as a well-rounded choice for all ages because it refuses to get lost as an antiquated, corny dating site. You’re at least tediously scrolling through people match thinks you’ll like based on shared interests like volunteering or clubbing, pet preferences, whether you want (or have) kids, and more. If something like smoking cigarettes is a deal-breaker, you can indicate that, too. Match also has a new vaccination badge you can add to your profile, and you’ll get a free Super Like to use as a reward for sharing your vaccination status.
Match has so many online daters in its arsenal (more than the population of New York City, in fact) that it’s hard to avoid the notification onslaught even if you live in a less-populated area. However, it should slow down once the algorithm starts learning about your swiping behaviors.
Most of us would like to believe that anyone paying $20 per month is genuinely looking for a seriously relationship, but match has had its fair share of extreme catfishing. But they’re working to make this better. In fact, match followed Tinder as the second Match Group app to utilize location-based emergency services via Noonlight as well as photo verification to authenticate users and ensure that they’re the same person as in their profile pictures.
Best For Those Dating To Marry
- Free features: 29-dimension personality quiz and reviewing matches, but no messaging
- Premium perks: View unlimited photos, unlimited messaging, see who’s viewed you, distance search, detailed personality profile
NOTE: While the free features are extremely limited, this site is great for long-term love. Dive deeper into our picks for the best dating sites for finding something serious.
- Compatibility-focused algorithm
- Almost everyone is looking for an actual relationship
- Not very LGBTQ-friendly
- Might run into matches with incomplete profiles (aka, no photos… yikes)
Ever see a commercial for eharmony and wonder if a dating site that corny actually works? Weirdly enough, it does. A spokesperson for the site says it’s been used by 54 million people, and is apparently responsible for 4 percent of U.S. marriages. That doesn’t mean you’re going to walk down the aisle within the first year, but it at least narrows down your options to singles who are open to being exclusive, meeting the family, and/or moving in together.
As you might expect from a site that’s all about settling down and getting married, the sign-up process is a doozy. Eharmony(opens in a new tab) uses a comprehensive questionnaire with 29 dimensions to match you with people based on your long-term compatibility. You’ll rate yourself on prompts like “I’m an honest partner” with sliding scale responses, and predict how you’d react to different scenarios. There are also a good amount of questions about religion. (Pro tip: If finding someone who loves church as much as you do is really important, then eharmony is a good option.)
On paper, asking deep questions like these right off the bat makes total sense when pairing two people together — but they’re so basic. Then again profiles look really nice, like a fancy résumé designed by a graphic designer. You even have the option to put your favorite TV shows, music, sports, and more on your profile.
It should be noted that eharmony hasn’t always felt like a welcoming place to members of the LGBTQA+ community. Following a 2010 lawsuit, their gay and lesbian spin-off site Compatibility Partners has been folded into eharmony’s overall site, but users on Reddit as recently as 2021 say that it still seems geared more toward straight people.
Best For Finding A Boo Near You
- Free features: Unlimited messaging with matches, see who you’ve crossed paths with, become invisible, one round of CrushTime
- Premium perks: See who likes you, unlock more filters, no ads, rewind feature, send up to 10 FlashNotes per day, hide things from your profile
- You’ll meet people who either live or work near you, or at least frequent the same places as you
- Profile has audio section so you can let people hear you talk about your interests
- Free version only lets you see one person at a time
- Small user base, and you only see people you’ve crossed paths with IRL
- Location sharing could cause safety issues
If your idea of real romance is binge-reading the missed connections page on Craigslist, happn is definitely the dating app for you. Happn takes your location and matches you with other users when you cross paths with them out in the real world. If someone’s profile ends up on your Timeline, that means they could have passed you on the street, been on your train, or were sitting across from you at the bar.
Commuting to work is bad enough, but commuting to see people you’re dating is even worse. Happn takes that problem out of the picture by only matching you with people who have been in the same area as you. If someone is hanging out in all your favorite places, it’s safe to say you have the same vibe and could be a good match for each other. The whole concept is a fun play on fate — but you’ll never have to feel pressured about making a move in-person again.
While it may seem creepy to have an app tracking your location all the time, users can only message if they’ve both liked each other’s profiles (so you won’t be getting any stalker-ish DMs). When two users like each other, it’s called a crush, and they can see on the map where they passed each other. You’ll be able to start messaging a crush for seven days after you match, but after that, they’ll disappear from your map.
If you don’t want people to be able to see exactly where you crossed paths, you can turn the crossing cluster feature off, and you can choose whether to hide information like age, distance, and online status. You can also block profiles if you never want to show up on their radar again, and you’re able to turn on invisibility mode to go incognito.