A Serial Dater Ranks the Best Free Dating Sites

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Photo: Markus Altmann/Getty Images

Sometimes, you just don’t want to swipe anymore. Or maybe you never started — maybe you’re more into a date-finding experience that’s a little more immersive, that feels like it has a little more heft to it. You want detail, effort. You want to ditch the apps and log on to a good old-fashioned dating website. If you’re not sure where to start, the Cut asked a self-proclaimed serial dater to rank her favorites.

Tessa Mac, a 27-year-old Bushwick resident, says she goes on an average of two or three dates a month, always with an open mind about what will come of them: “I don’t limit people I meet on dating sites to dates,” she says. “My aim is simply to meet interesting people whom I may not cross paths with otherwise.” No matter what your own aim is, here are some of the best sites to start with.

4. Match

Pros: If you’re looking to just dip a toe into the world of online dating before fully committing, Match is a good place to start — a full-fledged subscription will cost somewhere between $21 and $27 depending on the plan, but it’s free to create a profile, search through users, and view potential matches. The only big thing you can’t do without paying is send and receive messages, but that makes the free membership the perfect low-stakes testing ground if you’re still trying to figure out whether this whole dating site thing is for you. Another beginner-friendly feature: As you’re creating your profile, the site offers prompts to help those who are, in Mac’s words, “a bit-tongue tied at the thought of having to market a persona to the world.”

Mac, who calls Match “a true OG in the online dating world,” notes that the variety and sheer number of users are both big plusses — regardless of what you’re looking for, you can probably find it here, something that can’t necessarily be said of newer or more niche sites.
And she also awards the site some brownie points for hosting events for its members offline.

Cons: For starters, there’s the fact that you can’t access the messaging feature without paying — if you want to start up some witty banter, you’ll either have to open up your wallet or set up shop somewhere else. But Mac’s biggest issue with Match is that the platform is a little clunky: “It has the Windows 98 ‘dial-up’ outdated vibe,” she says, and the user experience isn’t necessarily the most intuitive.

3. Open Minded

Pros: Full disclosure: Mac works as a researcher for Open Minded’s CEO. For those in search of open or nonmonogamous relationships, though, the site offers a stigma-free space to be up-front about your desires: “You don’t need to be wary of feeling vulnerable the way you might in other dating sites,” Mac says.

Cons: The niche-ness of the site’s target community means its user pool is small, a fact compounded by its newness: “Currently [the] site is not very well-known, and therefore, lacks many members for individuals and couples to match with,” Mac says. On the other hand, it’s also too general for some: Other sites focused on nontraditional relationships also tend focus in on a specific kink, creating a smaller but tighter-knit community of users.

2. Plenty of Fish

Pros: Mac considers Plenty of Fish to be a happy medium “between Tinder’s infamous late-night booty calls and Match’s old-school dial-up value system,” she says. It’s got a fresher vibe to it — “a trendier, younger Match, perhaps” — but still attracts “serious-minded” people who have logged on in search of more than a one-night stand. She also notes that the site lives up to its name, with a “huge pool of matches.”

Cons: The site has a less-than-stellar history, with a handful of lawsuits under its belt (including, in one case, a suit by the parents of a deceased U.S. soldier for unauthorized use of their son’s image in an ad) and one incident in which the site ran a third-party ad gave users a virus. More troublingly, there have been a few high-profile cases in recent years of men assaulting and attacking women they met through the site, which has made some wary of joining: It seems “Plenty of Fish has been on probation” in many people’s minds in terms of trustworthiness, Mac says.

1. OKCupid

Pros: To Mac, the biggest upside to OKCupid is its algorithm, which, in her experience, does a solid job of finding you people with similar personalities and interests — as long as you put in the effort to help it out. If you decide to give OKCupid the proper time it takes to thoughtfully fill in as many questions as you can,” she says, “chances are you’ll walk away with something of value,” whether that’s true love, a new friend, or a fun fling (or, as once happened to Mac, “a job that involves throwing castle parties in France”). The site also offers a high degree of flexibility in terms of profile formatting, which “lets people get as creative and chaotic as they want to be without losing form,” she notes. “On the other hand, if you are a minimalist, that works just as well.”

Another feature Mac loves is OKCupid’s worldwide search option. In the world of online dating, this feature is hard to come by,” she explains. “The closest I can think of is Tinder Passport, which lets you travel to any location in the world to browse. OKCupid does this, but it also has the option to search the entire world at once” — handy if you’re moving in the near future, planning a trip, or just really, really committed to finding yourself a perfect match.

Cons: Mac isn’t a huge fan of the site’s inbox update, which requires users to like a profile before messaging, rather than just freely sliding into anyone’s inbox. In theory, she says, she appreciates the measure as a way to prevent people (particularly women) from being bombarded with messages — but still, the extra step feels like a bit of an unnecessary burden: “For anyone else who appreciates cheap thrills and indulging in frivolous curiosities, this is a serious buzzkill,” she says. Then again, if you’re really looking for cheap thrills, Tinder is always ready and waiting.

A Serial Dater Ranks the Best Free Dating Sites