Joining a dating site can be daunting, depending on who you are. There are so many different sites out there, but some are far better than others. I have spent many pointless hours filling out the form to join, only to discover that “free” is not always “free” and “free to join” means exactly that – free to join and nothing else.

Some sites let you into the database of pictures and profiles only to inform you that you have to be a full paying member to do anything else. You are then left in limbo, unable to send or open any messages you get, and trust me, on these sites you will get messages. I’ll leave you to work that one out.

I opened a site recently to find I had over 100 messages but could only open them if I became a paying member. I deleted my account then and there so as to remove any temptation I had to see those messages. Although I never read any of them, I believe that most or all were from the site itself. It’s a clever way to draw you and your wallet in.

I did the only thing I could think of when choosing which sites to join and that was to type into my search engine: “The top ten best FREE dating sites”. I suggest you do the same whenever you read this article, but it’s also worth comparing the compare sites, if this makes sense.

At the time of writing (2012), the results were as follows:

1. Ok cupid

2. Casual kiss

3. Plenty of fish

4. Mingle2

5. Woo me

6. Date hook up

7. Connecting singles

8. Book of matches

9. I can’t do a 9 or 10 as the comparison site only seems to go up to 8. Oh well.

The next search result down came up with these

1. Yahoo personals

2. Perfect match

3. Singlesnet

4. Match maker

5. Friend finder

6. Lavalife

7. Eharmony

8. Easy flirt

9. American singles?

10. Plenty of fish

As the internet plays an ever greater part in our social lives, with sites such as Facebook helping us to keep in touch with our friends, it’s inevitable that we also use it to help us run our love lives as well. Here is the pick of the best dating sites – not forgetting our very own website telegraph.co.uk/dating, of course,with over 31,000 members, it’s easy to use, safe and free to join.

Internet dating has shed its geeky image and now there are a host of sites offering free online dating, some with millions of members and some with a more select clientele. There are sites especially for singles of all sorts, whether they are disabled, gay or lesbian, Christian or lovers of fine wine. There is even – rejoice! – a site to help you find the perfect millionaire.

girl with laptop

Dating Direct

www.datingdirect.com

Newly merged with Meetic, the giant of the dating scene, giving access to nearly 20 million users across Europe and with plenty of high-tech ways to find them.

Match.com

www.match.com

Another heavyweight player: 15 million members, funky, irreverent and boldly guaranteeing love within six months.

My Single Friend

www.mysinglefriend.com

The place for those well-meaning types who can’t believe their best friend is single. They push your qualities so you don’t have to.

Friend Finder

www.friendfinder.com

Webcam chats, an online magazine and plenty of Good Housekeeping-style tips and advice.

JDate

www.jdate.com

The net’s biggest Jewish dating service, with often hilariously self deprecating personal descriptions.

Gay.com

www.gay.com

Probably with the broadest reach of the hundreds of lesbian and gay sites on the net, plus news, features, travel tips, fashion and gossip.

Christian Cafe

www.christiancafe.com

With the strapline “All Christian. All single”, a worldwide meeting place for believers in search of each other.

Meeting Millionaires

www.meetingmillionaires.com

Where the ultra rich meet other ultra rich – and, yes, they do check your wealth when you sign up.

Large and Lovely Connections

www.largeandlovely.com

A welcome antidote to the size 0 brigade. Big-built men and women and their admirers.

Wine Lovers Meet

www.wineloversmeet.com

For those who connect over first growths and talk of terroir. Includes a wine glossary, features and tips, plus an etiquette guide to get you through that first vintage date. Mostly US but with a growing number of UK members.

SpeedDater

www.speeddater.co.uk

Not a dating site as such, but the quickest route to finding a speed dating event in your area. Sharpen up that patter and be prepared to woo.

Dating4Disabled

www.dating4disabled.com

Dating and online chat with disabled and able-bodied people around the world.

Flirtbox

www.flirtbox.co.uk

Simple, straightforward and free UK personals site – hugely popular.

Loopy Love

www.loopylove.co.uk

One of the UK’s first dating sites and still in the top five with an engaging blend of fun graphics, “mad” profiles and interactive add-ons for the Facebook generation.

Club Karibu

www.clubkaribu.com

Online personals for Africans and Afro-Caribbeans in the UK.

Dating For Parents

DatingForParents.com

Where you don’t have to worry about mentioning the little nippers.

Parship

www.parship.co.uk

Dating with a scientific approach – finding “the perfect match” through online psychometric testing.

Asians4Asians

www.asians4asians.com

Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and non-believers from around the UK and beyond.

Fifty Already

www.fiftyalready.com

Who says dating’s just for the youngsters?

Green Singles

www.greensingles.com

Personals for those in the environmental, vegetarian and animal rights communities and people who value the outdoor life.

There really are so many sites out there for just about everyone, but finding the site for you can only really be done with a hit-and-miss attitude. It still makes my head spin even today. Wikipedia has a comparison page and a lot of information about internet dating.

I found that by using “comparison” and “top ten” sites I could then read reviews and find out how many members belonged to each one. This still left me the fun task of sorting out which site was for me. I joined one site to find it only had ten members, and eight of them were male. Another I joined only had me and a slightly dubious lady in their entire membership. This could have been perfect if she had been slightly more attractive. I’m sure there are a lot of dating sites out there with me on the register that I cannot remember joining.

I did whittle them down to five sites, which I will list later. These seemed to offer different formats but had enough members to keep things interesting. Of the five, one stood out for me as it offered live chat/instant messaging (IM), video chat, messaging and had a great format.

online dating photo

One site I initially joined only offered live chat, but first you had to send an invitation to whoever you wished to talk to, and then if they accepted it was straight to live chat. This was fine but kind of threw you in at the deep end. A baptism of fire, so to speak.

A lot of free sites also offer the choice of upgrading to full membership. Although I never did this, I have read that a full member will be taken more seriously than someone who isn’t, and it indicates that you are serious about dating and prepared to go that extra mile. If you are willing to do this, then feel free, but I can honestly say that I never joined or paid for anything and still got along very well.

I have also been told that some women avoid paying-members on free sites as they believe these members to be serial daters. Why join if it’s free? It’s swings and roundabouts and opinions differ.

I found that the free sites upgrade wasn’t expensive and I was seriously considering upgrading just to see what kind of response I got. I decided, however, that if I got any more messages I would never be able to answer them all. Free or pay? It’s a choice you will need to make, but I suggest sticking to the free sites for a while. I was shocked at the amount of money some “pay only” sites were asking, and even more shocked that people would pay even though it was all out there for free. Long live free internet!