There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but that’s a big fishing hole if you’re looking for something in particular. What are the chances of finding love online, for example, if you want only an environmentally conscious raw vegan Taoist?
Apparently a lot better than they used to be.
Like so much else in life, one-size-fits-all feels outmoded for many online daters. Niche dating sites that attract people of similar demographics, lifestyles or interests have wildly proliferated to an estimated 1,000. They cater to all kinds of folks: single parents, horse lovers, Christians, Jews, baby boomers, plus-size people, farmers, lesbians, geeks and millionaires, to name a few.
“People who use general services sometimes don’t find what they’re looking for,” said Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine, a nine-year-old online publication. “Or people have a real passion about something, like a guy passionate about golf. He might be interested in finding a match to play golf with him.” So people turn to niche sites.
Clearly, the Internet is changing the way Americans find romantic partners, according to a study led by Dr. Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University. Of the romantic relationships formed in this country from 2007 to 2009, he found that 21 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples met online.
“The Internet is a fantastic innovation that improves search for things that would otherwise be hard to find,” Rosenfeld said. He said he did not know whether it’s more effective to belong to a niche dating site or a general one, such as match.com or eharmony.com. But it seems likely a Klingon-speaking Trekkie might find someone to talk to more quickly on a sci-fi site.
Niche sites may be structured much like general ones. Some are free, some let you browse for free, some offer a limited-time free membership. But the ambience differs markedly from niche to niche.
For example, farmersonly.com greets you with folksy friendliness and points out that it’s hard to meet folks
when you spend all day on a farm. Many profiles posted there show people wearing caps or cowboy hats and who live in small towns (434 members are in Tennessee).
Veggiedate.org is highly particular about diet, corralling lacto-vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, fish vegetarians (pescatarians), vegans, raw foodists and more. Spirituality is important, too. It has further divisions for Pantheists, Taoists, Quakers, etc.
Geek to Geek, or gk2gk.com, distinguishes itself partly by requiring a long personality survey, probably because it serves a wide range of geeks. A list of possible geek interests, for example, includes literature, politics, Monty Python, computers, role-playing games, paranormal, comics and werewolves.
“About 95 percent of new niche dating services fail,” Tracy said, “mostly because of the lack of a budget to recruit members.” The fastest-growing ones are religious denominations, he said.
Nearly 2 million singles joined christianmingle.com last year; it now has more than 5 million registered members, according to Spark Network, which operates that community and others.
CatholicSingles.com, another religious site, worked at lightning speed for Barbara Huber Connolly of East Memphis. In January 2006, Huber, a widow living in North Carolina, signed on and discovered the profile of Leo Connolly, a widower in East Memphis. By midnight, they had exchanged messages, she said. Several days later, they shared a 2-hour phone call, and shortly after that they agreed to meet while Huber was visiting her daughter in Millington.
“We decided the perfect place would be at church,” she said. “It let me know he was definitely the person he said he was.” That day, Connolly cooked her breakfast and took her to the Memphis Zoo.
They saw each other every day for five weeks, and in November they married at her Catholic church on the Outer Banks. Five years later, Huber calls her marriage “a match made in heaven.”
Such success would not surprise Dr. Jan Dieber, a licensed clinical therapist who leads a women’s support group at Hope Presbyterian Church. “The more similar you are to your partner, the more likely the relationship will be successful,” she said. “That goes for education level, socio-economic level, religion, race, age.”
In her practice, when asking people to edit down what’s really important to them in a potential mate, she finds that appearance requirements are usually the first to go. “But things they won’t let go of are characteristic of what niche dating centers around, like politics, religion, eating preferences,” she said. “Runners are really stuck on others who run.”
Jolynna McCune, a Memphis franchise developer who blogged about her online dating in 2009 and 2010, has suspended her online search for love. “I didn’t meet anyone on those sites (Match.com, PlentyOfFish.com and eHarmony) that led to something long term,” she said. “But I did meet people I enjoyed spending time with and some I’m still good friends with.” She is now busy with a new job and has joined a salsa dancing group.
McCune pointed out niche sites would likely have fewer members than general ones. Nevertheless, she thinks a niche dating site could be a good idea. “Maybe it would have more of the kind of people you would want to meet anyway,” she said. “Are there any for salsa?”
— Barbara Bradley: (901) 529-2370