Online-dating while married.
Lyndal and I have been and remain happily together for nearly 10 years. Over the last six months however, I have discovered online-dating and it has been an incredible experience. Before you (or Lyndal for that matter) reach for the gun, you’ll need to let me explain why I’m currently active on more than 15 online-dating sites… and no, it’s not the reason you might first assume.
As Lyndal and I reach our 40’s we’ve noticed something. It’s not revolutionary; indeed it is common to many at our stage of life. If our mid-20’s to our mid-30’s were all weddings and babies, our late 30’s and early 40’s have been defined by divorces and ticking clocks. As a result, we now have a number of friends who find themselves single. Some long-term single wanting companionship, some desperate for kids before it is too late (both female and male) and some with kids now trying to raise a family single-handedly. For our friends who are in any of these situations there is one consistent theme – a significant dread in putting themselves out there to start dating again.
One of these friends, Lauren, asked if Lyndal and I would help her. “This is the year of Lauren” she announced to us clearly determined to find someone serious. Lauren wanted Lyndal and I to help by providing objective points of view, a male perspective (from me) – and most of all, to provide her with some support.
If our natural state (as adult humans) is to be paired up for companionship in some form or another, for those of us who currently aren’t in that equilibrium, life may range from ‘not quite right’ all the way through to ‘bloody tough’. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of us who will go through (long) stages of being happily single and many who simply need a break from being coupled after periods coupled to the wrong person. But if and when the time comes, being a singleton today has some significant challenges.
The reality is that we are becoming ever more single. The US Bureau of Labor concluded in 2014 that 50.2% of American adults are now single at any one time – that is up from 22% in 1950. Of course today, while conventions and lifestyles have certainly changed we do have a greater set of tools to assist us. The same study showed that collectively online-dating services are now used on average once a week by over half of all these singletons.
“You two must have some single male friends and colleagues” Lauren insisted. So, as a starting point we drew up a list of eligible bachelors we knew. This is not as easy as it sounds. When all said and done, we’d narrowed it down to just two guys who we believed would be a good match for Lauren and who Lyndal and I knew well enough to invite to some kind of gathering. Drinks when everyone was available and contriving the situation so it didn’t feel awkward; hosting a dinner party and keeping the conversation going, it all took time and significant effort… in return for what turned out to be two non-starters.
Clearly we needed to spread the net and online-dating was the obvious place to go. I started by doing a little research. The top 10 online-dating services ranked in terms of successful pairing seemed an obvious place to start. This too is not as easy as you might think. Yes, eHarmony (“Better dates start with the right person”) has the most registrants, but Match.com (“1000’s start on Match”) facilitates the most introductions. Yes, Tinder (“How people meet”) is the latest craze with huge numbers playing – but CoffeeMeetsBagel (“Dating made easy”) is focused on quality not quantity.
My research uncovered the fact that, unlike pretty much any other industry, people who online-date have virtually no “brand loyalty” to one service or another. A study by Forbes.com in 2014 found that more than 80% of online-daters were registered on between 4-8 different services at any one time. Simply, users want to “cast as many lines as possible” and are willing to try a spectrum of services from hook-up to tie-down. Additionally, in this massive $2bn industry (FT.com 2014) there are now dating sites for every need and niche, from dating for people who own dogs (datemypet.com) to high-net-worth individuals (App Luxy), to dating older women (Cougar Life) to people wanting affairs (Ashley Maddison “life’s short, have an affair”) not to mention the myriad of services for the LGBT community like Grinder, Her and Blued. Simply, whatever you’re looking for the choice is endless. So where to begin?
Overwhelmed I chose the ones that seemed to project the values of the sort of relationship my friend was looking for… sensible, long-term – with someone good looking and gainfully employed. eHarmony, RSVP (Australian) and Zoosk were my start points. Lyndal and I created profiles on each site for Lauren and emailed them to her for approval. It was fun, living a little vicariously for a moment as well as feeling good for supporting a friend.
We started to review the profiles – wow – an almost limitless supply of would-be suitors according to the profile we’d set for Lauren. It became clear that generally online-dating services all utilise and play on two key fundamentals of a successful relationship – physical attraction (usually through a profile photo) and shared values (usually through a series of questions). And like many things in life it seems the effort you put in is directly proportional to the result you get out. While there were many profiles to skip past quickly (especially those without a photo) there were a few gems and we were quickly offering our opinion on who Lauren should be making contact with.
