If you're looking for love in all the wrong places, you may not be aware of just how many places there are to look these days — especially in the world of online dating.
"There are an estimated 1,500 dating sites that cater to every niche, every religion, every lifestyle you can imagine," said Bela Gandhi, founder of the Smart Dating Academy. "Online dating sites have exploded."
I wrote a column last year about giving online dating a try, and gave up on the whole concept after a week. It was exhausting, and most of the people I encountered — well, let's just say they weren't my type. But I couldn't help but wonder if a smaller, more niche site would deliver better results. Whether you're a vegan (veganpassions.com) or lover of agriculture (farmersonly.com), there truly does seem to be an option for everyone.
"A lot of specialty sites started out by people who were frustrated with how much lying was going on with online profiles on the bigger ones," Gandhi said. "Sparkology.com only allows men to register who can prove they graduated from a top tier university, for example."
Josh Black, who launched the dating site marrymealready.com in December of 2011 with his wife, Candy Tolentino, said he wanted to create a site geared toward "marriage-minded individuals."
"We believe that a more effective model for online dating is to start with the most important thing to you, and in our case, it's what type of relationship you are looking for," Black said. "We have a sincerity pledge when you sign up for our site and you commit to being interested in looking for a serious relationship that could lead toward marriage."
Black said since launching the site in December of 2011, they now have "several thousand members." Gandhi said that number is respectable, considering they are so new to the game.
"If a new site fills a hole they can take off," she said. "OKcupid.com hit the market to compete with the big guys and it was just bought by match.com in February for $50 million, so you can get lucky if your concept really fills a need. The competition is growing every day."
Gandhi said for the social media-savvy, zoosk.com is gaining in popularity. The site is described by its users as "very location and picture reliant." And if you want to forget about taking all those compatibility quizzes, howaboutwe.com focuses on letting its members create unique dates. After posting the proposed date, those who have interest in coming along can respond.
"With howaboutwe.com, the assumption is you want to attract people with similar interests," Gandhi said. "I have a New York client who loves this site. Some guy said, 'How about we go hit golf balls?' She actually had fun and went on a few dates with him. It allows you to be creative."
As for the prices, many sites are either free or offer free trials to stay competitive, Gandhi said.
"But you have to be careful that you don't get charged after the trial periods are over," she said. "Some sites will automatically do this so you have to be sure to read the fine print."
Here are some other popular dating websites by category:
Jdate.com (for Jewish singles), christianmingle.com (for those dedicated to Christianity), spiritualsingles.com (for no particular denomination).
Ourtime.com, seniorpeoplemeet.com, perfectmatch.com.
Benaughty.com, adultdatelink.com, ashleymadison.com.
Millionairematch.com, datemypet.com ("Date me. Date my pet"), theatlasphere.com (connecting Ayn Rand fans), yogapassions.com, soul2match.com (matches people who look alike).
By Jen Weigel - Chicago Tribune