Online dating services are expert at setting up people who never knew each other before, and some 40 million Americans use them. Lately, a lot of attention has been focused on location-based mobile apps that help people find others to date — sometimes fleetingly — right in their neighborhood or local bar.
But what about dating ideas for couples who are already attached and need to shake up their routines?
Naturally, there are apps for that. Some, like HowAboutWe for Couples and BeCouply, are specifically for people in relationships. Others, like Vimbly or Sosh, aren’t targeted solely at couples, but they are good for finding stuff to do around you.
They can be accessed for free, either through the Web or your smartphone, and they lure you in by promising a better, more exciting dating life. So, instead of watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix again, like some people I know, you could go horseback riding, wine tasting or dancing, all in the same fabulous day, all arranged by a bot.
How did my parents ever survive 40 years of marriage without apps? I have no idea.
Last week, I booked a handful of dates for me and my significant other using these apps, primarily HowAboutWe and Vimbly. We had a brunch date, took a jazz cruise around Manhattan, saw some art and went to the movies. We did all this in six days, like some sort of romantic boot camp.
Now I can’t wait to get back on the couch and watch Netflix.
The apps did have their benefits: They were great for drumming up ideas. Vimbly does a good job of aggregating a wide variety of options in one place. Members of HowAboutWe for Couples get rewards, like one monthly free date — in our case, movie tickets through Fandango.
HowAboutWe for Couples also offers a concierge service, in which a real live human emailed me ideas and planned a multi-stop date for us.
But there was also room for improvement. Neither app was great for booking dates on the fly. With Vimbly, for example, I had a hard time finding a date that was both within my budget and within my time frame. HowAboutWe for Couples roped me into a monthly membership without making it clear how much I would be paying for it.
And these services aren’t available outside of the New York and San Francisco metro areas, though both expect to expand to other cities in the coming months.
I went first to HowAboutWe for Couples first. Targeted at anyone looking to plan a date, HowAboutWe for Couples is a newer service, with a separate website, and requires a membership. It’s not yet available as a mobile app.
HowAboutWe for Couples presents date packages on digital cards with catchy titles, like “NoHo Night Out” and “Love to Laugh.” There’s a standard price per date and a discounted rate for members.
In my experience, I automatically became a member when I purchased my first HowAboutWe date, and even then I had no idea how much I would be charged for that membership. I had to ask a spokeswoman for the company, who told me it was $18 a month. The company said it has since made this more clear on the website.
Initially, a HowAboutWe date called “Clay Time” jumped out at me. It was a pottery class. We could relive Demi and Swayze in “Ghost”! Minus, you know, the whole mugging part.
But the class was $115, even with the member discount, and was still BYOB.
So instead I purchased a brunch for two for $30 at a Spanish restaurant. Tapas! Sangria! Flamenco! All before noon on a Sunday. Somehow, brunch makes it okay to spend $30 on eggs and day-drinking. But with the brunch booking came a pair of free movie tickets, just for being members.
Two days later, I still hadn’t received a code for the free movie tickets we’d been promised. On May 20, three days after I’d first purchased the date, I got an email with the ticket information. (We saw “The Great Gatsby.” He liked it; I hated it.)
I also hadn’t received a response from the HowAboutWe reservations team confirming our Sunday brunch time. Sunday came and went. We ended up using Sosh and Foursquare to find brunch spots in our neighborhood.
At the same time, I set out to book another date, this time through Vimbly. Vimbly is a Web-only app that currently lists about 5,000 activities, limited to New York City. The company plans to expand to other cities soon.
Unlike HowAboutWe’s subscription service, which offers discounted dates, Vimbly isn’t in the business of offering deals. It simply aggregates a bunch of options for you, and acts as a booking platform. Also, while Vimbly has a dates-for-couples filter, the service isn’t aimed entirely at daters.
Vimbly has two modes: Calendar mode and tile mode. Calendar mode, which I used most of the time, lets you search for interesting date ideas based on your schedule.
Some of Vimbly’s most appealing options, like a collection of dates pegged to a Gatsby theme, weren’t available until June or July. But I managed to book a “sunset” jazz cruise around Manhattan for around $50 per person, which included two free drinks. When we showed up to the dock later that evening, it was raining. We rocked around the island and gripped our drinks while a jazz band played onboard. It was all very “Titanic.”
As a service, Vimbly was easy to use, and our date went off without a hitch, but I’d use it more often if I could book more dates immediately, and on mobile.
The same is true of HowAboutWe for Couples. I heard back from HowAboutWe regarding our Spanish brunch a couple of days after I put the request in. It turns out that the service needs two full days to process your date request. Would I like to try to book for a future date, limited to Saturdays or Sundays? Yes, I would. I had already paid $30 for it.
But maybe we’ll book it for next week. I need some couch time.