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The couple is among a growing number of people who have found love on dating sites that pair members based on a specific shared interest or background — sites like HorseandCountrySingles.com, Nerdsatheart.com, DateMyPet.com, STDmatch.net (for singles with sexually transmitted diseases), MatureSinglesOnly.com (for people over 50) and Veggielove.com.
“Singles are increasingly eager to narrow the audience and really target their needs,” said Mark Brooks, a dating consultant who keeps his own blog, OnlinePersonalsWatch.com. “It’s the same reason why Procter & Gamble makes so many detergents. We are all drawn to things that cater to our very specific desires.”
According to Hitwise, an analysis company, there are now 1,378 United States dating sites — up from 876 just three years ago. Mr. Brooks estimates that 44 percent of those sites in the United States are niche sites, up from 35 percent in 2006.
Those sites, some of which require a fee, make business sense. Because large companies like Match.com, eHarmony, Yahoo Personals and SinglesNet.com have the general market cornered, Mr. Brooks said, “the only real entrepreneurial opportunities left in the online dating world lie in the niche market.”
In 2005, Jerry Miller, the owner of an agricultural advertising agency in Beachwood, Ohio, started a dating site for “down-to-earth country types” called FarmersOnly.com.
“A lot of farmers have dial-up modems, so that’s something we took into account,” Mr. Miller said. “We wanted to make our site as user-friendly and quick as possible, because only a small percentage of our members have high-speed Internet access. I doubt that any other dating site ever had to think about that.”
He said FarmersOnly.com has attracted more than 90,000 members so far — 50,000 in the last year alone. One month’s membership costs $15.95; a three-month membership goes for $29.95; and one year is $59.95. Mr. Miller said he knew of more than 65 marriages of people who met on the site. Sarah Edwards, 26, grew up on an Ohio horse farm surrounded by cornfields. She met her husband, Grant Edwards, 27, on FarmersOnly.com, when she was living in Columbus and tired of dating city boys who didn’t understand her. A former boyfriend had once suggested that they could live in the suburbs and keep horses in the garage.
“I dated lots of guys who liked that I was passionate about showing and raising horses, in theory,” Ms. Edwards said. “But once they realized how much work goes into that lifestyle, they’d be totally turned off. The endpoint of any relationship would always come when I’d think to myself, ‘I don’t see that guy cleaning out my stalls.’ ”
When Ms. Edwards received an e-mail message from her future husband on FarmersOnly.com, she was wary. “He didn’t have a picture, which made me nervous,” she said. “There are some meaty farmers out there — some big, corn-fed boys. That is not my thing.”
It turned out that he lived and worked on a large hog farm and didn’t own a digital camera. Finally, he sent her a photograph from his cellphone.
“I was like, ‘Oh, hey, he’s actually cute,’ ” Ms. Edwards recalled with a laugh.
The two now live on a hay farm, which they tend in addition to their day jobs, in Farmdale, Ohio. They grow 40 acres of hay — 10 owned, 30 rented — and raise horses, cows and chickens.
“When I lived in the city, everyone was always doing their own thing, and I got used to this idea of really having to take care of myself,” Ms. Edwards said. “But now, when I feel overwhelmed, Grant always offers to pitch in. He’s like, ‘It’s not your problem. It’s ours.’ That’s a farm person for you.”
Recently Ms. Edwards told a male friend to switch from Match.com.
“I said to him: ‘You’re wasting your time. You’re not going to find girls on there who like hunting and fishing and four-wheeling,’ ” she recalled.
Mr. Brooks said the most successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion. The 20 most popular dating sites this year as ranked by Hitwise include JDate (for Jewish singles), Christian Mingle and Christian Cafe, Manhunt (for gay men), Love From India, Black Christian People Meet, Amigos (for Latino singles), Asian People Meet, and Shaadi (for Indian singles).
“A few years ago, a company called Spark Networks was putting major funding into its general dating site, American Singles,” Mr. Brooks said. “But when executives saw that the Jewish market was huge and relatively untouched, they switched gears and ratcheted up JDate: It’s now the most successful site in New York by far.”
Eric Umansky, 35, a Manhattan-based journalist, met Sara Pekow, his fiancée, on JDate, after unsuccessful efforts on eHarmony and Nerve.com, as well as out in the real world. He recalled one date with a woman he met on the subway. They weren’t much alike, he said. She was a conservative who had attended a Catholic college and worked in pharmaceutical sales.
“We had a great time,” he said. “But when I mentioned that a lesbian couple I knew were pregnant, she said, ‘Oh, it’s great that they found each other, but I don’t think it’s their right to have kids.’ That floored me.” It drove home the point, he said, that he needed to find someone more like himself.
“I realized that I hadn’t been honest with myself — I wanted to marry a Jewish woman from a family like mine,” Mr. Umansky said. “We all like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and urbane, but when it comes down to it, when you’re looking for a lifelong partner, you probably want some winnowing down. You probably want someone who’s a lot like you.”Continue reading the main story