When Heather McCoy joined Tinder, she wasn't looking for anything serious. She enjoyed mindlessly swiping through the single men in her hometown of Seattle, laughing at how bad some of the profiles were. Then one spring day she landed on Carson Lang's profile while relaxing on a park bench. "It was his million dollar smile that got me to swipe right,” said the 30-year-old sales professional.
The two casually dated for a couple months. But come summer, Carson, 29, had to leave town—his family owns a fish processing company that operates on a ship in Alaska, where he works as a plant manager nine months out of the year. The two weren't sure what would become of their budding relationship. Then Heather discovered she was pregnant.
Suddenly, in something of a modern twist on the plot of Knocked Up, Heather and Carson found themselves bound together by their future child, their relationship hurled into speed drive. “It was a little odd getting to know each other while already being pregnant," Heather said. "Everything is on fast forward in terms of relationship progress."
That was almost two years ago. Heather and Carson, who are still together, are now parents to Archer, a beautiful baby boy. They haven't yet broken the news to their son that he probably wouldn't exist if Mommy and Daddy hadn't gotten bored one day and played with their phones.
Heather and Carson’s story is becoming increasingly common. Despite Tinder’s reputation as a tool for forgettable hookups, the app is leading to lifelong commitments—some in the form of happy couples, yes, but also in the form of babies. While there are no statistics (yet) on pregnancies resulting from connections made on Tinder, given the sheer volume of people using the app, there's probability in numbers: Tinder currently boasts 1.4 billion swipes and 24 million matches every day—that’s a lot of opportunities for sex.
But beyond simply representing the inevitable outcome of millions of romantic encounters, the emergence of Tinder babies may signal a larger shift: Meeting and starting a family with someone you met through your phone is now, simply, a cultural norm. As reporter Kate Hakala wrote on Mic last year after learning about Tinder spawn, "The last vestige of embarrassment or shame over online dating has faded away."
Eric Klinenberg, director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and co-author with Aziz Ansari of the New York Times bestseller Modern Romance, agrees: “Tinder is definitely reducing the stigma once associated with online dating, because people see it as a fun, casual way to find romance—not a last-ditch resource for lonely souls desperate to settle down."
In reporting this piece, I spoke with couples who reported finding the love of their life on Tinder and were thrilled to get pregnant and start a family. Others got pregnant accidentally and sought out abortions or were adjusting to lives as single parents—these matches were less forthcoming with their stories.
Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, confirmed that "the rise in usage of Tinder has been so fast and so recent, that it's hard to find any trending data in terms of how many Tinder babies are being born." But he did share that as many as 5% of U.S. births may now result from couples who met on Match.com, for whom he is an advisor. Match has even established a scholarship fund for #MatchMade kids.
Last May, a digital marketer in Chicago named Rony Sage tried to cash in on the emergence of Tinder babies. "One of my close friends told us that their friend is having a baby with someone they met on Tinder. I was like, 'No f-ing way,'" Sage told DNAinfo Chicago. "From that moment, we imagined the onesie."
Sage and his business partner quickly designed and began selling a baby garment emblazoned with the tagline MY PARENTS SWIPED RIGHT, through a website they launched aptly named Tinderbaby.com. When images of the onesie were shared on Instagram, many responded with comments to the tune of, "I need to get one of these for our kid." (Sage has since been forced to stop selling the onesie after running into trademark issues.)
Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials—is Generation Tinder Baby next?
It might be, if you ask Emily Likins. “I really never expected to find the love of my life on Tinder," said the 25-year-old community organizer living in Missoula, Montana. "I just wanted an easy way to find someone to stave off the loneliness after a bad breakup.” But the online dating gods had different plans for her.
Emily had known Adam Ehlers, 27, a cute food cart owner, for a while—but neither realized the other was interested until mutual swipes on Tinder confirmed the attraction and emboldened them to go out. After a few months of dating, Emily became pregnant, and their son Leo was born in July. While they don't currently have plans to marry, they do hope to give Leo a sibling—hopefully a sister.
Of course, not all Tinder pregnancies are so welcomed. Some Tinder encounters may result in reluctant single parenthood—or abortion. Even Emily told me that “had the pregnancy not been perfect, I would’ve had an abortion.” When I asked her to elaborate, she explained, “If I had found myself 'Oops, pregnant' as an unintended result from a wild and crazy summer of tequila drinking, it would have been a very different story. I would have never chosen to get pregnant with any other partner.”
In many ways, of course, meeting someone on Tinder is no different than meeting someone at a bar or club—including, in some cases, the superficiality of the encounter. While other dating sites involve elaborate compatibility algorithms, Tinder matches are largely based on looks, at least initially. Terri Orbuch, a research professor at University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research who calls herself The Love Doctor®, cautioned—“if you are making a connection based (solely) on physical attraction, it may be very challenging to develop a long-term healthy romantic relationship with the other person if you didn't first discuss your values, your interests, your key life attitudes either online or in-person.”
But pregnancies happen with or without meaningful connections, and Tinder hookups are also leading to relationships, which are leading to a promise of forever. As of April 2014, the app had taken credit for 1,000 engagements, and those numbers have surely risen since.
For Drew Whalley, a 29-year-old carpenter, Tinder upended his perfectly laid plans. Drew was excited to enjoy a summer off before moving from British Columbia to Alberta, Canada for work opportunities. To make the most of his freedom, friends of Drew—whose auburn beard, muscular build, and easy-going nature had attracted plenty of women in the past—suggested he join the dating app as a “surefire way to meet girls to hook up.”
Drew soon came across the Tinder profile of a former Sunday School teacher—a stunning brunette. Jen Higbee, 27, who now works as a registered nurse, also swiped right. After their first date at a cheap steak house, they wound up back at his house. Their one-night stand morphed into five nights in a row—and a short while later, they both uninstalled Tinder, the modern-day signal of exclusive dating.
Three months after that first date, Higbee learned she was pregnant, and Drew decided to stay put in British Columbia. Their son, Jax, was born in June 2015. The couple is engaged to be married this fall.
Where do babies come from in 2016? Sometimes, they come from our thumbs.