Valentine's Day may be a day of romance and love for those who are happily married or in a relationship, but the holiday serves another important purpose as well -- it's a wake-up call to singles.
Luckily, the Internet can help all the lonely hearts around this time of year. This multifaith guide to Internet dating offers the best of religion-based matchmaking sites, whether you're looking for your orthodox Jewish bashert (intended), your perfect Muslim marriage partner, or a Catholic who thinks just like you do about the Eucharist.
Choose your religion to see who's out there for you, or browse through all the categories:
JEWISH | MUSLIM | INDIAN RELIGIONS | OTHER
American Singles, a division of Matchnet.com, boasts more than 1.3 million members. The site offers extensive search criteria, including religion and ethnicity.
For: All (American) singles. Matchnet also owns other sites geared to users in Australia and Europe.
Success stories: Many engagements and marriages.
Fees: Free registration and three complimentary tokens, which allow users to contact up to three members. Membership starts at $19.95 a month.
Goal: Relationships and marriage.
Special feature: American Singles has cornered the market on religious-singles web domain names. It hosts a slew of religious-based singles sites, including Amishsingles.com, Russianorthodoxsingles.com, and Zoroastriansingles.com. The catch: All the profiles are part of the same American Singles database. When visiting Amishsingles.com, make sure your match is really Amish.
eHarmony is a matching service based on the relationship principles of Neil Clark Warren. The site asks more thought-provoking questions than is typical of singles sites. Users must fill out a long, detailed profile, rating themselves on many different personality traits.
For: All singles.
Fees: Filling out the questionnaire is free, but membership is necessary in order to actually communicate with another member. Membership starts at $49.95 a month.
Goal: Long-term relationships and marriage.
Special feature: eHarmony's guided communication feature is designed to "reduce the intimidation" of getting to know a new person. eHarmony doesn't just let its users communicate with one another as they please--they suggest a controlled set of questions, which get increasingly more involved as users get to know each other better.
Kiss.com is one of the oldest Internet dating sites. It was founded in 1994 and now claims more than 1.5 million registered members.
For: All singles.
Fees: Registration is free. Membership begins at $19.95 a month.
Success stories: Many relationships and marriages.
Goal: Dating and romance.
Special feature: Claims the largest number of member photos of any personals site.
For: All singles. Matchmaker has individual systems for some religions, including Catholic, Jewish, and LDS, as well as for other communities, such as "Nudist" and "Swingers and Couples."
Fees: Free two-week trial. Membership starts at $24.95 a month.
Goal: Anything from friendship to marriage. Success stories: The site boasts several relationships and marriages in its "Success Stories" section.
Special feature: The questionnaire, at least for the religion-based systems, allows users to explain the role of religion in their life, in great detail. Matchmaker also features a "matching percentage" so members can know just how compatible they are with other users.
Christian Soulmates helps Christian singles find romance through its search and instant messaging features. Soulmate profile questions include personality and physical appearance questions, as well as Christian denomination and frequency of church attendance, prayer, and personal devotions.
For: Any Christians.
Success stories: Several engagements.
Fees: Basic account is free. Upgrades cost money.
Screens out other religions? The site expects users to be Christian. Though it doesn't prohibit non-Christians from using its service, it asks many Christian-specific questions.
Goal: Meeting and dating.
Special feature: Users can select a potential soulmate based on what kind of Christian music they like -- Christian contemporary, Christian classical, Christian country, or Christian hard rock.
Christian Café holds profiles of over 65,000 Christian singles and promotes its relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Members must describe their Christian faith, their affiliation level, and their favorite scripture verses.
For: Any Christians.
Success stories: Includes many marriages and engagements in its "testimonials" section.
Fees: Free 10-day trial period. Membership rates start at $14.95 a month.
Screens out other religions? No. Expects its users to be Christian but, strangely, includes "Jewish" among possible selections in the race/ethnicity category of the user profile.
Goal: Anything from pen pals to potential relationships. No mention of marriage.
Special feature: May be the only singles site to ask about users' vision levels. Members can screen potential mates based on whether they wear eyeglasses, are vision-impaired, or have perfect eyesight.
Catholic Singles claims to be the largest Catholic singles site online, with 18,000 members. The site offers chats, personal e-mail accounts, and social events. Most of the member information is generic, but there are a few Catholic-specific questions, such as level of church attendance and whether any previous marriages were annulled.
For: Catholics who are "serious about their faith and values."
Success stories: Many marriages and relationships.
Fees: The first three months are free. After that, users pay a fee of $8.95 a month. Always free for seniors over 60.
Screens out other religions? The site assumes users are Catholic, but it doesn't necessarily prohibit those who aren't from participating.
Goal: Friendship and dating.
Special feature: The site donates a portion of monthly memberships to Catholic Charities USA.
