An Inside Look at Your Favorite Dating Sites

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Different studies offer varying assessments of how many people use dating sites and apps, but what we can say with certainty is: a lot. In Match.com’s annual Singles in America Survey, which polls more than 5,000 people who are not Match users, the company found that the No. 1 place where singles meet is online. In 2016, Pew reported that 27 percent of people aged 18 to 24 had used a dating app or site. In 2013, it was 10 percent. The proportion of 55- to 64-year-olds in the same category doubled.

“An average person spends about three hours a day on their mobile phone,” said Lexi Sydow, a market insights manager at AppAnnie. “Dating apps are really tapping into that.” Ms. Sydow noted that global consumer spending for dating apps, or the amount of money users pay for add-ons, subscriptions, memberships and other features, has nearly doubled from a year ago.

Even traditional matchmaking services are wading in. “I used to be a matchmaker before this,” said Meredith Davis, the head of communications for the League, a dating app that has a screening process for where you went to school, where you work (and have worked), how many degrees you have and other social-status categories. “Matchmakers are now overseeing their clients’ dating app accounts.”

With so many people using the internet to find the One (for life, for tonight or for next week), more niche options have popped up, too. Take, for example, FarmersOnly.com, a website that, contrary to its name, is not just for farmers, but does court users who understand “country living,” as Jerry Miller, the site’s founder, put it.

To find out more about what kinds of websites and apps are out there and what goes on behind the scenes, we spoke to Mr. Miller; Ms. Davis at the League; Gourav Rakshit, the chief executive of Shaadi.com, which targets people with a South Asian background who are interested in marriage; and Helen Fisher, the chief science adviser for Match.com.

Meredith Davis, head of communications and the original concierge, the League

When people join the League, they receive a message from the concierge, who is there to offer support. So you were the first person to do that job?

For the first year and a half, I was the concierge. We didn’t want people emailing to a support line. When you’re the first touchpoint for a new tech company, every message really matters.

In the beginning we were a small community. People were running out of potentials really fast. I had to encourage people to stay on and bear with us. That was a challenge, as well as telling people they need to be less picky, especially when we believe that you should absolutely be picky about education and profession.

How did you tell people to be less picky diplomatically?

I would tell them, you’re incredible but you need to go out on more dates, meet more people, maybe date someone who is 30 miles away, maybe try to date the guy who’s not as tall as you want him to be. Pick one thing that’s nonnegotiable.

Especially in New York. I have the same League profile in New York and San Francisco. It’s the same photos, but my New York self performs a lot lower simply because of the ratio. There’s a lot more women than men in New York, and the competition for high-achieving, ambitious women who have great photos — I don’t say “pretty” or “hot” because it’s not about that, it’s about how you market yourself — is a lot higher.

Do people actually write to the concierge often?

One in four users write in to the concierge. People want a friend in this process.

They ask a lot of questions about exes, whether their ex is on the League. They try to be sneaky: “Can you check if my best guy friend got in?” And I do a little background research and realize it’s their ex. We definitely don’t provide that info.

There’s a lot of venting. This woman went on a date for Valentine’s Day and she ended up, on Date 2, sleeping with the guy. He didn’t text her back the next day, and she was livid. And she sent me this scathing review of him: “He’s a 34-year-old man. There’s no way this is appropriate for his age. He brought over a sleepover bag with earplugs.” Two hours later she writes, “I’m so sorry, he texted me back. We’re all good.”

What else did you get questions about?

People chat for an average of 34 messages before exchanging a number. I got so many questions about that. When is it appropriate to ask for her number? When is appropriate to ask her about a date? When is it appropriate to have sex?

Have you ever used a dating app?

I’m a League success. I went on two dates a month. I didn’t want to get jaded. I have friends who double stack. I wanted to limit myself. It took two years of two dates every month, and finally I met someone amazing and now we’re cohabitating.

How many matches do people tend to have before hitting a successful match?

It’s an average of 84 matches. Let’s say you go out with maybe 50 percent of those. We’re really the first generation to have 10-plus years to date, and not just to date, but to find ourselves. I think that’s why people get angsty, just because we have so much time to do it. Our grandparents were the first generation to start marrying for love. And this generation is realizing love just isn’t enough. You can have love and compatibility.

How can users make their profiles the best they can be?

