Dating sites specializing in religious, ethnic backgrounds gain favor, especially with parents
Teena Verbit didn't think her daughter was dating anyone "spectacular."
So she wrote a personality profile for her daughter and posted it on Jdate.com, a Web site for Jewish singles.
"I didn't think she would do it," Linda Verbit, 23, said of her mom, "but she did. She put me on Jdate."
Teena now approves of the young man her daughter is dating. "My mom has never been shy about telling me her opinion," said Linda, who lives outside Philadelphia.
Finding a companion on the Web is hardly new. But now parents are jumping into the online dating and matchmaking game, penning profiles of their children and paying to have them displayed on sites catering to specific religious or ethnic backgrounds.
"My parents signed me up" for Shaadi.com, said 30-year-old Sejal Patel. Her dad even enlisted a Web-savvy friend to help him post her profile on the Indian singles' site.
"It seemed like everyone in the world knew about my Shaadi profile before I did," said Patel, who began getting up to 30 e-mails a day. Her parents wrote the profile--saying she likes family picnics, cooking and helping out at home--and paid for the service, which costs $110 a year for a platinum membership, which includes a bold-faced listing and more personalized matchmaking services.
But not everyone buys into religious online dating sites.
"I prefer to meet them as a person, not a profile," said 29-year-old Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago Council of American-Islamic Relations.
While he's visited Naseeb.com, an increasingly popular site for Muslims, Rehab is not a member. Nor does he know of parents pushing such sites on their children, but that wouldn't surprise him.
"It is a viable way for Muslims to meet each other," he said.
Online dating is one of the Web's oldest businesses, with the most well-known sites experiencing flat to modest growth. But sites focusing on religion, race or ethnicity have soared. At Shaadi.com, for instance, traffic grew 73 percent from June 2005 to June 2006, according to ComScore Media Metrix, which measures Internet activity. Unique visitors to Jdate.com grew 43 percent during that period, and the site is so used to working with people like Teena Verbit that they even have a name for them: "Jmoms."
Other religious dating sites target Baptists, Catholics, Christians and Latter-Day Saints, among others. There are also sites aimed at blacks, Greeks, Hispanics and practically every other slice of life one could imagine.
Overall, the number of dating sites jumped to 1,122 from 850 in July 2005, according to data from Web site tracking firm Hitwise.
Such sites are "a great tool for targeting and filtering information," said Sara Stevens, director of industry solutions at ComScore. "You can get very deep into what you are searching for."
Prices vary, from free sign-ups and trial memberships to costly plans, such as a $251 annual fee at eHarmony.com, which focuses on personality traits in trying to foster relationships.
Spark Networks, which operates Jdate and other specialty dating sites, is quite familiar with well-meaning parents. A survey recently posted on Jdate.com found that 22 percent of members' moms paid for their kid's Jdate membership.
Dads are happy to pay, too.
"It was the best money I ever invested," Barry Heller said of the two Jdate memberships he bought for his son and daughter. A one-month membership costs $34.99.
His daughter, Erika, "wasn't going out of her way to date Jewish guys," Heller explained. "So I said, `You go on Jdate and I'll pay for the first two months.' She said OK." Three weeks later, Erika met her future husband, Mike.
For Indian parents, online dating sites are not all that different from what they have been practicing for centuries: arranged marriages. Even today, parents post matrimony profiles of their children in local newspapers. The only major difference with online postings is that candidates can be local or from as far away as India.
Sometimes, the kids are barely involved in the matchmaking process.
I don't even know what they wrote about me in the profile," said Shanti, a 28-year-old resident at a Chicago hospital who asked that his last name not be used. His parents posted his profile at Shaadi.com.
"They are very active on it and contact the parents" of his potential dates, Shanti said.
His parents' ideal date candidate for Shanti: a Hindu woman who comes from a good family, is well educated and good looking. "They don't want bad matches," Shanti said.
His parents even screen the women and e-mail the most promising to Shanti. "I take it from there," he said.
So far, he has gone on about 10 dates based on his parents' choices. "I found some that I like. We are still in conversations now. I'll make up my mind sometime soon."
His main concern? That she is a vegetarian.
Shaadi.com is operated by People Group, a Mumbai, India company that runs several similar sites.
For Sejal Patel, parental involvement in online dating can be exasperating, especially when they want to know a potential mate's education, family background and even caste.
Instead, Patel, a supply chain analyst, prefers to socialize with the many friends she has met through NetIP Chicago, a group of young Indian professionals.
"More than 97 percent of our members are single," said Patel, a board member.