I’ve been quite busy of late – hence the lack of new posts – but you’re about to see why.

I’ve always found online dating to be a massive pain in the arse. It really is a massive, massive pain in the rear end. It’s incredibly expensive, it’s potentially dodgy as hell, and the level of satisfaction is incredibly low.

These sites are rarely well managed by the site owners, who will be more than happy to take your money but provide a substandard service in return. You’re likely to be scammed left, right and centre, and you’ll encounter many, many, many, many time wasters. And when you do encounter somebody, their messaging skills are dire or they just don’t want to be bothered to respond even with a simple, “thanks, but no thanks”.

My main advice would be to check out rating services such as Trustpilot and Money Saving Expert before you even think of handing over any money for a subscription since almost all of these services will force you into a contract and will make you pay some or all of that contract in the form value compensation even if you cancel for ANY reason within 14 days. Yet, these sites make the free tier almost impossible to use without a subscription. There’s no point in it being free. You can’t do anything. I got caught out by eHarmony (as have many, many, many others) – but the other sites were very reasonable all things considered. Check those terms and conditions like a hawk.

Online dating is not the faint of heart. But I have tried many of the UK’s most popular brands over a three week period to find out which one would likely to attract a long term subscription from me. The answer to that is none of them. These are my notes:

Match.com

Given how prolific this service is, it probably hosts the most comprehensive number of profiles of any service (with the exception of Plenty of Fish), but it’s definitely not without a good number of scammers either.  Within hours, had to report at least one possible scammer.  Can’t stop people outside the UK looking at your profile.  Honoured 14-day refund period.  Problems include uploading photos.  

One thing to note: they really do want you to upload recent photographs, and one way they will check and enforce this is by scanning the EXIF metadata of any photo being uploaded.  They do this to make sure that the creation date of the photograph falls within a one or two year period of whatever today’s date is.  As I don’t take too many selfies and my appearance tends to remain the same, I tend to use a photo I had taken at work a while back which is a couple of years old,.  So when the photo was initially rejected, I manipulated the EXIF data and fixed the date so that it appeared to have been taken the same day as the upload.  I re-uploaded and it was accepted.  I’m not suggesting everybody should do this, but it’s one way of getting around the automated moderation if you really, really want to use a particular photo.

Tinder

Super expensive, especially when “boosting” your profile.  More catered for the younger crowd – too many “pouting” pictures alongside boob shots and women in their underwear – something that wouldn’t be allowed on other services.  User interface is a pain in the arse and unfriendly.  Apple honoured refund.

Plenty of Fish

A very comprehensive number of profiles – possibly more so than Match.com.  But it’s super expensive, especially when you have to pay extra for profile boosts.  But even worse is the user interface which is extremely buggy on the web version, with messages being mixed up with Plenty of Fish’s own mailbox at times – refreshing the page fixes it.  A lot more scamming going on.  Twice I encountered (quite possible the same scammer) with a profile containing photos of a nice lady – except the profile claims to be a 49-year-old man who is blonde (the lady in the pictures was dark-haired).  Plenty of Fish honoured the refund request.

eHarmony

Can’t stop people from outside the UK looking at your profile (though you can stop them contacting you).  Attempted to fix grammar mistake with profile (apostrophes out of place) which was rejected by “customer service” (no additional content was added, and previous edit was absolutely fine.  Absolutely bloody useless customer service as a result.  That said, they have the most stable and better designed UI than the other dating sites.  One doesn’t “boost” the profile to as far and wide, rather you use their algorithm for match compatibility which seems to work pretty well and gets a decent number of views.  Messaging is relatively straight forward – and well designed.  However,  giving “compliments” on parts of a profile are a lot more complex than it seems – what generally should start conversations usually is a massive non-starter.  

The 14-day statutory right to a refund is essentially negated if you pay for Premium Membership which pretty much the only thing you can do to make ANY sense or use of the service (which applies to pretty much any dating service – the free membership is useless).  Even then, they will deduct a further fee for “value compensation” (which is mentioned in the terms and conditions) due to your use of the Premium Membership – essentially charging £130 for the “scientific” match report.  But, at the goodness of their hearts. they will half the fee and deduct the first month’s fee from that.  I ended up paying £65 for a service which did not live up to expectations.  On the other hand, I am no longer tied to the contract.  