On the League, you have six photo spots. This is basically six advertising templates.

If you have a dog, put a dog in there. If you play instruments, put that in there. I don’t know what it is with Machu Picchu; everyone has photos with Machu Picchu.

Show one photo with your family. If you don’t have children, don’t put your baby cousins or your nieces. If your best friend is super-attractive, more attractive than you, think about that. No sunglasses. It hides your identity and people can’t relate to you when you have sunglasses on. You’d be surprised how many ex-girlfriend and ex-boyfriend photos we see.

No selfies. I see so many car selfies. You can literally see the seatbelt. No Snapchat filters.

Get feedback from friends. If you’re a guy, ask a good girlfriend, “Can you look through my Facebook photos?”

Jerry Miller, founder of FarmersOnly.com

How did you come up with the idea for FarmersOnly.com?

In 2005, I was doing agricultural marketing, and one of my clients confided in me that she recently got divorced. She was talking about how hard it is to meet someone being in a rural area and working a thousand hours a week on a farm, with no time to socialize. When you live in a small community, everybody knows everybody, and if you’re not compatible with anybody in that community, it is a challenge. She said, “Maybe I’ll try online dating.”

A month later I asked her, “Did you ever try online dating?” She said the guys who contacted her couldn’t relate to her lifestyle at all. One guy said, “Let’s meet at Starbucks at 8 or 9 at night.” She said, “First of all there isn’t a Starbucks anywhere near me. And I have to go to bed, I have to be up at 5 in the morning to take care of the animals.”

What defines “country living”?

There are two groups in America. Group No. 1 is blue suits, high heels, taxicabs, trying to get ahead in the corporate world. If you’re in this group, the site’s probably not for you. Group No. 2 is wide-open skies, wide-open spaces, animal lovers. This is the site for them.

Over 6 million people have signed up on FarmersOnly.com. There’s only a million something farmers in the U.S.

What’s one of your favorite stories?

There was a girl from Ohio State, and she was into horses. She was dating a guy, they got engaged, and they’re talking about where they’re going to live. She wanted to move out into the country and have a place for her horses, and he wanted to move to the suburbs.

She goes, “Where am I going to keep my horses?” And he said, “Can’t you just keep them in the garage?” She said that was it. She knew it wasn’t going to work out. She went on FarmersOnly and met a guy from the country. That was one of the early marriages. Now they have a handful of kids.

Have you created any other dating websites?

CurvesConnect. That’s for people who have a few extra curves and have some challenges on online dating. The whole movement has been these swipe sites. You look at a picture for a few seconds. That really got to me. There’s more to a person than a one-second look. People who don’t look like Hollywood fashion models don’t get swiped right on as often.

What kinds of questions do users have to answer to build a profile?

We don’t ask 500 questions. A lot of sites take a long time to fill out. One of the things I learned over the last 10 years is when you’re dating, one of the most exciting aspects is discovery. I think it’s fascinating learning about somebody instead of getting a Wikipedia sheet: “Not only do I like blue, I like light blue and here are my 500 favorite songs.”

Have you ever tried online dating?

I’ve been married over 40 years. I got married before the internet was invented.

What have been some of your favorite pop-culture moments for FarmersOnly?

Once a month, some prime-time network TV show uses FarmersOnly as a punch line. Even that TV show, something with the Kardashians, I think Kim was complaining that she couldn’t find anybody and Kourtney said, “We signed you up on FarmersOnly.”

At the Country Music Awards, Carrie Underwood came out and they were talking about all the breakups in the country music industry. I guess Blake Shelton just had a breakup and they came out and said, “We just want you to know one thing, there’s a dating website out there for you. FarmersOnly.” I got 5,000 texts asking how I set that up. I didn’t.

Helen Fisher, chief science adviser, Match.com

What do you do for Match.com?

I work on the Singles in America survey, a huge annual project in which I collect a lot of data on more than 5,000 American singles. We do not poll Match members. It’s a national poll based on the census. I create over 200 questions, along with Match, and look for trends. I’m drowning in data. It’s something any academic would love.

What kinds of questions do you ask?

Every year I ask, “Have you ever had a one-night stand?” “Have you ever had a friends-with-benefits relationship?” “Have you lived with someone long term?”

