19. Going niche in search for love

SINGAPORE: Go ahead, think of a group of people – the most unusual that comes to mind: dwarfs, fruitarians, folks who wear only spandex?

Chances are, there is a dating website out there with a ready pool of suitors who cannot wait to meet them.

The latest trend in online dating is all about going niche – in areas as varied and limitless as the human imagination.

The majority of these sites are based in the United States, but a few home-grown ones have emerged in recent years.

The newest kid on the block is three-month-old Divine Intro, a dating website for local Christian singles.

It joins Beulah.sg, also a Christian dating site, and one of the earliest of its kind.

Set up in 2006, Beulah now has about 1,800 members, said founder Andrew Chow, 44, who is also a Christian. To become members, users must list their church and pastor on their profiles.

There are other sites too – for dog owners, rock climbers, art lovers, single parents, even “millionaires”. Most charge a fee, usually a fraction of the cost of traditional dating services, which can be up to thousands of dollars. A few, like Beulah, are free.

Market research firms that monitor the US dating industry said that with broad-based dating sites saturating the market, niche players are becoming ever more plentiful and popular.

In Singapore, singles have also taken to these websites, though in far fewer numbers.

Many groups have fewer than 100 members. Site owners and dating experts said this was because the singles’ pool here is still small, despite growing numbers.

“A good website needs a database of 100,000 members, at the very least,” said dating consultant Lydia Gan, 37, who is also president of the Association of Dating Agencies and Matchmakers here.

“(But) by the time you exclude those who are already dating, the ones who are not interested, the gays – the pool becomes very, very small,” she said.

Last year, about one in three Singapore residents was unmarried.

Online dating is still an awkward subject for Singaporeans, even though they count themselves among the most wired anywhere in the world, dating experts said.

Lonely hearts said they went online because they either worked long hours or did not know where to meet other singles. Often, they kept their online activities private, fearing derision by friends and family members.

“For years I lied to my parents that my girlfriend and I met at a cafe, when in fact we met online,” said Andy, 35, who found his partner last year through a US-based site for single vegetarians. “I still haven’t told them the truth.”

The engineer asked not to be identified by his surname.

Still, a number of Singapore-based entrepreneurs are trying their hand at playing matchmaker in niche circles, moved by their own love stories and a belief that online dating will eventually lose its stigma here and catch on.

Until then, site owners organise real-life social events, unlike dating sites based overseas. Many claim to have been responsible for at least a handful of marriages.

Last year, Herbert Lim, 45, founded two groups – Large and Lovely, for plus-sized suitors, and Millionaires Gorgeous, for the rich and beautiful. Both groups have fewer than 50 members.

The 45-year-old dog trainer is also the founder of Love Me Love My Dog, a dating site set up in 2007 for dog owners. He now has plans to create a group for gays and lesbians, he added.

“My dating philosophy is that people should accept others for who they are – love me for who I am.”

Dating consultants, however, said that even with more opportunities to meet like-minded singles, the road to marriage should be paved with sincerity and an open mind.

“Singles today have many different platforms to meet,” said Gan. “But a relationship ultimately needs time and commitment.

“If you’re not ready, you won’t settle down – even with all the choices out there.”

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