Is it worth using paid dating apps instead of free ones?

This week on CNET's Love Syncs: To pay or not to pay?

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
4 min read

True love. 

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Welcome to CNET's Love Syncs, where we answer your questions about online dating. I'm Erin Carson, staff reporter, resident young-enough person, refrigerdating correspondent, curator of oddities and the one most likely to leave you on "read."

This week, in the world of online dating, do you get what you pay for? 

Let's jump in. 

Q: I'm 54, queer, single and look young for my years. I've been trying to do the online dating thing but find it extremely difficult to wade through all the fake profiles and crazies. In your opinion, is it better to pay for a dating service?

Just for fun, here's examples of what I've experienced:

My date tells me as the lights go down and the movie is starting that they have a murder charge. BUT they didn't do it, of course.  

Different date, different person. My date gets obliterated drunk. They pass out in the front seat of my car and begin thrashing and kicking while I'm driving. Kicked my hand and steering wheel, almost causing us to go into the next lane of traffic. Then once we get almost to their place, they try to jump from the moving vehicle. 

This, or the person not showing up at all, is my new dating norm. I wish we could just go back to the days where you saw a cutie at the coffee shop and could ask them out for lunch. 


A: To start, I'd like to say this: Damn. 

OK, moving on. It's totally reasonable to think that someone who'd pry open the wallet to use a dating site would take a more serious approach when it comes to looking for love online. 

We think too much of people. If I may borrow and modify an old saying, a tool and their money are easily parted. 


Click here for more Love Syncs. 

Dating platforms often make niches for themselves. One might have a reputation for hookups. Another might market itself as the spot to find a hey-would-you-look-at-this-mole kinda partner. Regardless, a lot of people still hop on any one they want. There's no scientific way to get a read on whether a paid site is better than a free one. 

Consumer Reports gave it a shot in 2017. Survey data actually found that free apps had a higher satisfaction rating than paid apps. Granted, satisfaction is relative. People weren't thrilled out of their minds with any of the apps in general, but the feeling was, there was plenty of value in the free ones. 

So, I know what you're thinking: WOW, THANKS. SO HELPFUL, LOVE SYNCS. 

Fear not. I've got a couple of suggestions for you. 

First, if you're curious about a particular paid app, you might try out a free trial. Just be sure to read the terms of the trial and cancel before you get billed if you decide you don't want to use the service. Please don't try to invoice me if you forget. I'm saving all my money for a down payment on a cabin at the foot of a glacier in Iceland. 

Another approach you might take instead of changing platforms: changing the parameters of what you're looking for. If the 20-somethings are jumping out of your car, maybe spend more time scoping out the 30- and 40-somethings. Depending on the platform you use, you might be able to sift out profiles by factors like relationship objectives (hookups, long term dating, etc). Don't be afraid to mess around with all those sliders and filters to see who else is out there and who might be a better fit. And if you see anything questionable on someone's profile (hmmm, so weird they're double-fisting 40s in EVERY SINGLE PHOTO) maybe take a pass.

Finally, let me also offer this because, well, we're here anyway: When you're going on a first date with a stranger from the internet, you might consider limiting how you interact. For example, instead of riding together, meet up somewhere. If things get weird, you both can leave separately. People knock the old coffee date, but it's useful for keeping a first-date situation contained (if that's what you're looking for!). And while people will disagree with me on this -- I think it's fine to do some light Googling in advance. You don't need to do a deep dive on their IG, but it doesn't hurt to know if they were arrested last month for trying to steal a yacht. LET'S HEAR IT FOR SAFETY. WOO!

That way, maybe you won't feel like you fell asleep on the bus and woke up in CRAZYVILLE. And that can be helpful, because online dating often requires endurance. Minimizing the bonkers encounters will go a long way in helping you hang in there. 

Read more: Best dating sites of 2019

CNET's Love Syncs is an advice column focusing on online dating. If you've got a question about finding love via app, send it to erin.carson@cbsinteractive.com for consideration.