Valentine's Day is four days away, and for many, the Hallmark holiday is just another crappy reminder of how cold and lonely winter can be when you're not in a relationship. Some singles cope by throwing Anti-Valentine's Day parties, complete with a heart piñata to smash (see: Jessica Biel's character in ensemble rom-com bomb Valentine's Day), or staying home to binge eat in pajamas (see: Bridget Jones). But I am here to tell you ... it doesn't have to be that way! Even if you don't have anyone today, you can find a date by Monday.
I made it my goal to find a Valentine's Day date in four days by checking out three unconventional online dating sites. The same old McDonald's of Internet dating sites, like Match.com, just wouldn't do. No, no, no -- I wanted to try the more innovative sites that claim to give users a real advantage and a unique experience ...
For the Person Who Is Skittish About Meeting Other People Online
The Site: HowAboutWe.com, meant to put the "date back in dating" ... whatever that means!
How It Works: Instead of filling out boring, old school Age/Sex/Location-based profiles, singles present themselves to other singles by proposing a date they'd like to go on, e.g., "How about we ... walk around the Bronx Zoo and feed the alpacas?" or "How about we ... embrace the cliché and go on a cooking class date?"
Why It's Unique: The HowAboutWe folks say this strategy actually makes for a more "magical" dating experience, because a.) It gives you more insight into what people are really like because they're saying what they actually want to do, and b.) It allows you to do the things you'd want to do anyway. So, even if you don't hit it off with the guy, you got to check out that funky tiki bar you'd been dying to try or you saw the exhibit at the modern art museum you'd been wanting to see. (Although, if the guy was really a creep, you might not have enjoyed either as much as you would have had you gone alone or with a girlfriend, but I guess that isn't supposed to matter.)
The dates you propose and all the preferences you fill in on your profile will tweak the algorithm on the site to show you certain dates over others and to show fitting guys your date.
What/Who I Found: I ended up proposing this date to the general population of the site: "How about we ... drink beer and eat cupcakes at Sweet Revenge in NYC?"
But in the short time I was on the site, I didn't really get into any conversations with other users. Maybe because it's such a new site, and people are just kind of figuring out how it works best, there's not as much interaction as on other sites? You can tell someone you're intrigued, or if you have a membership ($28 for one month), you can write them directly. You can even play matchmaker and send a guy's profile and his date idea to a friend via Facebook, email, etc.
Funny enough, there are plenty of guys proposing Valentine's Day dates! One in particular I spied: "How about we ... spend Valentine's Day watching IBM's AI computer Watson compete on Jeopardy?" Cute, huh?
The Bottom Line: If you have a particular date in mind, or you'd like to find someone who does, HowAboutWe.com is worth a shot.
For the Super-Serious, Type-A Relationship Hunter (With a Lot of Time to Spare)
The Site: Chemistry.com, which seems to want to match your mental issues with someone else's.
How It Works: It initially comes off kinda like a neo-eHarmony.com in that you start off building your profile by taking a personality test. Also, you never search for your own matches ... the site does that for you. Matches are based on your compatibility with others' personalities. There are several types everyone seems to fall under: Negotiator, Director, Explorer, or Builder. To get started, a monthly membership costs around $50, but they also run promos with two-week free trials and free communication weekends.
Why It's Unique: Who wouldn't want to know that the first date with someone they met would feel like a second? That's what the site promises to deliver by offering you matches based on your personality type. It's also supposed to feel like kismet, because you're encouraged to spend some time with a match pre-chat, playing compatibility-testing games called "Chemistry Starters." (For example, there's one called a Five Card Sort, where you have to drag and sort cards showing various pet peeves -- Not Washing Hands, Talking/Texting During a Movie, etc. -- in order from Biggest to Smallest, so you can basically see if someone is more or less OCD than you are.)
What/Who I Found: I took the personality test (complete with crazy, fun puzzles and games they make you play, meant to gauge your perception). The smartypants matchmakers at Chemistry told me that I'm a Negotiator, with elements of an Explorer. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist who developed the site, being a Negotiator means I'm "comfortable juggling myriad facts, socially savvy, highly compassionate," and I have an adventurous side.
Once I completed my profile, I was given 10-12 matches. Some of them were also Negotiators, while others were Explorers, Builders, Directors. For each type, the site would tell me how our relationship would work. Like, with another Negotiator, we'd have a lot to talk about; a Director and I on the other hand would "make decisions well together." For each match, I was also told what interests he and I had in common (music, travel, wine, reading, etc.).
