After all, Catholics and Jews have them. Even Ivy League graduates have them. And now, deaf people have them.
But the recent explosion of online dating — about 17 million people at least peeked at a dating site last year, according to estimates — has created a cottage industry of smaller sites hoping to draft off the success of market monster Match.
Two small but growing sites devoted to dating for the deaf, both founded by children of deaf parents, now offer non-hearing singles their own place on the Internet to find love.
He was thinking about his divorced father. Why not have there be a place where I know that every person in here is at least deaf, hard-of-hearing, or can hear but has a vested interest in the deaf community.
Already, he said, three couples credit DeafMatchInternational with their weddings. And every day, Haines said, he gets e-mail from happy users who have made new connections thanks to his site. Online dating is a natural fit for the deaf, he said. The number of people fluent in American Sign Language is much smaller, however, fewer than 1 million people nationwide, according to Robert Pollard, director of the Deaf Wellness Center at the University of Rochester.
Haines said members of his site include the completely deaf, aging singles who are losing their hearing — even sign language interpreters who can hear but are looking for relationships with people immersed in deaf culture. Perhaps of his users can hear, he said. But deaf-hearing relationships are apparently the exception rather than the rule, according to anecdotal evidence.
Demographic statistics on the deaf community are hard to come by; the deaf cannot easily respond to random telephone polls and they are not identified in census data. Jamie Berke, who runs the About. She likes the niche sites, citing the difficulty for single deaf people to find each other. She said her site does all it can to be inclusive. While there is no selection criteria where users can identify themselves as deaf, members can mention a desire for deaf partners in their personal description.
McDermott said she had no way to know how many personals had been placed by deaf people on Match. Still, McDermott said, there is certainly a place for the niche sites. And the need to connect goes beyond shared experiences, said Pollard, of the University of Rochester. Those who communicate with American Sign Language are quite literally using a different language, one that is as distinct from English as French.
And with that distinct language comes a distinct culture. So, just as members of any non-English speaking minority group are drawn together, so are deaf people. The language barrier is even more of a challenge for the deaf than for members of other language minorities, who usually share their language with family members, and often live in neighborhoods where others speak their language.
In contrast, nearly 95 percent of all deaf children are born to hearing parents; generally, it takes effort for sign language people to find each other. This quest to find other American Sign Language speakers makes deaf culture tight-knit, giving it a sense of community that is likely deeper than other disability groups, Pollard said. It also makes the group particularly well-suited for its own dating Web sites. Pollard noted a limitation in DeafDate. Still, Burke, for one, likes the idea of deaf dating sites precisely because of the focus on text.
Many deaf people are as familiar with typing as talking, she said.