Dating sites that will find you a British man or a gluten-free mate
- 17 September 2015
- From the section Business
Before she was diagnosed with coeliac disease, Pia Strobel never thought she'd be so scared of breadcrumbs on the counter, so afraid of putting a knife down in the kitchen, or so thrilled to fall in love with someone who felt exactly the same way.
Ms Strobel, 48, was searching for gluten-free restaurants online when she stumbled across the niche dating website that changed her life.
It was on GlutenFreeSingles.com that she met Dale Graff, one of 25,000 members on the site who not only look for love but also share information on health and wellness, recipes and resources for the gluten-free lifestyle.
While Ashley Madison, the niche dating site catering to the seven-year-itch, may have attracted all the recent headlines, there's a growing number of more respectable matchmakers, focused on meeting very specific needs from dietary requirements to a weakness for a British accent.
Bristlr, an online dating site for beard enthusiasts, womenbehindbars.com and mulletpassions.com, are just some of the specialist websites which have sprung up to meet demand.
While the pool of potential clients is much narrower than the more general sites, often people with such specific requirements are willing to pay more for membership and sacrifice the quantity of potential matches for the chance of finding someone more compatible.
'We're in this together'
For Ms Strobel, a hairdresser, using a specialist site was a huge success. Within two years, she had moved from Connecticut to Montana to live with Mr Graff, 46, a land surveyor. The blissful couple say they can't imagine having the kind of relationship they share, had one of them not been gluten-free.
"Food is such an important part of everyday life and complicates things no matter how hard you try," says Ms Strobel. "We love to cook together, and we love to eat out when we're on vacation. That would have been a worry rather than a hobby if we weren't on the same diet.
"We're in this together - it's not a case of one person getting irritated because they can eat anywhere and the other worried about spending the next week on the toilet."
Based in San Diego, California, the site was launched in January 2013 by Marcella Romaya, who is also coeliac, and Sheri Grande. Monthly membership costs $23.99 (£15.60); about 57% of members are female and 43% are male, and it currently covers only the US and the UK.
"On the big traditional sites, I maybe got one date in a year who understood my gluten-free lifestyle," says Ms Romaya, 48.
"You run into so many issues - choosing the restaurant, ordering the right meal…. the embarrassing bad reaction you get if you ingest gluten by accident. You worry that you're coming off as too high maintenance and wonder, are they even going to ask for a second date?
"I remember Sheri said, 'Let's look for a gluten-free guy for you...', we just looked at each other and that's how the site was born."
Quality over quantity
When a mainstream site can't deliver the best qualified matches, a specialist site is the answer, says Trish McDermott, a private dating coach who was on the Match.com start-up team in 1995.
"For a niche site to be successful, it must be about quality over quantity. It's not about competing with the big guys and should go beyond a matching algorithm. It's about people, experience and connection," says Ms McDermott.
Frank Mastronuzzi co-founded OneGoodCrush in July this year out of frustration that larger sites were not catering to the needs of the LGBTQ community, that is those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, a category he describes as people who do not identify themselves along the lines of traditional gender assignment and sexuality.
As the only online dating app for singles of all genders and sexual orientations who are seeking long-term relationships, member profiles include questions such as HIV status and how "out" they are.
Members are validated as real people by signing in through Facebook and Instagram; an incognito feature allows profiles to be visible only to those they choose to communicate with. For $9.95 a month, members get unlimited matching and communication, and ads are excluded from their profiles.
'We are who we are'
Mr Mastronuzzi, 45, says the app dispels the myth that the gay community is only about one night stands.
"I want someone to have dinner with, I want to have kids, I want that nesting factor.
"Now that gay marriage is so prevalent, we want the dialogue to evolve to a stage where there's no closet. We are who we are. We love who we love."
About 4% of OneGoodCrush members are transgender, 52% gay and 44% lesbian; the largest markets are New York, LA, and San Francisco, with growing numbers in the UK. To date, Mr Mastronuzzi has fundraised more than $550,000 and is in the process of raising an additional $10m.
Another niche dating site is DateBritishGuys.com, for American women seeking men in the UK and vice versa.
The site currently has 25,000 members, including 6,000 men and 19,000 women. Controls are tight - men who can't prove their British identity through government-issued documentation, or fail to upload appropriate photos with the dates they were taken, are rejected.
"A lot of the other sites have scammers and fake profiles, or members who don't look at all like their profile photos," says Briton Ben Elman, 35, who launched the site in 2010 with his American wife, Rebecca, 29. "By requiring proof of identity we've increased the quality tenfold."
The couple met in London in 2005 when Rebecca, now a personal chef, was studying abroad as part of her undergraduate programme, and married in December 2008.
Rebecca's friends kept asking how they could meet "more of those British guys" and "we realised there's a business opportunity here," says Ben, whose day job is as a psychology professor.
British men don't pay to join the site; subscription fees for women are $18.99 per month, and they are only charged once they get an email from a man they have added to their hot list.
The company has two other employees and is close to hitting the six figure mark for annual revenues. Over the past three years they've seen growth of between 50 to 70%.
Free membership for men was introduced only at the start of this year, something Ben believes may have stunted their growth so far.
"We're excited to see where this goes," he says.