My wife was laughing. She was trying out a new app called Peanut, and had made a classic rookie mistake. The app is essentially a Tinder-like service for moms — it helps them connect using algorithms, profiles, and, most importantly, the iconic swiping system that indicates interest in a potential mate.
Allison and I started dating in 2008, a good four years before Tinder came along and revolutionized the hookup. Because she’s pre-Tinder, my wife found the Peanut app’s interface completely foreign. After spending a few hours on it, she realized she had mixed up the meaning of the swipes and had “waved” at dozens of moms she had no interest in meeting. I laughed with her at this moment of tech ineptitude — the first of many in our lives, no doubt — but deep down, I also felt something else: jealousy.
A quick confession: I’m a friendship snob. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the same group of awesome, supportive, funny, empathetic friends since high school. We make a point of seeing each other at least once a year — either at the holidays, at a wedding (when applicable), or on a sort of gentleman’s vacation to a city of our choosing. With the exception of my marriage, these are the sturdiest relationships of my life.
The downside is that I struggle to make new friends. Ordinarily, this would not be a major problem. I shared a city, Brooklyn, with one of those high school friends, and had made many more over the 13 years I lived there. But then, last summer, my wife and I moved from Brooklyn to Austin, Texas. We had our reasons. For her, it was a chance to be near family. For Rose, our then-2-year-old daughter, it was a chance to live somewhere with verdant greens and a slightly more accessible education system. For me, it was a chance to … not live halfway across the country from my wife and child. We also knew where the trend-line was going. We hoped to add to our family and knew that the four of us would require more space than we could likely afford.
And so we moved last July. By August, our family-growing mission was accomplished, or at least successfully launched. But the rest of the year was a struggle, with few occasions for friendship forging. There were new jobs (mine, then hers, then not-mine). There was the move itself, then finding a new house, then moving into that house. There was finding childcare for our daughter, only to pull her out of that school and starting the search all over again. Before and especially after the baby was born, I barely had the energy to make it through a full day of work, let alone spend time auditioning potential friends.
The struggle deepened because, as a father in my mid-30s, I’m also out of practice making friends. As noted philosopher Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, this is the time in your life when you’ve already looked at the applications, you’ve already held the interviews, and you’re just not hiring new friends right now.
Still, I tried. I struck up conversations at playgrounds with my fellow fathers. I made dad-on-dad chitchat when picking up and dropping off my daughter at school. I sought familiar faces on the children’s birthday party circuit. And yet, like a bachelor navigating the singles scene, I struggled to find Mr. Right, only Mr. Right Now Before My Kid Starts Crying, Screaming or Soiling Herself. Most of my conversations were of the “Gee-I’m-sorry-I-should-know-this-but-remind-me-what-is-your-name-again” variety. I struck out.
Work offered little opportunity. My employer was small — I was employee number 11 — and most of the team was either older with kids in high school or even college or younger and childless. And let’s be honest: When choosing how to spend those precious few hours away from your family, the least attractive option is spending more time with the people you already see for 40 or more hours a week.
Finally, I turned to the Internet, scouring meetup.com and Facebook for like-minded groups. This is when I realized my primary hobbies — running, reading, listening to music, watching baseball — aren’t exactly social. Turns out there isn’t a meetup group for “Watching the Twins game while listening to the new Jason Isbell record and drinking a Karbach.”
So when my wife told me about Peanut, I was intrigued. It seemed so obvious: a meet-up app for busy parents who share common interests. Except it wasn’t a meet-up app for parents. It was, in the app’s preferred nomenclature, for mamas. So I searched online for “Peanut for Dads.” Peanuts. “Tinder for Dads”? Um, not what I was looking for. I reached out to Peanut and asked if they had something for fathers in the works (or perhaps had considered it, and shelved it for some reason). No dice. “Never say never,” wrote a company rep. “Right now, our focus is on bringing mamas together, but the opportunities are endless and we’re definitely considering other options down the line. Stay tuned!” Consider me tuned.
Which is a shame. Dads, dare I say it, struggle to connect in a way that moms just don’t. Maybe it’s the intensity of motherhood, the sheer femininity of it. Literally no one but a mom can truly understand breastfeeding, to name just one example. Moms are, happily, encouraged to share their struggles and vulnerabilities in a way that dads just aren’t, and we build our support systems accordingly. This is an imperfect metric, but Googling “Moms night out” in Austin gives you nearly 100,000 results; searching for dads gives you just 3,850. My wife can go to a playground for an hour and come back with a handful of phone numbers and tentative playdates or meet-up plans. I’m lucky if I get a fellow dad’s first name.
What I really want is a way to connect with someone who shares some common interests, without all the awkward misfires and come-ons. “I see you’re wearing a Royals hat. They’re playing my Twins this weekend. Did you see the game last night? Oh, you don’t really follow the team…” I don’t want to meet up with just anybody, either—I want to meet up with dads. Someone who understands why I don’t want to go to a concert that starts at 10 pm, or why I might need to step outside the bar to text with my wife about how the kids are doing.
Don’t get me wrong—Peanut isn’t perfect. My wife quickly experienced the same thing a bachelor would with Tinder: from let-downs and no-shows to one-playdate-stands. But she’s also experienced the upside. She’s met up in groups (that happens sometimes on Tinder… right?), she’s met one-on-one. It’s been a relief during a three-month maternity leave where her mostly young and childless colleagues haven’t stopped by, and her admittedly busy family hasn’t been over as often as we might have hoped. Even when it hasn’t panned out, Peanut offers a glimmer of hope, a reminder that there are other moms out there feeling the same isolation and loneliness that comes with parenthood.
It’s long past time dads have that same kind of hope.