The report fee is not mentioned in the terms and conditions which is publicly available on the site and is sent as a PDF to you after you placed the order (which brings down your subscription costs too).  They claim the £130 *is* mentioned prior to placing the order, but I do not recall this, and when pushed to prove that it’s there, I got no response.  I’ve filed a complaint with the CMA (Competition Markets Authority) over eHarmony’s lack of transparency.  Visiting Trustpilot will show many, many, many people have been caught out by this fee, and even eHarmony’s very own Facebook page has scores of people following up their own posts complaining about the value compensation fee.  This suggests to me either the company is deliberately hiding behind it, or are completely bloody useless and doesn’t give a toss.  eHarmony were forced to pay a $1.2 million fee and $1 million in restitution after a variety of renewal related chaos:

https://mynewsla.com/business/2018/01/09/dating-site-slapped-with-big-fine-for-automatic-renewals-denied-refunds/

and here in the UK, eHarmony got in a lot of trouble with the UK Advertising Standards Agency for their adverts:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/03/online-dating-ad-banned-scientific-claims-dismissed-fake-news/

Encounters Dating

This one is very much up front about refunds – you pay and use the service immediately, you remain in contract.  No refunds.  So I signed up for one month only to get a feel, then can let the thing run out.  I feel it’s fine to compensate a dating site for at least one month’s of service if they really insist on it.  

Problems included one “fan”‘s subscription running out and not being able to contact me, but would write when she renewed her subscription – either it was a scheme for me to “gift” a subscription to her, or just to tell me to bugger off (which would have been simpler).  Another fan, I’m sure, was merely a mistake.   Then there was another that had locked her profile down so much there were too many non-negotiable elements that it made it impossible for me to contact her.  All pictures were hidden and you’d have to ask.  So she was immediately blocked – why waste somebody’s time like that?  There’s no method of boosting a profile, but they seem more relaxed with photographs and profile statements versus others.  

I  noticed that Encounters Dating seem to cater for the more mature side – given its association with the Telegraph you can expect plenty of people 45 years and up and with a more conservative view.

Overall / Conclusion

Each site needs to introduce stricter verification processes to deter fraud and scamming.  If this means a credit check against the account owner, alongside manual verification of ID, so be it.  A few of these sites offer a phone verification which is displayed alongside a user’s profile, but not everybody does this – it’s entirely optional.

The cost of subscriptions is pretty damn outrageous with the likes of Tinder. Match and Plenty of Fish charging eye popping fees to pimp (maybe the wrong choice of word there) your profile to everybody.  To give some context, I pay Google £15.30 a month to access their *Enterprise* email and workspace (Docs, Drive and Presentation) product.  I have 24/7 round the clock support for business critical outages or problems.  I also pay £11.99/month for YouTube Premium which does away with adverts and provides downloads via the YouTube app for offline viewing.

£15.30 + £11.99 = £27.29

This is still CONSIDERABLY cheaper than any of the monthly (or even of the many other quarterly, bi-annually or annual) subscription costs for dating sites.  The support will be considerably worse off.  You’ll more than likely get scammers.  And if you don’t like it – especially after 14 days – you’ll either to pay off the remainder of your subscription or a hefty value compensation fee.

My general thinking is maybe we need to stop with all this algorithm nonsense and go back to the old fashioned match making systems of old – e.g. humans behind the matching process.  I was amazed when watching an unlikely dating show, The Undateables, just how *nice* it would be to have that human contact when setting up a profile and throughout the whole process.   Plus it gives a sense of security and verification to the proceedings.  But this would come with even high costs than what is on offer now (I estimate around £600+ a year) – and, of course, trying to deal with hundreds of thousands of profiles would be impossible.  

Another issue I have with these online dating services is that most of the women I have some conversation with just can’t go beyond the length of simple text messaging.  I’m fine with talking of course, but I need to engage and get a sense of the person through their writing first.  I was complimented once, long in the distant past, by somebody who said that I had at least taken the time to compose my messages which weren’t along the lines of “ugg, urgh, yes, or no.” I understand people want to talk, but I’d like to initially see some form of literacy in a date that goes beyond three or four words.  Is it too much to ask?