Sunday, July 3, 2011

MAD love

(c) Time Out Amsterdam, July 2011

Four years ago, Mariette Fehmers canceled a romantic getaway with her then-boyfriend so she could take her daughter to meet Sinterklaas – and the response wasn’t exactly what she expected. ‘He flipped, and I realised we were talking about my daughter like she was a problem,’ Fehmers says. ‘My daughter is not my “problem.” She’s my asset. She’s my light. She’s everything.’

It was then that native Amsterdammer Fehmers, now 44, decided she would only date men who had children. ‘I was fed up apologising when I couldn’t do something because I had my daughter,’ Fehmers recalls. ‘Of course I have my daughter – she’s my daughter. That is something a father understands.’

Fehmers isn’t bitter. She radiates optimism and her energy is infectious. I’m betting the slender blonde former ‘Hart Van Nederland’ TV presenter attracts plenty of male attention. Instead of being discouraged by a few men who couldn’t handle the fact that she was a parent, she was inspired by it: two years ago she quit her job at a PR firm and started her own business: a dating website for single parents.

The site, MAD Company (, was launched in January 2010 and now has more than 2,500 members in the Netherlands, the vast majority in the Randstad. MAD stands for ‘moms and dads’, Fehmers explains, ‘But it’s also tongue-in-cheek – you can feel mad when you divorce, but you can also fall madly in love again.’

As with other dating sites, members create profiles, search for other members based on various criteria (age, sexual preference, etc) and send messages to anyone who strikes their fancy (and the site is monitored for inappropriate conduct). But unlike other dating sites, everyone knows upfront if there are children involved, so there’s no game-playing around the subject.

The gratis membership option – versus the €6 a month paying version – limits the number of messages members can send or photos they can post, but generously allows access to the site’s many resources, including blogs, a relationship column, dating tips, alimony advice and suggestions on ways to help children deal with their parent’s divorce.

‘It’s not just about dating,’ Fehmers says, ‘it’s about forming relationships. It’s a community.’ Members plan ‘offline’ events that are open to everyone on MAD Company and that range from morning picnics to late-night dance parties. These events were the main draw for member Maui Maurer, 48. a former Hell’s Angel who recently won full custody of his two children, a daughter, 4, and a son, 10.

‘I didn’t really join for dating,’ he told me. ‘My children are my priority. It took seven lawyers to get them back. I thought with the activities – going to the park, the beach – I could do more things with them, and with others who understand my situation.’

Mirka Van Beest, 40, joined MAD Company after meeting members on a sailing trip, even though she doesn’t have kids. Anyone open to dating a single parent can participate. ‘I don’t have children, it’s just not how my life went,’ she explains, ‘and sometimes I feel I missed out. But it’s nice to have kids in your life.’

Although friendship is what most members say they’re seeking, Cupid has definitely struck for some. There are many success stories, and a new one is shared every week on the main page of the site. ‘There is couple that met on the site and are now expecting a child, Fehmers says, ‘the first MAD baby!’

Fehmers hasn’t met her own true love through the venture (it’s her personal policy not to date site members, to avoid mixing business with pleasure), but she remains open to a new relationship, and encouraging others to stay positive about the search. ‘I tell people: this site is about looking ahead,’ she says. ‘Don’t only look to where the sun went down or you’ll never see the sun come up.’

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