CINCINNATI -- January is the time for making resolutions: Eliminating debt, getting in shape and, for some of the 107 million singles in America, "finding the one." Although many gym bags sit unused by early February, online daters are hard at work in what Match.com has deemed the peak season.
Bela Gandhi, founder of Smart Dating Academy and a dating expert for Match, calls this time of year the perfect storm for online daters to find their partner.
"At the New Year, many are inspired to make finding a relationship a resolution for the coming year. Singles are motivated, positive and ready to meet others," Gandhi said.
Between Dec. 26 and Valentine's Day, Match members typically send more than 50 million messages, upload 5 million photos and go on 1 million dates. In fact, the site has narrowed it down to the very minute online dating peaks: Jan. 8 at 8:49 p.m. EST, termed "dating Sunday." Gandhi said this time is when "your odds of meeting someone great are better than ever."
This year has been no different, with Match data showing a 46 percent lift in the first 22 days of peak season (Dec. 26-Jan.18) versus the 22 days prior to peak season. Additionally, there is a 14 percent lift in email communications for the first 22 days of peak season versus the 22 days prior to peak season.
Local mom Tracy Feightner of Fairfax met her husband in January 2007 and married in 2009, proving both that online relationships can last and that the peak season is not a new phenomenon. (Match studied decades of data before declaring the season.)
"I think most people start dating between December and February because there are so many holidays. People want to spend those days with loved ones. Nobody wants to be a third wheel at a Christmas party or New Year's Eve party, and of course you want someone to love for Valentine's Day," she said. "I know after getting through Christmas and New Year's Eve that I was tired of being the third wheel."
After joining Match using a free trial, Feightner met her husband, Brian. She had been working three jobs while raising her then 2-year-old daughter. She thought, "Eh. What can it hurt?" and started her online dating journey. "I just didn't want to be alone."
Feightner was a fan of online dating from a time-management perspective.
"I could respond when I had time. I chatted with a few people to get a feel of what they were like and then decided that only one was worthy of my time in person," she said. “I didn't want to date lots of people to figure out who worked. I didn't want to take more quality time away from my daughter, and having the chat feature and getting to know someone online and then by phone was a great way to learn about the other person."
Lisa Biddulph of North College Hill recently joined the sea of online daters during peak season. After joining in the first week of the new year, she had her first date on Jan. 14.
"He was funny, smart, gorgeous eyes," she said. "We sat in a pizza place for over two hours just talking. It was really nice. We're working on plans to see each other again."
Biddulph said she wished for a partner for Christmas, but joined after "Santa let me down." She attributes the upswing in online dating to "a combination of depression and resolutions giving people a good kick in the pants to get up and do something about their romantic lives."
Biddulph had previously tried to find love on OKCupid and Plenty of Fish, but she decided to change strategies in the new year and use a site that requires users to pay, assuming this would result in a more committed and serious dating pool.
Singles still on the hunt for their future mate, for Valentine's Day or beyond, can take advice from many of the dating sites' blogs, such as one from OurTime suggesting concrete steps online daters can make toward actively finding a partner. They suggest daters taking the initiative by changing their photos, contacting two new people per week, identifying specific qualities they are searching for and more.
With any luck, online daters will be as successful as Heather Stamper of Lebanon, who is planning her wedding to Elliott Sohns after meeting him online in December 2015.
"I still have the email from Elliott. ... It was short and sweet: He said he'd like to get to know me and take me out if I was interested," she said. "We talked for a few days over text and Facebook and had our first date Dec. 18, 2015. We met for drinks for a few hours, and I knew that night that he was the one. Definitely love at first sight. We've been inseparable ever since."
Stamper and Sohns traveled to Cancun three months into their relationship and moved in together after dating for four months. They've also adopted a cat named Pistachio and dealt with losing both of their fathers since meeting. They got engaged last December.
Stamper and Sohns are excited to be planning their wedding for October of this year.