Pairing Up: Couples Now Seek Friends Online
After dating for nearly four years, Tanna Burchill, 20, and John Hitchin, 23, of Victoria, British Columbia, found themselves in a rut: They were too boring for their single friends but did not know how to meet other couples.
“We work all week,” explained Burchill, who runs her own housecleaning business. “So when the weekend comes, we like to relax. We don’t know how to make other couple friends.”
Having met each other online through a Yahoo chat room, Burchill and Hitchin considered it only natural to look for couple companionship online. They soon found Kupple.com, a dating site geared toward couples looking to befriend other couples.
Burchill and Hitchin are just one of thousands of couples that Kupple.com and competitors Couplets.com and Couplesworldwide.com hope to serve, doing for couples what online dating services and social-networking sites have done for singles. The three sites, which started in 2006, cater to couples of all kinds, from teenagers to retirees, straight and gay, religious and secular. But they stress that they are about building friendships, not helping couples who are interested in engaging in consensual sex, also known as swinging.
“It’s a huge market,” said Jay Chalnick, who founded Couplets.com in April 2006. “There are more than 65 million married couples in the United States, not to mention engaged and gay couples.”
Chalnick, 33, had the idea for the Web site in 2004, after he and his wife moved from Manhattan to Rockland County in upstate New York. “We bought a huge house and realized all our friends were in Manhattan,” he said. Both he and his wife worked full-time, each commuting 90 minutes each day, and had no time to meet couples in their new neighborhood. Couplets.com currently has more than 2,000 members in the United States.
Sheila Zamel, founder of Couplesworldwide.com, started in much the same way. She remarried and moved from South Africa to Calabasas, Calif. She and her husband were in their 40s and wanted to meet new couples, but they found it surprisingly difficult. “I’m very active,” Zamel said. “But it’s very hard to have time to go out and meet people, and where do you go to meet people?” After months of research, Zamel launched Couplesworldwide.com in November 2006.
The three sites operate much like a singles dating site. After they registered on Kupple.com, Burchill and Hitchin each answered questions separately. Burchill indicated her favorite activity (doing yoga) and Hitchin his (playing Xbox games). Then they filled out their favorite activities as a couple--going to the movies and watching hockey games. They also indicated that they are seeking a couple to have dinner and drinks with. Then they started scouring search results for couples who lived nearby and matched their profile.
Couplets.com provides the most intuitive interface, which is primed for couples looking to meet new friends in their community. It matches couples by ZIP code based on their interests. For example, with the click of a mouse, Couplets.com showed the profiles of five couples in a given ZIP code who were interested in cooking, camping or wine tasting. Couples that become friends are invited to “endorse” each other online in much the way buyers and sellers rate each other on online auction sites.
Couplesworldwide.com, which has 7,000 members from around the globe, according to Zamel, takes a slightly different approach. Although it allows members to set up real-life meetings, it focuses on enabling virtual friendships between couples around the country, or even abroad. Couples are invited to interact by sending each other personal messages, joining online chats, or discussing topics with such headings as “Relocating” or “Is working together a good idea?”
Kupples.com is the least intuitive of the three Web sites, but it appeared to have the most active discussion forums.
Despite the large number of couples in the United States, some experts doubt whether the sites will catch on. “I see, for couples, this being more of a fad because couples are even more limited in their interactions,” said James Houran, a columnist and researcher with Online Dating Magazine (onlinedatingmagazine.com). “There are the needs of four people to be met, the egos of four people, the motivations of four people.”
Indeed, during a recent two-week period, the average number of couples listed as being online at Couplesworldwide.com was just three, one being a site manager and the other being this reporter. On Kupple.com, much of the chat entries seemed to be made by couples complaining about the lack of responses from other couples on the site. (“I met a few couples. We set dates that never got off the ground for different reasons,” wrote a user. “I just have the feeling internet people can be fickle.”)
Kupple.com declined to respond to several interview requests.
Houran, the dating expert, also raised the specter of swingers using the sites to seek out potential partners. “Online social networking certainly is a viable way for meeting people in the local area,” he said. But “you have to ask yourself, what are the motivations here? It can be quite hairy if the couple has different agendas for using the services.”
But all three sites make it clear on their home pages that they are not geared toward swingers. Each site also asks its members to report any “offensive behavior,” and administrators scan through each registered profile and photograph submitted before posting it on the site. According to Zamel and Chalnick, most members seem to be genuinely looking for couple friends. “I’m sure there’s plenty of places online to do something shady, if that’s what they’re looking for,” Chalnick said.
Zamel originally thought Couplesworldwide.com would cater to young couples fitting the same profile as Burchill and Hitchin. She was surprised to see the number of middle-aged couples who have signed up as members.
“Second time around for both of us,” wrote a couple from Roxbury, Mass., on their Couplesworldwide.com profile. “Looking for friends to spend time with. Dinner, movie, chatting, and sharing good times with. Children all grown and enjoying our grandkids.”
“We are easygoing almost empty nesters,” wrote another couple in their 40s from Hillsborough, N.J., on Kupple.com. “One gone, one soon to be. We love animals. Looking for another couple to hang out with that enjoys playing cards, pool and other games. Likes movies and concerts and sometimes travel.”
Zamel said she has received thank-you letters from couples who have met their new best friends and now meet on weekends and travel to different states together. According to Chalnick, couples have been communicating over the message boards on Couplets.com, and though growth has been slower than he originally expected, the number of posts has been building.
Meanwhile, Burchill and Hitchin are still waiting for their first Kupple.com date. As they start planning their wedding next summer, they are optimistic that couple dating will net them some new good friends. After all, the online world has already served them well.