Ave Maria Singles
This "reason for hope" among practicing Catholic singles claims 3,000 members from across the U.S. The member questionnaire is perhaps the most detailed religious analysis of any singles site on the web. Members must describe their religious background, whether they're a convert (and from what Protestant denomination), which Catholic publications they read or subscribe to, preferred liturgical expression, whether or not they are an Eastern Rite Catholic. Also asked: preferred Catholic devotions, including favorite charity, favorite scripture passage, favorite saint, etc., and essay questions on members' "views and/or experience on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary," "thoughts about the sacrament of Confession," "thoughts and beliefs about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist," and "what being a Catholic means to you."
For: Committed, observant Catholics.
Success stories: Dozens of marriages and engagements.
Fees: Yearly membership is $60. Unlike most other singles sites, there is no trial membership period. Discount for college students.
Goal: Marriage. The site wants to "establish strong Catholic marriages and families to rebuild our culture."
Screens out other religions? Not specifically, but the site stresses it is only for very committed Catholics. The site asks non-Catholics to explain why they want to participate in a Catholic forum.
Special feature: In addition to many other religious questions, members are asked to provide their views on Catholic social issues such as abortion and contraception.
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LDS Singles claims membership of more than 87,000 singles. The member questionnaire includes questions about church attendance, church endowment, missionary status, and community service work.
For: Single Latter-day Saints.
Success stories: Dozens of weddings, all archived by year with photos.
Fees: Free trial membership. After that, it's $10 a month.
Screens out other religions? No, but the site assumes its members are Mormon.
Goal: Meeting new people.
Special feature: Offers an apartment finder on the site.
Singlesaints is much like LDS Singles but is geared toward younger Latter-day Saints. It uses fun language and offers a humor column and free tickets to events the site sponsors.
For: Single Latter-day Saints.
Fees: $5 a month, $40 a year. $60 buys a lifetime social membership, which is valid until marriage.
Screens out other religions? Yes. Users must agree to a legal disclaimer certifying that "I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Goal: Dating and marriage.
Special feature: Users can search for potential mates based on whether they are a returned missionary.
Orthodox Jewish Single Personals http://www.geocities.com/yosemite
The goal of this site is to arrange "a shidduch [match] for people whom Torah is #1." This personal site is somewhat hard to navigate, and it caters to an extremely specific group of people. Users can read detailed information about where potential matches grew up, what rabbis they have studied with, and what religious neighborhoods they'd be wiling to live in. ("I'm from Boro Park," reveals one male user, "but I'd be willing to live in Flatbush if my bashert [intended] wanted.")
For: Young, Orthodox Jewish singles.
Success stories: More than eight marriages or engagements in the past five months.
Fees: Free to post your information or search.
Screens out other religions? Not explicitly, though non-Orthodox users probably won't even understand most of the language used on the site (much of it is in Yiddish).
Goal: Marriage. The site's owner even tells the story of how he found and married his bashert and displays some wedding pictures to inspire others.
Special feature: If matches are made through the site, the owner expects to take in shadchan gelt -- a traditional Jewish finder's fee. "We expect nothing less than $750 to $1,500 per side, which is the going rate," he writes. The site does note, however, that for the less well-off, members' marital bliss is more important than money.
J-date may be the most popular Jewish singles site. The site boasts over 200,000 members and claims 10,000 new members a month. Members can search for others like them in their religious affiliation or ethnicity: Ashkenazic or Sephardic. The site puts a great deal of emphasis on the education and income levels of its members, boasting that the majority have professional degrees and make more than $60,000 a year.
For: All Jews, from unaffiliated to Hasidic.
Success stories: Claims at least 1,000 marriages since 1997.
Fees: Basic membership is free.
Screens out other religions? No, but it does ask questions about religious level, synagogue attendance, and kosher observance, questions that non-Jews would not be able to answer.
Special feature: The site sends all married couples that meet through J-date a sterling silver-plated dreidel "to remind them that their dreams really can come true."
Mit Mazel -- Yiddish for "with luck" -- is a small Jewish matchmaking site run by Chabad, the international Jewish outreach organization affiliated with the Lubavitch Hasidim. The member questionnaire asks users how long they've been Torah-observant, whether or not they are a Kohen (a member of the Jewish priestly class), and whether they drink socially or just for religious ceremonies, as well as many other religious details, including whether it's OK to have a television in the house. Full members of the site need official sponsors -- people who are affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who will act as go-betweens for initial contact between two interested members.
For: Claims it is for all Jews, but the vast majority of its membership is Chabad or Orthodox.
Success stories: Two marriages and one "Mit Mazel baby."
Fees: Members can browse and become an associate member for free, but to actually contact a member personally (through a sponsor), one must become a full member and must pay a one-time fee of $25. Users who find their bashert through Mit Mazel are asked to contribute to the service, beginning at $250 per couple.
Screens our others? Not explicitly, though among the required fields in the member questionnaire is "Was your mother born Jewish?" (In traditional Judaism, a person is only Jewish if his or her mother was born Jewish.)
Special feature: Mit Mazel claims to work in just five easy steps: 1. Browse for free. 2. Become an associate member. 3. Become a full member. 4. Make contact. 5. Get married.
