The online B dating aby boom
FIRST COMES APP-ASSISTED LOVE (BUT MAYBE NOT THE MARRIAGE) … AND THEN ALONG COMES THE TINDER BABY CARRIAGE
Di Peppler had pretty much given up on finding love online, or anywhere for that matter. She’d been on all the sites and apps – a few months here, a few weeks there, with a half-hearted relationship or two in between. But, mostly, she’d had a run of bad luck – at best, finding men who went on to become mates; at worst, a series of awful hook-ups with “freaks”.
Peppler, 35, had just decided to shut down her latest account on dating site Plenty of Fish, when one last fish took a bite. “You have beautiful eyes,” wrote Sean Sweeney, 34, in a message. Mildly intrigued, she clicked on his profile. “He looks nice,” she thought warily.
A few weeks later, Peppler, a nurse from Atherton in Far North Queensland, and new connection Sweeney, an engineer from nearby Innisfail, arranged to meet. “It was just so easy,” remembers Peppler of that first date, where the two talked for at least five hours. “We were both attracted to each other, but not in a way that made me feel nervous.” In fact, they felt so at ease that by their third date they’d slept together.
What they wouldn’t know until weeks later was that, on that very first night together, Peppler became pregnant. “I just gasped,” she recalls of the moment that telltale second line appeared on a pregnancy test – especially as she had taken the morning-after pill. “Like, ‘Oh, my god, what am I going to do? I’ve only seen this guy a few times. He’s going to do a runner. Of course he is.’”
Peppler never questioned that she would keep the baby, but she was immediately convinced she’d be raising the child alone. A friend urged her to tell Sweeney. “So I sent him a text message that said, ‘What’s every guy’s worst nightmare when you’ve just met someone? You’d better call me when you have a chance.’” Sweeney says he knew instantly what Peppler meant and was on the phone in a heartbeat. “I’m pregnant,” she said flatly. Sweeney hesitated. Then he said, “Oh, well, I suppose it was going to happen some time.”
Peppler couldn’t believe it. Here was a guy who, just weeks ago, had been no more than a photo on her computer, and now, in his own quiet way, he’d basically agreed to build a life with her, with another life on board for the ride.
Seemingly against all the odds, the couple, who’ve since moved to Sweeney’s home in Innisfail, are now blissfully happy and proud parents to six-month-old Isobel Violet. “I knew I was falling in love with her in just those first few weeks,” says Sweeney, who admits he’d never planned to have kids. “It’s been pretty amazing, actually.”
What’s it like when a dating-site hook-up goes from digital to fully fledged family in nine months flat? “Hurdles were jumped very quickly!” says Peppler of that whirlwind time, getting to know each other both as a new couple and as parents-to-be. “One minute I’d told him I was pregnant and the next minute he was farting in front of me. I was like, ‘Hey! We’re still meant to be in the honeymoon period – you can’t do that!’ And Sean was like, ‘Babe, we’re way past that now.’”
Little Isobel is just one of the socalled “dating-site babies” coming into the world because Mum and Dad were messing around online and tried their luck. While there are no solid figures on how many bubs have come into the world because their parents met on Tinder, Okcupid, Happn or any one of the countless other dating sites used in Australia, we do know that 50 per cent of Australians have tried online dating, or would in the right circumstances, according to Nielsen data.
Indeed the most recent sex survey in News Corp’s Body+soul section shows
64 per cent of men and 52 per cent of women admit to having had one-night stands. Okcupid has a section of “Okbaby” success stories on its site and, in 2014, Match.com even set up college funds for some of the one million babies they say have been born as a result of their parents meeting on the site. Since today you don’t even need to leave your house to find someone to get physical with, it makes sense that a bunch of babies are coming into the world because Mum and Dad swiped right.
But, like Peppler and Sweeney, the data indicates that more and more people are looking for longer-term love and finding it fast, suggesting that “accidental” babies may not be entirely unwelcome.
According to research from dating site eharmony, the average length of time for new Aussie eharmony couples to become engaged is less than a year after they’re first matched on the site, and they’re getting married just 15 months after establishing contact.
But for many, a relationship wasn’t what they were looking for at all when surprise parenthood fell into their laps.
Ahmad* from Sydney definitely fell into the “this is all just a bit of fun” category when he joined Tinder. And fun it turned out to be – he was meeting a different woman every couple of weeks and many of his dates were leading to sex. It was, he thought, the perfect way to have guilt-free sexual encounters, particularly coming from a family who wouldn’t approve of him messing around with women in his direct circle.
And it was all fun and games until a second line appeared on a pregnancy test taken by a woman he’d only slept with once. Ahmad’s first instinct was to swipe himself out of the equation altogether, but after a few weeks of soul-searching, he decided to make a go of both being in a proper relationship and becoming a father. It felt, he says, like the right thing to do. “A lot of us are pretty shocked,” Ahmad’s friend Dan tells Stellar of his playboy mate’s sudden turnaround. “We’ll have to see how it goes, I guess.”
The prevalence of accidental digitaldate babies doesn’t surprise Sydneybased dating and relationship expert Renee Slansky. “Dating apps are almost becoming a bit of a hobby, because you don’t need to go out to physically seek someone. They’re right there in the palm of your hand,” she says.
“So then we have this disposable hook-up attitude and we are forgetting that casual hook-ups can have very real consequences.” Slansky says she knows of a divorced woman in her late 30s who took to dating apps with gusto, thrilled with the newfound freedom she’d missed in her marriage. “She was meeting these young men offering excitement, and she wasn’t taking the normal precautions because she didn’t have a long-term mindset. Then she had a pregnancy scare and was suddenly reminded, ‘Yes, I can fall pregnant at this age, even when I’m just having fun.’”
For 47-year-old carpenter Greg* from Melbourne, the consequences of a brief liaison he had with a financial advisor, Melissa*, he met online have been, for him, catastrophic. Just weeks after they’d met, and after several sexual encounters, Melissa began backing away. Disappointed, Greg prepared to move on until Melissa dropped a bombshell: she was pregnant – but she wanted Greg to have nothing to do with the baby. He only found out that his daughter had been born, in February this year, after he received a text from Melissa’s lawyer, congratulating him on his child’s birth and suggesting he put forward an offer of child support.
Since then, Greg has had to quit his job and sell his house to devote all his time and resources to fighting in the Family Court for the right to spend time with his infant daughter. “It’s been an absolute nightmare,” he says.
Of course, there’s nothing new about one-night stands and nothing new about accidental pregnancies. Before Match.com and Tinder, we still had pubs and bars and the backseats of cars. But the ease with which people are able to find each other is clearly leading to more matches, more sex and, unsurprisingly, more of the little people who regularly result from such encounters. And while technology makes it easy to ditch an unsuitable date and move on, it’s not quite so easy to swipe away a baby.
Which is fine by Peppler and Sweeney, who are infinitely grateful for that disposable mindset just over a year ago, that produced their anything-butdisposable little girl. “It was tough to start a new relationship as parents-tobe with hormones racing, but it’s been amazing,” says Peppler. “It was meant to be. She was meant to be.”
“WE HAVE THIS DISPOSABLE HOOK-UP ATTITUDE AND WE ARE FORGETTING THAT CASUAL HOOK-UPS CAN HAVE VERY REAL CONSEQUENCES”