You get what you pay for in life, Internet-dating sites included. Unlike free sites, with pay sites you don't have the headache of endless advertising messages screaming in your face. In addition, the scope of coverage and available features are broad and robust. Solid supervision is provided (to weed out the wackos), and appropriate barriers to entry are in place.
To emphasize that last point, consider how easy it is to be an Internet-dating fraud; so the more hurdles to entry there are, the safer a site is likely to be. The problem is finding balance. A site that keeps everyone out is completely free of fraud but also of available dates!
The most effective way to find balance is to combine fees and other barriers to entry. A site doesn't need much of a barrier to keep out the undesirables or at least make them easy to detect.
Pay sites provide effective barriers against bad folks by
- Requiring long essays. Some systems require a minimum length for answers to essay questions. If you see a profile in which the person makes no serious attempt to complete the essay, you may as well give that one a pass. Although the person may not be very articulate, he or she could also be a gamer or player (a person on a site for amusement and not really dating).
- Requiring a photo. Very few sites make this requirement because they fear having fewer participants. However, if you limit yourself to people who post a photo, even though you may eliminate many perfectly good matches, you also eliminate a larger percentage of problem postings that hide behind the anonymity of a no-photo posting. Sorry to say, but if you don't post a photo, you're separating yourself from the class of serious daters.
- Of course, a posted photo may be fake, so somewhere in your correspondence thread, ask for a second photo. Few frauds have a series of related fake photos.
- Requiring a payment only by credit card. Credit-card payments are highly traceable. After a payment is made, law enforcement can easily access the records. Even if a card is stolen, repeated charges to the card will eventually be cut off when the owner reports the lost card or bogus charges.
- Requiring approval of all postings. Like a bouncer checking IDs at a bar, most pay sites read your posting and almost all look at your photo. They read your essays electronically to spot those seven dirty words that comedian George Carlin used to do a shtick about — the ones that could never be uttered on TV — as well as a few thousand more that can't be used on vanity license plates. A few sites actually have humans read your essays word for word. All look for embedded e-mail addresses, like "You can reach me at my house dot com if you get my drift," because they don't want you to circumvent their fee system.
- Having the sites read your essays is good for the most part, because they ferret out some seriously inappropriate types who can't hold their tongue (well, fingers).
You find that some pay sites put great emphasis on barriers to entry. For example, some sites charge relatively high fees in an attempt to create an aura of exclusivity. And some sites add other criteria, such as allowing only Ivy League graduates, plus fees to create greater selectivity.
Figuring out online dating site fees
Assuming that you're convinced that you get what you pay for, how much should you pay? Most sites are pretty close in their fees for the initial month, usually $20 to $30.
Dating site fees have risen a lot. Just a few years ago, many sites charged about 50 percent less. But the fact that people are still willing to pay means they feel the value is sufficient to justify the cost.
Most sites now use a monthly payment plan. Basically, you get unlimited use of the features for a fixed fee per month. In general, this system is better because you don't feel inhibited about making contact unlike a token system where you weigh each contact you make very carefully.
In a token system, you buy a certain number of tokens and you use one every time you write. Token systems are nice if you're a dabbler in the online dating scene or if you travel a lot and wouldn't benefit from a time-limited engagement. However, the disadvantage of this method is that you become very judicious about using your eTokens and may become annoyed when you don't get a reply from someone (consequently, a wasted token).
Determining length of your Internet dating site subscription
If you want to venture into the online dating world, know that you need to remain patient. For you instant-gratification types, you probably won't find your life partner after paying for one month on an Internet dating site. Remember that online dating takes time.
Even paying for less than six months is probably too short of a time, and it'll rush you into being an urgent dater, which isn't a good dater to be. If you pay for six months (or even a year) and find your dream mate on Day 2, consider yourself the luckiest person on earth and money very well spent. Think of all the bad dates you missed.
Even if you pay for an entire year, don't expect to use the site every week or every month. You'll hopefully get into a relationship or two along the way and need to suspend (not cancel!) your account. Or you may just need a rest from time to time.
Beware the auto-debit monster! When you give a credit-card authorization for payment for your first subscription period, you'll probably be authorizing the site to automatically renew your subscription in perpetuity, possibly well beyond your eventual marriage and death. So if you sign up for six months, at some point you may be debited another six-month charge without warning. This feature is nasty, it's legal, it's stated in the small print, and all sites do it.
If you pay by credit card, after you sign up for a long-term contact (three months to one year) on most systems, you may immediately resign. Doing so doesn't mean you lose your contract term. It just means that you've quashed the auto-debit monster. (If by chance you accidentally cancel your subscription, just send the site an e-mail to explain the problem.)