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Muslim Marriage Junction
Muslims from around the world can find "a suitable mate or friends in accordance with what Allah has prescribed" at this site. The site warns that polygamy is illegal in the U.S., but in filling out profiles, users can select whether they are single or married. The site also warns, "Photos of naked people, topless people (male or female), and photos that include any profane gestures will be rejected.
For: All Muslims.
Fees: Free trial membership. Paid memberships begin at $29.99 a month.
Screens out other religions? No. Users can select Sunni, Shi'a, or Sufi Muslim, or other religion.
Goal: Like the name of the site implies, it's all about marriage.
Special feature: Provides the names and addresses of prisoners who converted to Islam while in prison and seek pen pals.
Muslim Matrimonials claims to be the largest Muslim matrimonial site on the web, with over 3,000 members. It attempts to serve the entire Muslim community, including Sunni, Shi'a, and Ismaili Muslims from around the world. Most of its members are from the U.S., but it also has members from Pakistan, India, the U.K., and other countries.
For: All Muslims.
Fees: Free to browse and place an ad, but not all details can be seen with free ads. Memberships begin at $15 a month.
Screens out other religions? Yes. The site is only for Sunni, Shi'a, and Ismaili Muslims.
Special feature: Users can find potential mates by browsing the site's extensive photo gallery.
Cyberproposal provides profiles of more than 33,000 single Indians throughout the world. Members can choose potential mates according to both religion and caste.
For: Anyone of Indian origin, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and other religions in India.
Fees: Membership rates begin at $14.99 a month. Screens out other religions? No. Users can be everything from Hindu to Taoist to "Other."
Special feature: Allows users to choose whether they want potential mates to be manglik -- possessed of a strong Mars in certain zodiac houses. According to Indian astrology, possessing Mars in certain houses can bring evil and marital discord. It is believed that these bad effects can be countered by a mate who is also manglik.
Matrimonial Link users can browse by religion, country, or other criteria. The site caters mostly to Hindus, but it also includes the profiles of atheists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and many other religions. Members can also include their caste, their ethnicity, and their cultural and spiritual values.
For: All singles of Indian origin.
Fees: Free registration. Membership begins at $12.95 a month. Payments can be made in Indian rupees.
Screens out other religions? No. Open to all religions.
Special feature: User profiles include information on members' astrological signs, degrees held, and whether members cut their hair.
If you're looking for a Taoist raw-food vegetarian dentist who smokes clove cigarettes and has a "pitta" body type, this is the singles site for you. For: All singles, especially those interested in spirituality. This site allows users to search by religious affiliation or practice, but its user base isn't yet big enough to be of much use to singles who are seeking members of minority faiths.
Fees: Filling out a profile is free; to contact other members, one must pay $19.95 a month.
Goal: Finding a "life partner"
Special feature: Users can include which yoga style and meditation style they follow in their profile. Also includes space for an essay on "my perspective on healthy living and spiritual growth."
New Age Connections
New Age Connections is a singles site for anyone who has interests along what the owners of the site consider "New Age" lines.
For: Healers, Shamans, Circle enthusiasts, Druids, Pagans, others.
Screens out other religions? No. The site is open to anyone with any relevant interests, though it does warn that "football, WWF wrestling, partying, drinking, fan of 'Friends' or anything similar do not count as New Age interests."
Special features: If you really want to meet someone who shares your interests in telekinesis, past lives, crystals, or tarot reading, this is the place.
True Love Matching Service
The True Love Matching Service is sponsored by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon (his church is better known as the "Moonies"). Users must take a "Pure Love Pledge," demonstrating that they understand that love "between a man and a woman is a sacred gift from God to be cherished and honored for the sake of building a true family, healthy society and world of peace for future generations." After finding their match, users are also expected to participate in a Blessing Ceremony.
For: Unification Church members, anyone who's taken an abstinence pledge.
Fees: After the "free educational programs," there's a $100 fee to continue with the matching service.
Screens out other religions? No, the site is open to people of all religions and ethnicities.
Goal: "To create happy marriages and families."
Special features: The questionnaire asks users to explain their addictions, criminal records, and mental health problems.
PlanetOut offers a large personals section for gay, lesbian, and other communities. In addition to selecting sexual identity and answering questions like "How out are you?" members can select their religion and their ideal mate's religion.
Fees: Free registration. PersonalsPlus membership begins at $29.95 a year.
Goal: Friendships, dating, serious relationships.
Special feature: PlanetOut asks its members to fill out an extensive user questionnaire, including questions about favorite books, favorite movies, and whether members are pierced or tattooed.
Astral Hearts is a singles site for people interested in metaphysics and spirituality, including topics like meditation, Buddhism, and astrology. While most sites have legal disclaimers, this one has "karmic disclaimers."
For: People in search of like-minded mates who are interested in everything from tarot readings to Kabbalah, mysticism, and magick.
Fees: Basic membership for six months is $15. Preferred membership is $25 for six months.
Screens out other religions? No. The site urges religious tolerance and does not discriminate on the basis of faith, religion, or culture.
Goal: "To provide a format in which twin flames and soulmates can meet, or meet again."
Special feature: All profits from the operation of the site go to the site's charity of choice.
And keep in mind:
Singles with Scruples