We’re a few months on and many dates later (with us hanging on every little detail from Lauren in the post-date debrief). What we’ve all acknowledged is that hope has quickly descended into disappointment from the services we’ve been using. For the most part the “virtual-version” hasn’t been a true representation of the “real-version”. The few gems we’d found hadn’t been wholly truthful on their profile and while this may not be a big deal, it started the relationship off on the wrong foot. For Lauren the search continues, when she has the energy. Serious online-dating can be quite emotionally draining (even with support from friends) and so, like many, Lauren sometimes has a break from it.
For me, I’ve found some amazing things going through the whole experience and this has led me to an idea…
The first thing I found was the reaction our other single friends had – they wished that they had that kind of support and we’ve been asked by a number to help them out too. The cold reality is that online-dating is a lonely game at a time when the singleton is possibly feeling most alone.
Lauren’s point of view on the profile we’d written for her was that we’d presented her both accurately and positively. We’d chosen a good, yet real picture of her from Facebook and been realistic on the things she was interested in while still creating an engaging profile. This was in contrast to the guys we’d set her up with, who may have been a little “creative” with their own description – yes, she even had one who’d put down “pilot” as an interest missing out the crucial words “of model airplanes”.
The profile picture is the hook… but you can’t fake it. Very much like being in a bar (in the real-world) you make an effort to look good – the best of you. There is no special effects team waiting to airbrush/retouch you out in the parking lot. If the profile picture is the hook, then the description is the bait and again you need to be realistic in what is presented. Once that short online interaction is done and you enter the real-world it can’t all fall over because you don’t really do “charity work in your spare time”. Again, this is where a third-party opinion from close friends can really help.
I also started to research how successful relationships are formed if online-dating, whilst popular, isn’t providing the solution. The statistics practically negate online-dating right off the bat – even titans of the online-dating industry Match.com concluded in a survey in 2014 that 75% of people in a successful relationship met each other at work, school or via a mutual friend. In fact less than one in six people meet via online-dating. And there is no surprise when you think about it… if our friends share similar values, their friends will share those same values. Establish the similar values and you’re only left with physical attraction (queue Four Weddings and a Funeral). What we had done for Lauren simply was to help facilitate this basic human behavior of introduction but in the online space… allowing us to cast the net a little wider. Doing this manually however, definitely took time and effort which most of us would find hard to do for all our single friends. My thought was that surely technology could help us?
What we’ve developed is called Cuplin (a mash-up of the words Cupid and Link) and I believe it will be a better alternative to online-dating today. The brief has been simple; build an application that uses your pre-existing social networks to help a single friend find potential matches through a collective network. It needed to keep to three-degrees-of-separation so as to ensure a better chance of finding those (real) shared values AND use social network imagery to ascertain potential (real) physical attraction.
Cuplin achieves this by using your Facebook network to identify your single friends. For each single friend you then set some simple criteria of what you believe they are looking for. The app, based on these criteria, then finds profiles of other singletons (who’ve similarly been put forward by their friends) as potential matches for you to review. Find the ones you think would be good, make the right introduction and leave the singletons to get on with it.
What I believe we have created is the digital equivalent of being with your single friend at a function (in the real-world). Making the introduction yourself reduces the embarrassment potential your single friend may have of a straight up approach. It also reduces the stigma of online-dating as your single friend always has the excuse of “well, my friend put me up to this”.
Lyndal and I derived a great deal of satisfaction out of helping our friend Lauren. While she is still single, having some active support of close friends has made Lauren’s experience of online-dating a better one. Yes, she has suffered disappointment with online-dating (as many before have had), but this is a result of the platforms we’ve used that allow people to say/show anything in their own profiles. By using pre-existing social information and third-party recommendation I believe Cuplin will reduce this disappointment further by celebrating the best bits without overstating the reality.
Finally, we have enjoyed living vicariously through Lauren’s experience and checking out all the goings-on in today’s dating space. It is human nature after all to think that the grass might be greener on the other side… however; online-dating while married has served to remind me to cherish what I have.
Cuplin is available for download today from the App Store. We’re only a start-up so there won’t be hundreds of profiles to look through… yet. You can follow our progress via www.facebook.com/GoCuplin as we launch and roll it out.