I "expressed interest" (which is like sending a 'flirt' or a 'wink' on other sites) in chatting with a couple of my matches, but nothing really transpired. A guy "expressed interest" in me, but I wasn't feeling it. I also didn't have much time to get into all the lead-up, or foreplay, the site seems to want you to engage in.
The Bottom Line: If you're deeply committed to finding someone to be deeply committed to, then Chemistry.com could work for you. You probably also need to have done well on your SATs.
For the Horny/Bored Dater Looking to Find a Real-Life Don Draper
The Site: AshleyMadison.com, the lusty, X-rated "alternative" site that reminds us, "You only live once, so to Hell with your relationship -- have an affair!"
How It Works: Sign up and make a profile explaining what kind of crazy, kinky fetishes you're into (or not). Buy some "credits" (packages start at $50). Instead of a monthly membership fee, purchased credits can be exchanged for using various features on the site. Kinda like game tokens at Chuck-E-Cheese. (e.g. Wanna write a horny note to buffstuff25? That'll be 20 credits, please.) Even if you don't want to spend the dough, all you have to do is wait approximately 30 seconds. I'm serious. You'll soon have IMs and email boxes filled with messages from HUNDREDS of creeps, mostly married and in their 30s-50s. Admit it, even if you're in a monogamous, happy relationship, you're just the teeniest bit curious about this site built around breaking one of the Ten Commandments.
Why It's Unique: Well, at least it's honest. Other dating sites likely have some users that are married or in relationships, but on AshleyMadison, these Jesse James/Tiger Woods-wannabes are being a little more real by saying, "Yes, I have a ring on it, but because my wife has no libido/I'm bored/I travel a lot, I would like some booty on the side." (And to be fair, there are women on the site doing the same thing for the same reasons.)
What/Who I Found: A LOT of men, looking for one thing ... NSA (no strings attached) sex, of course. Within five minutes of signing on to check messages and profiles, I would have five or more instant messages from so many random guys, offering me access to their Private Showcases (hidden photos, sometimes of faces/bodies, sometimes of well ... the full package). Most of the guys told me they had heard from women on the site that the ladies usually get swamped by the horny male masses.
Also interesting: There are actually singles on the site; they're just fewer and further between. I'm not really sure what they're doing there. Maybe they're relationship-commitaphobes looking for attached cougars?
Anyway, because I know you want it, here are some examples of messages I encountered. One late 20-something married guy wrote: "I would be lying to you if I said I knew exactly what I am looking for (except that it'd be fun), but I really have this intense desire and curiosity to take a little break from reality."
Another 39-year-old guy, recently transplanted to NYC from Boston, admitted that he's married with children. He wanted to meet up for beer (to start) and wrote: "I consider myself an expert at discretion, and don't have time for drama and emotions."
Amidst the throngs of hornballs, I did find some relatively nice, reasonably attractive guys. One even invited me out for wine around Valentine's Day. But, of course, I would have to be cool with the fact that he's got a wife (and maybe a kid) at home.
The Bottom Line: For the ladies looking for some no-strings-attached excitement with a similarly attached someone on V-Day, "AM" -- as users call it -- is the site for you. (FYI, if you're going for it, you may want to start a Yahoo! Messenger account if you don't have one. When guys run dry of credits, many of them request you take the chat thataway.)
The Love Lesson Here ...
I may not have found "boyfriend material" on HowAboutWe.com or Chemistry.com, but on AshleyMadison.com -- WHOO-WEE! -- the sky is the limit ... you know, if you don't mind married guys.
If you'd rather hold out for the sweetie pie who'd make a great husband and father some day, well, I gotta tell you, IT IS POSSIBLE. I actually found that guy online in four days, too! It only took me about four years of serious online dating to get to those four days. But, when it came down to it, it really only took us less than a week to hit it off. Dan and I started chatting on JDate.com (for neurotic Jewish-American singles seeking same) the night after Thanksgiving 2006. Had our first phone conversation the next night. Went on our first date on December 1, 2006. (Happy Hanukkah to us!)
Today, he's been my boyfriend for over four years. (A loving, understanding boyfriend who knows I went on all of these dating sites in the name of research!) So, what I mean is, it is possible to swiftly find what you're looking for online. But you'll never know until you click.