The on­line B dat­ing aby boom

FIRST COMES APP-AS­SISTED LOVE (BUT MAYBE NOT THE MAR­RIAGE) … AND THEN ALONG COMES THE TIN­DER BABY CAR­RIAGE

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - David Campbell - By ALEXAN­DRA CARL­TON

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”

ON­LINE DE­LIV­ERY (from top) Pep­pler, Sweeney and baby Iso­bel; the cou­ple be­came preg­nant af­ter hook­ing up on­line.

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