Although there have never been more options in the digital space for 20-somethings looking for a date, there are few available to older adults looking to find love online. Part of this is due to the inherent technology gap between seniors and younger people. (If you’ve ever tried to help your grandma check her email on Yahoo, only to discover hours later that her account is actually with Hotmail, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
But another reason why there hasn’t yet been a successful dating app exclusively for older adults—a Tinder for seniors, if you will—is because the dating space simply isn’t tailored to older adults’ needs. While websites like Match.com and OKCupid offer the promise of everlasting love, or finding someone you can grow old with, if you’re a single man or woman who’s already reached that stage of life (and adults aged 65 and up represent approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population), you’re looking for something else entirely: companionship.
To that end, Australian startup founder Andrew Dowling is launching Stitch, a new online dating startup for “older adults” aged 50 and up. Described by the accelerator 500 Startups as “a clean Tinder,” Stitch is targeted to baby boomers and seniors looking for love, but also for, say, a jogging buddy or someone to learn German with. When they log on, users have the option of saying they’re looking for “romantic companionship,” “non-romantic companionship,” or either.
“When you’re a certain age, what you’re looking for is different from what younger people are looking for when they’re dating,” Dowling told the Daily Dot. “It’s not so much about romance; what it’s really about is companionship. We wanted to build something that would fill that specific need.”
Dowling and his team, which is based in both Sydney and San Francisco, started developing Stitch last year after launching Tapestry, a social networking website for seniors. Although they found that most of their users appreciated how the app connected them to their family and friends, “again and again we kept finding older adults who said what they’re really missing out on is companionship,” he says. “People were lonely.”
What Dowling found is that senior citizens—Dowling prefers the term “older adults,” which refers to those 50 and older—were living on their own in increasing numbers, often suffering from feelings of depression and isolation. “People who are working in the aging space don’t realize that isolation is one of the main killers [of seniors],” he says. “It’s a bigger health risk than obesity or smoking. There’s nothing worse than having dinner alone every night and knowing you’ll have dinner alone for years.”
Dowling found that older adults, regardless of whether they were interested in pursuing a romantic relationship, often turned to dating websites like Match.com to try to meet people online. But they were finding it difficult to navigate such websites, which pair users via complex algorithms and elaborate questionnaires.
The fact that Match.com is also targeted to a younger audience was also problematic. Apps and websites like Match.com are there “to help you find the perfect person to settle down with, have kids, and meet someone you can have a romantic relationship with,” says Dowling. But for those in a later stage of life, they’re less interested in building a life with someone new, and more interested in finding someone to enjoy their favorite hobbies with.
Older people also tend to have a different set of criteria for potential partners than young people do: For instance, while younger users might consider income level or job title when looking for a prospective partner, many seniors might consider issues like health or mobility. “They’re far less focused on age, status, and physical appearance than young people are,” says Dowling. “They’re looking for someone who can be that shoulder of support.”
And they’re not necessarily looking for just one shoulder. In many cases, Dowling says, the older adults who use Stitch are looking for multiple companions, “someone to go to dinner with, someone they can go hiking with, learn a language. That might not always be just one person.” While this might sound on the kinkier side, Stitch is hardly a site for senior swingers: Dowling says that the majority of those who sign up for the site are not interested in casual hookups. “There are apps already out there for that,” says Dowling, citing the website Sugardaddy.com as an example. “We find that our users are looking for a relationship with a higher level of trust.”
There are also a handful of happily married people on Stitch, whose partners may have limited mobility or health issues that prevent them from doing certain activities, but who want to continue to lead an active lifestyle. One of these users, Dowling says, signed onto Stitch to find someone to teach them how to speak French.
That’s not to say, however, that Stitch’s users aren’t interested in sex. In fact, says Dowling, one of the main differences between 20-somethings and older dating site users is that the latter group is often more direct about their expectations when it comes to physical relationships. “It’s really refreshing how open and honest our users are when they register,” he says. “They’re quite happy to talk about what their expectations are in that regard.”
Like Tinder, Stitch users can only message each other if they provide mutual consent, thus differentiating itself from websites like Match.com and OKCupid, where users are often barraged with messages from persistent suitors. While instilling that sense of security is a huge priority for most dating apps and websites, which are often plagued by catfishers and scammers, it’s doubly so for a site like Stitch, as seniors are often more vulnerable to these things.
“We’re trying to create an environment that’s very high-trust, where we verify and protect every user’s identity,” says Dowling. “All those things are maybe not so much of a consideration for young people looking for hookups.”
Of course, because Stitch is targeted at a demographic that’s not exactly known for its technological proficiency, there are some intentional limitations to its growth. For starters, unlike Tinder, Stitch is only available as a desktop website, and it will likely never evolve into a mobile app. “There is that technology gap,” says Dowling. “Most of our users don’t have an iPhone. We have users in their 90s who have never even used a computer before.”
Despite that gap, however, Stitch has attracted widespread interest among older adults in the Bay Area, where Dowling’s startup is currently conducting closed trials. The website has registered more than 1,500 users, most of whom are women, which might come as a surprise to frustrated 20-something males on most dating websites, where the population skews heavily male.
In this respect, and in many others, Stitch runs counter to how most dating apps and websites operate. There’s less of an emphasis on sex and physical appearance, and there aren’t any flashy gamification features, like a points rewards system; there isn’t even in-app messaging. (“We found that our users prefer to speak on the phone,” Dowling explains.) But given how few resources there are in the digital space for those entering their golden years, combined with how rapidly aging our global population is, there’s a real need for something like Stitch.
“There are a lot of aspects of this product that are the opposite of what the norms are in dating: what people are looking for, how they search, what the demographics are,” Dowling says. “It’s a very, very different market, which is why it needs its own product.”
Photo by Francisco Osorio/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)