Online Dating: Should You Pay to Play?

Rachel Brewson

One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves when we begin our online dating journey is, “Should I pay for dating sites?” There’s no easy answer, and often it can depend on what you’re looking for. There are also a range of sites with different offers and different price points, which can make things confusing. Here we break down the pros and cons and give you some food for thought before you fork over your cold hard cash.  


Testing the water

Of course, there’s no harm in signing up for a free site or hookup app and browsing through profiles. It’s fine to lurk for a while and get the hang of it, and work on your online persona. Free dating sites are a great place to start if you’ve never used one before, and it can also help you refine your profile—remember that a good profile can make or break your experience of online dating. Check out how other users present themselves and think about what you are attracted to in other peoples’ profiles. Experiment with different pictures and bios until you find something that works.  


Quantity vs. quality

Generally free sites are open to everyone and there is a low barrier to entry. This can be a good thing, because there’s more to choose from, but on the other hand there are also a lot of people who are not necessarily looking for a long term relationship. If you’re just up for a little fun and a few casual dates, this is fine. But if you’re looking for someone who is interested in a serious relationship, you’re going to have to wade through a lot more profiles to find your special someone, which can be time consuming and frustrating.  




Free sites generally have a limited functionality, and work on a business model where they make money from advertising. This can mean an inferior and annoying user experience that can get in the way of your search for love. While a lot of sites let you sign up and browse profiles for free, they will ask you to pay if you want to access greater levels of functionality. Depending on the site, this could mean anything from eHarmony or Zoosk’s complex matchmaking algorithm to the ability to send messages on sites like Millionaire Match. Matching algorithms can take a lot of the work out of online dating by automatically finding people that you are compatible with. Other paid features like boosting your profile can make you stand out from the crowd.  


Studies show that…

A study in a 2009 edition of Current Psychology showed that a person’s interest in an online date correlated with how much they paid for the site. In the study, participants were asked to choose between an online date and blind date arranged by a friend. Those who paid nothing or very little for the dating site were less likely to choose the online date over the blind date, while those who paid more were more likely to favor the online date. This suggests that people who pay for dating sites are more committed to meeting in real life, and are perhaps more interested in finding a serious relationship.  


Play for free, pay to win

In summary, free sites are fine if you’re just up for a little fun and some casual dates. But if you’re serious about finding a relationship you may want to invest in a paid site like Zoosk, eHarmony or to save you time, save you effort, and maybe even save you a few awkward dates!  


Rachel Brewson
Editor, Dating

Rachel Brewson, Dating Editor, has played matchmaker and dating coach to friends and colleagues, as well as written for xoJane, Thought Catalog and a handful of online blogs. She loves craft beer, the beach, and warm LA nights.