With more young people joining eharmony, we tested the dating site

·8-min read

Day one. I check my eharmony inbox. A message! What a thrill!

“Hi Emma! How are you? You have a great smile :)”

Maybe this will be something. Maybe this guy will actually be a fun date. Maybe he’ll be the one.

“Are you submissive and obedient??? Ps Your thoughts on being a housewife???”

… Maybe not.

Full disclosure - I hate dating. Not the actual dating part (unless you count the first date I went on with a man who got extremely offended when I said I wouldn’t wear an Arsenal shirt in bed, that can get in the bin), mind. I love having crushes and the little tickle in your belly when a conversation is blossoming and the whole body rush of a first kiss outside the pub. But getting to that point is hell for me. I’m 31, and I download and delete Tinder within hours, I’m too jaded for Bumble, and have run out of interest on Hinge and Her. Not to be all, “I want to meet someone the old-fashioned way”, but when you’ve dealt with as many chats that materialise into nothing as I have, it’s easy to get disillusioned with dating apps.

Photo credit: Francesco Carta fotografo
Photo credit: Francesco Carta fotografo

Of course, over the last year, we’ve had no real choice. I moved back to Ireland from London last year with a rose-coloured vision of finding the person of my dreams - or at least a great shag - on a pint-fuelled night at the pub. Well, you know what happened with that. It was dating apps or bust, and I instead chose ill-advised texts to people in different countries and full commitment to the government advice of the safest sex being with yourself. But now we’re emerging from full lockdown, I have decided it might be time to test the waters again, lest I really commit to the bitter woman married to her vibrator act. And when I heard that more people were signing up to eharmony after lockdown gave them a rather stark view of their situations, I thought I’d give it a spin.

eharmony: View

While many dating apps are hotbeds for hook-ups, eharmony is all about finding true love. The website was founded in 2000 and pledged to match serious daters via an algorithm of in-depth questioning, which weeds out the impatient and guarantees that those on the site actually really want to be there. You’re offered specific daily matches within your location, and you can’t browse elsewhere, so no meaningless swiping here. In the two decades eharmony has been around, they have generated millions of happy unions (which they proudly document on their site), and put an emphasis on long-term relationships and marriage.

Because of this, eharmony has been seen as a place for an older crowd, but this is changing. While for most of the site’s history the average age of users was 36 to 37 years old, it is now closer to 30, and during the pandemic, there was a 60% surge in registrations across the board, with a “significant proportion of customers different from eharmony’s existing audience”. This was no fluke - the site started advertising on channels that skewed younger, like E4, and during shows like Love Island and First Dates.

eharmony: Controversy

Photo credit: Westend61
Photo credit: Westend61

But for all the love, there has also been controversy - mainly because eharmony is not the place for LGBTQ+ dating. As eharmony rose to the top of the dating site pile, they only offered heterosexual matches, leading to lawsuits being lodged against them alleging discrimination. Their solution to this was to set up another website, Compatible Partners, for same-sex dating. But as a queer woman keen to look for male and female matches, it’s pretty disheartening that this is still not an option on eharmony. The bisexual struggle is real.

I asked eharmony what the deal was, and bisexuals have been asked to set up two separate profiles. A spokesperson said: “At eharmony, we believe that real love is for everyone and we're deeply committed to providing a platform that's safe, inclusive and welcoming for every single one of our members. Currently, bisexual people using our platform are asked to create two separate profiles – one for each partner search. This second subscription incurs no additional cost. We recognise we have further steps to take for our platform to become truly inclusive, our team is currently developing a comprehensive plan to address this.” It’s also worth noting that if you’re non-binary or gender noncomforming, you can currently only set up an account as a “man” or a “woman”.

eharmony: How it works

So, first things first - it is A LOT. eharmony advises you to set aside 20 minutes to answer their questions, some of which are expected - “choose the three attributes in a partner most important to you”, “do you smoke”, “what kind of holidays do you like” - some not so much - “what effect does lovesickness have on your appetite”, “what is the ideal temperature for your house?” (I eat more and prefer a cooler temperature, FYI.)

Photo credit: Photo by Roo Lewis
Photo credit: Photo by Roo Lewis

It’s a bit of a slog, but it gives you a pretty interesting personality profile at the end of it. eharmony decided that I view the world through instinct and intellect over feelings, and embrace my “masculine side” in relationships. It also forced me to really question what I’m looking for and if I want a relationship, why - is it because I want a better sex life, financial security or just not to be alone? (Maybe not an activity to carry out after a few wines, unless you want to weep yourself to sleep.)

Once you complete this interrogation, you fill out the traditional profile questions, and then comes the matching. While other apps require a lot of swiping and searching, eharmony’s algorithm does the hard work, and provides you with daily matches, who you can then message or receive messages from. These matches have been whittled down based on all your answers, so while the pool may seem a lot smaller, they’re better matched to you than the masses you have to trawl through elsewhere.

eharmony: The verdict

So, the biggest downside, aside from not being bisexual-friendly, is the price. The reason the real loveseekers stick around on eharmony is because they’ve paid for it. Sign-up is free, but on the free version of eharmony, you can’t exchange more than a message with a match, see their pictures or do… well, anything really. A six-month premium plan on eharmony, without their admittedly frequent offers, is £29.90 a month. That goes down the longer you commit to a membership, but the romantic among us - or those of us that have set up 14 separate email addresses for streaming service free trials - would hope we wouldn’t spend a full year looking for love for the cheaper price of £23.90. That’s a pretty big commitment for the casual dater, so you can’t do this half-heartedly.

Photo credit: Delmaine Donson
Photo credit: Delmaine Donson

If you’re willing to splash the cash, then there are plenty of good points. The curated matches mean you won’t get a bombardment of “heys” or unwanted dick pics. It feels less like a wild west of appendages and more like a polite speed dating event with well-meaning people looking for love. From the men I spoke to, nobody was looking for a fling or dirty talk. I was asked about what I wanted in life, whether I had been married, and about my hobbies - in addition to those demanding whether I would commit to being a housewife. It’s a refreshing change from other dating apps in some ways, but also, a bit more… well, boring.

The bar eharmony sets - aim for “The One” - means that casual flirting (one of my favourite things to do) is off the cards, there’s no chance of a fling with someone you find attractive, and many matches will have no patience if you don’t instantly engage. I respect that - nobody is on eharmony to waste their time - but if like me, you’re not racing to the altar, it can feel a bit much.

This meant that I didn’t get an IRL date from the eharmony website. I had some nice conversations, and one brief, painfully awkward video chat that reminded me that chemistry in text is not always transferable to real life. But what it did do for me is establish that I’m not ready to give up the fun side of dating - the flings, the flirting, and the hopes of running into a dream partner in the queue for a pint.

If your five-year plan involves a wedding, a move to the commuter belt and at least one pregnancy, eharmony could be worth the cost and the effort. But unless you’re ready to 100% commit, you should probably keep swiping.

Follow Emma on Twitter.

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