Starting a dating app during a time period in which human touch between strangers is temporarily verboten may sound like a terrible idea, but a new SF-created app could be positioning itself as a post-pandemic savior for the love lives of people looking to settle down with a family.
Launched in March, Heybaby aims to be the dating app for mature adults, specifically mature adults with children in their present/future. That’s a troubling predicament to be in right now given the pandemic has temporarily closed the dating pool, and a common one given that data shows a higher percentage of app users in the 30-44 age range than younger counterparts.
Although some initially projected a baby boom due to couples sheltered with partners (and the confrontation with their own mortality), recent studies say that we should actually expect a bust, to the tune of potentially half-a-million fewer bundles of joy. Those approaching the end of safe child-bearing age who’ve lost a year of the twilight of their fertility will likely be itching to cut to the chase.
Tinder will be a buyer’s market for hook-ups once shelter-in-place subsides, which will make family-focused daters even bigger outliers. To weed out those who aren’t seriously looking to expand their family, the first thing Heybaby asks is for users to take a pledge that states:
– I want or have kids.
– I’m tired of the dating game.
– I’m ready to put flakes and hookup artists behind me.
The inspiration for the app actually came from one of the founder’s previous brushes with viral dating fame. You may remember Chas McFeely from the regrettably titled site HookChasUp.com, where he offered $10,000 to anyone who could introduce him to his future wife. The premise of the scheme hasn’t aged well, but at its root, the idea is relatively harmless. According to Chas, the site was meant as a cheeky joke rather than a play to become the internet’s most infamous surrogate sugar daddy.
“That was really supposed to be for family and friends, more of a conversation piece,” he says. “Then a friend put it on their Facebook page and things kind of went sideways.”
Chas hasn’t married yet, but he has found a partner (connected by a friend!) and has started the family he hoped for. With some help from two partners based in Austin, Chas drew on his dating experiences to create an app for like-minded professionals who are ready to settle down, or single parents who’ve felt frustrated by traditional dating apps.
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Claudette Arguello, a single mother who works as a nurse in San Francisco, can attest to the difficulty of using apps like Tinder.
“I actually learned the hard way when I first got on after having my daughter. I didn’t really know how to approach it. So I decided not to say anything initially. When’s the right time to introduce that topic? For me it felt like a really personal thing, you have to get to know me, then I’ll tell you about my daughter and introduce you,” she says, only to learn that many men who initially seemed interested weren’t looking for a “package deal.”
She’s an early adopter of Heybaby, and although she hasn’t met anyone yet, she finds it refreshing to know that potential dates empathize with her situation.
“You understand that there’s another person in this equation, and there’s a lot of responsibility that entails,” she says. “All the time the child has to come first. There’s times where maybe I can’t just drop everything or go on this date or this trip, or take your phone call, because there’s another person in this relationship.”
Like most dating services, Heybaby asks users to answer a series of questions to develop a compatibility score. In this case, they’re dialed in on things that show what type of parent you might be: How early do you like to get to the airport? Are you okay with dirty clothes on the floor? Could you be considered a workaholic?
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“I reached out to a lot of people and asked my friends, what do you think are some important things you wish you’d known from a dating standpoint, before you started raising a kid together,” says McFeely.
Heybaby certainly serves a niche audience, but they’ve already drawn a few hundred users in San Francisco and a thousand across the country. Anyone who has tried an upstart service knows that the crux is the small sample size, but Heybaby hopes that the self-selecting nature of the app gives it a higher signal-to-noise ratio. And although prospective parents and single moms and dads may have to wait at least a few months before safely taking any small talk on Heybaby to the next level, the founders hope that they’ll have a headstart on planning a future that may have been derailed by the pandemic.
“It’s kind of like moving right to date number ten,” says McFeely.
Dan Gentile is a culture editor at SFGATE. Email: Dan.Gentile@sfgate.com | Twitter: @Dannosphere