Targeting love online
Niche dating websites help picky singles meet their true match
TBY SHANNON PROUDFOOT ired of sifting through hundreds of prospects in the Internet equivalent of a human supermarket, online daters are flocking to boutique-style sites that promise a choosier range of options. The trend started by catering to specific religions and cultures (JDate for Jewish singles was an early example and is still one of the largest, with about 700,000 members), but there are now sites that revolve around occupations, hobbies, hair colours, diseases and disabilities.
“Online dating, back when it originally was taking off, was a large onesize-fits-all mentality,” says Michael Carter, president of Passions Network Inc., a New York-based company with 110 niche sites.
“Every day there are new sites out there that are focused on specific niche markets — it seems to be all the buzz.”
His company runs dating and social networking sites for Scientologists, atheists, gun lovers, horror fans, believers in the paranormal and redhead enthusiasts, along with more mainstream “solid demographic slices.” The sites are interconnected, so mustachioed vegan baby boomers can jump between sites reflecting their various interests.
The entire network’s membership is about 700,000 people — including tens of thousands of Canadians — and that’s been doubling each year, Carter says.
“The underlying concept is that it should be easier to break the ice with people if you share something in com- mon,” he says.
But the appeal goes beyond icebreakers, says Gail Laguna, vice-president of corporate communications for Spark Networks, which runs JDate, Asian Singles Connection, Deaf Singles Connection and Military Singles Connection, along with nearly 30 others. Their network includes millions of members and tens of thousands of Canadians, she says, and they generally attract singles looking for serious long-term relationships.
“When it comes time to get married and raise a family, things like religion, ethnicity, traditions, religious practis- ing habits — they all come into play,” she says. “If you’re just casually dating, these things are less important to you.”
For Burnaby, B.C., resident Linda Schmidt, her faith is so central to her life that it only made sense to look for love on Christian Mingle.
“I’m a Christian and I wanted to find someone who was a Christian, so I didn’t really want to waste any time on other sites where I might meet people who weren’t,” the 35-year-old says.
Three years ago, she went on a first date to a baseball game with Greg. They got engaged five months later, married five months after that and are now parents to 10-month-old Chloe.
“I didn’t want to waste a year and a half or two years dating someone if I knew I was going to marry them,” says Greg, 33.
In the couple’s social circle are three other married pairs who met on eHarmony, a site that uses a complex matching system to let singles specify exactly what they’re seeking. Another couple met on the same site that brought the Schmidts together.
“We’re two for two!” Linda says, laughing.
About 10,000 Canadians belong to Christian Mingle, 26,000 to JDate and 12,000 to Black Singles, Laguna says.
For Nancy Fitch, joining Green Singles in her search for “someone fabulous” meant she was more likely to find a match who shared her Earthfriendly outlook and a strong set of personal values. The 39-year-old’s job as a rural family doctor bonds her to a small Northern Ontario community with limited dating options, so she was open to the idea of establishing a longdistance connection with the right person.
The enviro-focused website produced a smaller pool of prospects than she found on the large general dating sites, she says, but the quality was much higher.
“The people were so appealing to me,” she says.
Fitch is now “three dates down, really looking forward to the fourth date,” with a man she met on Green Singles. Getting ready for the fourth date will take more preparation than for most, however: it’s her turn to make the 1,000-kilometre trek to visit him in southern Ontario.
PLENTY OF OPTIONS: The Internet is crowded with increasingly specific dating sites, some lighthearted and others earnest.