Ah, Valentine's Day: That holiday for lovers is here once again. How nice for them, but it's making you cranky. Maybe the real reason you find yourself rolling your eyes at cooing couples and repeatedly calling Valentine's Day, "that corny Hallmark holiday" is that your footloose-and-fancy-free lifestyle is getting old. If that's the case, it might be time to make an investment in your love life.
Niche dating sites, a rapidly growing segment of the online matchmaking industry, are one way to go.
Unlike mega-sites such as Match.com, which offer up a broad swath of romance seekers with nothing in particular in common, niche sites target specific groups, interests and sensibilities -- from the boomer-friendly OurTime.com to Fitnesssingles.com for exercise junkies.
It's a sign of the times. The Internet has created a platform and consumer appetite for ever-more targeted and specialized products and services. These include fashion sites like Modcloth.com, which lets shoppers help decide what clothing it should sell, and Blanklabel.com, where consumers can co-create their own custom-designed shirts, to myriad niche news sites like Politico.com for a politics fix and Gawker.com for media gossip.
So it's no wonder that hyper-specialized dating sites would start proliferating. Niche sites accounted for 23% of the online dating market in 2008, says Eric Resnick, director of strategy for Courtland Brooks, a marketing and consultancy firm to the online dating industry, and the owner of ProfileHelper.com, which helps people write online dating profiles. And they're up to 29% now, he says, quoting figures from Experian Hit Wise, which tracks consumer behavior online.
Dating experts say niche sites can better help daters zero in on what they are looking for. "If something is highly important to someone" -- be it a personal passion or political outlook -- "these niche sites are much more efficient than the mainstream sites" at helping them find a like-minded soul, says Jill Crosby, founder and CEO of SpiritualSingles.com.
Here's a sample of the niche sites on the web as well as a few mobile apps designed to help you find love. Who knows: You might be scheduling a romantic dinner reservation for two for February 14, 2013.
Commitment phobes need not subscribe: MarryMeAlready.com is geared toward folks in search of a permanent partner, Candy Tolentino, CEO of MarryMeAlready.com, tells DailyFinance.
"MarryMeAlready.com also enlists a very personal approach to matching its members by hand selecting users to feature, promoting video diaries of selected members, and even allows users the opportunity to have personal blogs and storytelling within their profiles," she says.
Cost: Free -- but for a limited time. MarryMeAlready.com will begin charging $10 to $15 a month sometime in the next few months. Anyone who signs up before its conversion to a paid site automatically receives a free one year membership.
From the people who brought you Match.com comes OurTime.com. The 50-plus dating site launched in May with more than one million members, making it the largest dating community focused on the boomer-and-up crowd, the company claims. And this group is one of the fastest growing segment of the online dating world today.
According to Ourtime.com, the site has corralled 50-plus singles who share a desire to date within their age group. "This natural affinity makes it easier to find like-minded matches and strengthens the relationships formed through the site," says a press release.
Cost: $19.95 a month.
It might not easy being green, but GreenSingles.com is all about making it easier to find a green-conscious partner.
GreenSingles.com is where singles go to find people who "really care about the earth, the environment, animal rights and healthy living," the website says. The site, which donates 5% of its profits to eco- and animal-rights friendly non-profit groups, includes a Green Market section where members can place free ads to publicize their business or service.
Cost: Three months for $24.
Does a guy who can quote Jane Austen off the top of his head warm your heart? Or would a woman eager to parse the meaning of Moby Dick over dinner make you melt? Then Alikewise.com, the dating site for bookworms, might be the site for you. The site aims to build a connection born from a love of books.
Cost: Free -- for now. Alikewise.com might start charging in the future, according to the web site.
DemocratSingles.com and ConservativeDates.com
If you're passionate about your political preferences, when better than an election year to search for a partner who shares your Republican or Democratic sensibilities -- just think of all the ready-made date topics you''ll have to choose from!
In the spirit of bipartisanship, DemocratSingles.com and ConservativeDates.com are run by the same company.
Cost: $19.95 per month
If when asked about your faith you've found yourself uttering, "I'm spiritual, not religious," then you might want to check out SpiritualSingles.com, which bills itself as the largest spiritual/conscious dating site online.
SpiritualSingles.com sees a growing divide in the online dating industry between "booty call" or "hooking up" sites versus long-term relationship and marriage minded sites, the website says. By contrast, the nondenominational SpiritualSingles.com, with 46,000 U.S. members, targets a variety of spiritual seekers that include "people who are into mediation, yoga, holistic health, eastern religions, and just regular conscious, spiritual people," Jill Crosby, founder and CEO, tells DailyFinance.
Cost: $16.97 a month
• Badoo.com, which reflects a growing trend toward sites like Twoo.com that are a hybrid between an online dating site and a Facebookesque social network, offers a free mobile app with new "interests" and "ice breaker" features.
The features show Badoo users the tastes of prospective dates -- be it sports, music or as granular as a specific artist -- while helping daters come up with a compelling opening line to start the online conversation.
• And as smart phones become mainstream, location-based dating apps are the new frontier of digital matchmaking. Sites like Meetmoi.com, OkCupid.com and Sonar.me offer apps that facilitate real-time dating for people on the go.
So instead of logging on to an online dating site and browsing profiles, these apps enable daters to conceivably "find people within X number of miles [or even blocks] of where they're standing at that time," Resnick says.
Cost: Mostly Free