The New Dating Tools: A Card and a Wink
LORI CHEEK was walking through the meatpacking district of Manhattan when she spotted a handsome man sitting with friends amid the dinner crowd outside Pastis.
As she neared his table, she flashed a diminutive black card.
“I nestled it in his French fries,” she said, “and kept going.”
As Ms. Cheek, 37, disappeared into the July night, the man plucked the card from his fries. It read: “Look up. You might miss something.” Below, in smaller letters, were the words “find me,” a code and the address of a new Web site for singles.
Move over, Match.com. This is the next generation of online dating. Unlike traditional dating sites where members spend hours on computers writing autobiographies and scrutinizing photographs, a raft of newfangled dating tools are striving to better bridge the gap between online and real-world romance.
Some companies offer a combination of flirty calling cards and Web pages. Others operate dating applications that use the global positioning systems in cellphones to help local singles find one another.
All of them contend they are superior to big online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com because meeting people is faster, more organic and less formal. And participants are not limited to a database of members: the world is their dating pool.
“It’s almost like you’re shopping online,” said Ms. Cheek, “but you’re shopping in real life.”
At the same time, these hybrid dating tools still enable users to keep their names and personal information private for as long as they like.
Ms. Cheek, an architect who works part-time in sales for a high-end Manhattan furniture company, founded one such venture, Cheek’d, which had its debut in May. Users receive calling cards to dole out to alluring strangers they encounter in their everyday lives, be it in a club or in a subway on their morning commute. Recipients of the cards can use the identification code printed on them to log onto Cheekd.com and send a message to their admirer.
A pack of 50 cards and a month’s subscription to Cheek’d, where users can receive messages and post information about themselves, is $25. There is no fee for those who receive cards to communicate with an admirer through the site.
Each Cheek’d card has a sassy phrase like “I am totally cooler than your date,” or, for those with no regard for subtlety: “I’m hitting on you.” Ms. Cheek is dreaming up specialized card sets, too. One for New York City singles will have lines like “I live below 14th Street” and “I hope my five-story walkup won’t be a problem.”
Willa Bernstein, 43, who uses Cheek’d, was recently making eyes with a man at the Soho Grand Hotel but was feeling shy, so she dispatched a friend to slip him a card on her behalf. Ms. Bernstein was not bold that night, but the words on her card were: “I’m looking forward to our first date.”
“I felt a little bit high school,” confessed Ms. Bernstein, a former government lawyer who now heads the philanthropy company Manthropy. “It was just a little intimidating to cross the room.”
No matter. The next morning she awoke to find a message in her Cheekd.com mailbox. “My only regret from last night,” wrote the man from the Soho Grand, “was that you didn’t come over and introduce yourself in person.”
The two have since exchanged messages, and Ms. Bernstein hopes to arrange a date soon.
Cheek’d is not the only new company integrating calling cards and the Internet. Inspired by their own love story, Rachel and John DeAlto, 30 and 33, founded FlipMe!, which was introduced a few weeks ago and works similarly to Cheek’d.
Ms. DeAlto first spied the man who would eventually become her husband while having dinner at a restaurant in Red Bank, N.J. He had been dining with colleagues, and on his way out, he handed a waitress $5 and asked her to pass a note scribbled on a scrap of place mat to Rachel. She waited three days, then called the number and said “I’m the girl from Juanitos.”
Six weeks later, they were engaged.
On each red FlipMe! card is an explanation for the recipient: “I’ve said ‘what if’ too many times ... not this time.” A pack of 30 cards and a three-month membership to flipmedating.com is $24.99. The cards, which all say the same thing, are sold online and in some salons and spas in the Northeast. A cellphone application is in the works.
“It’s getting me out more,” said Christine Langfeld, 36, a food stylist who has tried online dating and has just begun experimenting with the cards. “Instead of running home to my computer, I’m going out for drinks and coffee and just being more social.”
Card users said companies like FlipMe! and Cheek’d are emboldening them to approach people who might otherwise have been missed connections. They also appreciate how the companies reverse the online dating process — observe someone in person first, then send an electronic message. There’s no need to contend with false advertising on dating Web sites.
“Some of those photos are 10 years old,” Ms. DeAlto said. “People hide behind trees. They put up photos of their dog, and they don’t have a dog.”
Other companies are helping singles connect through location-based technology on their mobile phones. In the last few years the number of Web sites and applications like Grindr, Are You Interested? and Urban Signals, has swelled.
One of the biggest is the free iPhone dating application Skout, which recently surpassed its millionth member. Skout uses a cellphone’s global positioning system to help users to find like-minded people within a walkable radius of one another. (For safety reasons, Skout does not identify a user’s precise location.) Those who sign up for the application create basic profiles with photographs and then use an instant message feature to communicate when they are within range of each other. Then, they can arrange a mutual meeting spot.
“It’s really combining the best of online dating and real-world people discovery,” said Christian Wiklund, Skout’s founder.
He likened using the application to entering a bar. “You walk into the bar, you can see who’s around, you can engage and flirt and wink.”
Hunter Carren, 26, who works in industrial design, began using Skout a few months ago after a relationship with a girlfriend ended. “It breaks the ice,” he said of the application.
Most of the singles who use Skout are in their 20s, according to the site’s statistics. Users are typically looking for dates rather than spouses, and are seeking activities in their hometowns or while traveling.
“I used it about two weeks ago as soon as I got off the plane in Las Vegas,” Mr. Carren said.
While in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park recently, Jessica Hirsch, 25, and a friend tried Skout and met some men who were also relaxing in the grass. They all ended up spending the afternoon sipping drinks on a picnic blanket.
“This was very easy and free and straightforward,” Ms. Hirsch said, unlike her experience with JDate.com, which she said was “very formal.” On such sites there are back-and-forth introductory messages, Ms. Hirsch said, then still more messages about the selection of a time and location for the date — all of which usually happens over the course of a few days, not a few minutes.
As for Ms. Cheek, the handsome man eating fries at Pastis sent her a message on Cheekd.com.
But like an order of those Pastis fries, he was gone all too soon.
“It turned out he was from Argentina,” Ms. Cheek said.