Friday, March 9, 2012
2 Jews create dating site for married people.
NEW YORK — Can two thirtysomething guys who have never been married rescue the institution of marriage?
Well, this is New York, so they might as well try.
Meet Brian Schechter and Aaron Schildkrout, creators of the online dating site HowAboutWe, which until lately targeted an obvious demographic: singles.
Since 2010, the site has invited them to pitch date ideas online and respond to dates they like. Some recent ideas: riding motorcycles around and watching Star Trek (Texas); eating steak and cuddling in the rain (Akwa Ibom, Nigeria); and showing up blindfolded at a cafe and letting “our voices & fantasies decide about a 2nd date” (Bonn, Germany).
The site has been a success, attracting more than 700,000 date ideas. But its founders quickly discovered the commercial paradox of the dating site: The better you are at finding love for a client, the faster she signs off and ceases to pay you.
“If you succeed,” Mr. Schildkrout says, “you lose.”
And so the guys asked themselves: What if a dating site didn’t stop at finding you love? What if it also helped you “date” your life partner, and, through the surprise and renewal of that dating, to stay in love?
Later this year, Mr. Schechter and Mr. Schildkrout will release their answer to these questions: a new dating portal focused on committed couples. It will seek to get them out of their routines, off their feet and on the town for frequent dates.
Even for two unlikely businessmen who began their careers as schoolteachers, the business logic is plain: There is money to be made arranging dates for 50 years instead of the six to 12 months that HowAboutWe’s single clients tend to last.
But the two men, who have been best friends since kindergarten, will tell anyone who listens that their mission is deeper. They believe that dates — surprising, sexy, rejuvenating dates — are what marriage needs to survive in an era when it is becoming a choice more than a necessity for so many.
“We want to build a product that helps people find and then sustain love — and I think that the sustaining love part is harder,” Mr. Schechter said over coffee at the W hotel in Times Square.
A singles site, he said, is straightforward enough. He speaks of his new cause in far loftier terms. The goal is “figuring out how to make it so that the divorce rate goes down and that it becomes the norm for people to feel like their relationship actually satisfies their existential hope.”
Mr. Schechter and Mr. Schildkrout are hardly the first people concerned about the state of marriage and divorce in the Western world. But that concern tends to be voiced more often by religious leaders and archconservatives than by two never-married men who studied meditation in India and have offices among the artists, writers, D.I.Y. types and organic-wine-swilling hipsters of Brooklyn.
Because neither has ever married, Mr. Schechter and Mr. Schildkrout felt they needed to investigate the institution before seeking to reform it. They commissioned a study based on interviews with committed couples about their dating lives.
What they found was that the enthusiasm displayed on their singles site — people boldly proposing taco-hopping dates and prankster dates and blindfolded dates; people grasping constantly for the new — faded swiftly for the committed. Mortgages and children and budgets sapped energy. Couples changed. They began to want what was safe, not fresh.
Some excerpts from their interviews: “Very price conscious and needs to feel like she’s getting a deal.” “Is not a romantic and doesn’t plan much in advance.” “Novelty wears off.” “You’re more used to each other and are trying less.” “The usual issues with babysitters.” One subject’s last memorable date involved “going out to special German restaurant around a specific errand they had planned at Ikea.”
Outside the start-up galaxy, people might hear these interviews and say, “Well, that’s life. People age. Things change.” But if digital people have a defining conceit, it is that humans are plastic, and that there is a hack for just about everything.
Each blockage HowAboutWe found among the committed couples they studied has a corresponding feature on the new site. To overcome the inertia it detected, the site will offer fully packaged date ideas. To address logistical woes, HowAboutWe is working to make the packages available with a single click that will book your taxi, theater tickets and corner table at the Italian trattoria.
For Mr. Schechter and Mr. Schildkrout, each idea leads to another. They could arrange babysitters for couples. They could help slouchy husbands send, with one click, fancy date invitations that suggest a labor of many clicks. They could allow couples to follow the dates of other couples they admire — a digital way to keep up with the Joneses.
It is difficult in speaking to Mr. Schechter and Mr. Schildkrout to avoid the feeling that there is something personal in this quest. They built their singles site back when they were single and seeking dates. They have since each found a steady romantic partnership, and perhaps they want to improve marriage before taking its solemn vows for themselves.
“There is inertia that makes love hard to sustain, just like there is inertia that makes health hard to sustain over time,” Mr. Schildkrout said. “But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a truly noble goal — and something people want and will pay for — to try to fight that inertia, to create an upward love curve. We want an exponential love curve when we measure love against time.”