Every year, over 50 percent say yes to those three questions. We don’t find a lot of difference between people in their 20s and their 60s. We don’t see much difference between gay and straight, or the suburban and urban parts of the country.

Tell me about your theory of “slow love.”

Americans think that all this sleeping around before marriage is reckless. It began to occur to me that it’s not recklessness, it’s caution. This is the extension of the pre-commitment stage of relationships.

Marriage used to be the beginning. Now it’s the finale. We’ve extended the period of getting to know someone. In past generations, a girl was married at 20. Now it’s 27. For men, it’s 22 and 29. That gives you almost a decade to experiment with sex and love.

You learn a lot about somebody between the sheets — whether they’re patient, kind, have a sense of humor. The young are not scared today. They’re using sex sometimes as an interview or to try to jump-start feelings of romantic love.

If there’s this long period of pre-commitment, you can get rid of relationships you don’t want before you marry. Maybe we’ll see happier marriages.

What’s something compelling you learned from last year’s survey?

We found three ways that singles are courting: Either they’re starting with just friends and they’re really getting to know someone before they kiss them; another way is a friends-with-benefits relationship; and a third is having a date with somebody. People are dating less.

In my day a date was a look-see. These days you get to know somebody quite a bit before the first date. By the time you’re on your first date you’re actually saying, “I’m somewhat interested with you, let’s see how this goes.”

Was anything surprising?

We asked men, “How would you feel if a woman asked you out?” Ninety-five percent of men would be happy to have a woman ask them out. Only 13 percent of women would be willing to do that.

What’s the hardest part of this job?

Analyzing all of that data over Christmas. I open my presents and then go to my desk while other people are dancing, cooking, exercising.

Gourav Rakshit, chief executive of Shaadi.com

Why was Shaadi created?

In the ’90s we had seen a lot of urbanization, and a lot of folks were starting to move away from their family homes. A lot of displacement. It became more difficult for parents to identify the right matches for their kids.

The internet was just coming into its own, it seemed like a good time to start a business where people could do matchmaking for themselves instead of relying on their relatives. This changed who’s driving, but the decision was still very much a family process. Once they found compatibility, the family would be involved.

Individuals can make their profiles. Parents can make them. The parents are accessing the accounts at different times and they give their thoughts on who the individual is connecting with. We let people know that this is a profile created by a parent or an individual.

Does Shaadi ever get more deeply involved in the matchmaking process?

For about 10 percent of the business, we play the role of matchmaker. We help these people identify the right matches, but then we go further, we play the role of go-between where we have counselors for the members.

What’s your favorite Shaadi story?

The nicest stories are typically people you would not expect to get married, like a man who was 72 and a 63-year-old woman who found each other. They had gone beyond all the things people generally look for. All they wanted was someone who would be a companion.

Every now and again we get some of these stories where people have met against all odds. They had been widowed for a long time and their kids convinced them to find a companion. I think they opted for the personalized service. We explained that there’s no guarantee that at that stage we could do something for them.

How can users optimize their profiles?

You want to write it in a way that makes you look attractive. The nature of the internet is that it’s snacky. You don’t want to turn away someone who could be right for you. People on Shaadi look for the One, as opposed to someone you can take out on the weekend.

I also tell people not to embellish. In India, because it’s such a family business, everybody is connected to each other with two or three degrees of separation. For most marriages, they will do some background checking. Accept that that’s going to happen. There’s no point in going beyond what’s true.

How has Shaadi changing the courting process in India?

Of the matches we have, one in three end up meeting face to face. There’s a lot of conversations before the meeting on our platform. Once you talk to a person on the phone, sometimes that doesn’t work out. You will meet seven or eight people in person. Back in the day, it was more like 30.

The regular matchmaking process can get very stressful. People put out the word. After the initial three or six months, everybody starts asking, “What’s wrong with her?” It should be a much more private decision and not so much in the public domain. A matchmaking platform gives the women so much more voice.

How many people are using Shaadi and where?

We sign up around 15,000 every day. Our spread is kind of like the spread of the South Asian diaspora.

The U.S. is our second biggest market. In the U.S. people will use Shaadi to find the right date. It’s not really a dating website, but they will go on dates. But even there, it’s very clear they’re looking for the One, not someone to have a casual date with. They still want to know, “Can I be with this person for keeps?”

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