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“Our real-life and online identities are more and more interwoven.” Because of this cultural shift, online dating sites now have unprecedented reach into our lives. Reams have been written about online dating, but as far as we know, no one has put the sites to the test.

They are gatekeepers to a massive population of potential partners; they control who we meet and how. So Consumer Reports decided to survey almost 115,000 subscribers about online dating and their experiences with it.

“I was on a date with a guy who turned out to be a convicted felon.

Another guy claimed to be 38 but was at least 60,” says Kate, a 33-year-old government analyst from Washington, D. “Sometimes I will go on a date to see how bad it’s going to be.” The fact is that online dating is, well, complicated.

And we found that the free sites generally did marginally better than the paid ones, presumably because they offer a better value.

In other words, there’s no incentive for them to make the experience speedy.Perhaps that’s why, among those who said they had used multiple dating sites, 28 percent had tried four or more.But our research also found that online dating, however painful and time-consuming, often does produce the intended result if you use it well—and persevere.You can do almost anything online these days: Check a bank balance, buy shoes, choose a mattress, order a cab.So when Roberta Caploe was ready to start dating again after a divorce, she didn’t ask her friends to fix her up or feel the need to frequent bars or health clubs.

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