On Love

Online love: Founder of CouplesSpark.com develops a 'Marriage Ref' for the Web

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Let's say you and your significant other have some intractable argument you can't resolve. She wants a dog; you're disgusted by pet hair. He thinks four meals a week at his parents' house is perfect; you try to feign appendicitis every time you pull in that driveway. "Roughing it" means a Hilton without a pool to you; he refuses to even bring toilet paper on camping adventures.

Where should a thoroughly modern couple turn for help with these weighty issues? Friends? Counselors? Advice columnists?

So 20th century. Let's let the almighty Internet clear things up.

CouplesSpark.com is a relationship Web site launched this year by 27-year-old Kunmi Ayanbule of Gaithersburg. Ayanbule is a single guy who has a master's degree in bioinformatics, the use of computer science to study genes, and works at the National Institutes of Health. He has regularly used the Web for online dating. After noticing the Internet didn't have much to offer people already in relationships, he set about creating a new site.

Ayanbule's intention was to offer a conflict resolution feature, in addition to resources such as restaurant recommendations and expert advice. When Jerry Seinfeld's reality show "The Marriage Ref" debuted this spring, Ayanbule rushed to launch CouplesSpark.com because both operated on the same concept: A group of strangers can solve that domestic dispute better than the two of you.

Since April, 250 conflicts have been posted on Ayanbule's site for public viewing. In each disagreement, both sides present their case. Visitors then vote on which mate's argument they agree with and offer insights, advice and comments.

One man was furious that his wife was balking at turning their three-car garage into a "perfect man cave." She explained that they had just spent a lot of money and didn't need to go overboard with new projects, such as the purchase of a $7,000 pool table. Almost 85 percent of voters sided with her. "Hang on a sec," wrote a commenter named Natalie. "Where are the cars meant to go?" The couple updated the page with their resolution: A cheaper man cave is in the works.

The debates range from silly to serious. One guy wanted to know if he was at fault for leaving his wife in Mexico after she went to the bathroom and the airplane doors closed before she got on board. (Verdict: You blew it, dude.) A woman hates her boyfriend's bushy beard with blond highlights -- "You read that right," she wrote. "BLOND highlights." But he didn't care: "It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside," he responded. The Internet hive brain aligned with her, but not by much -- 42 percent of voters thought he should keep the beard.

The couples are anonymous, as are the voters, though Ayanbule plans to add a registration form that will allow for the demographic breakdown of voting results, making it possible to see if women tend to side with women and men with men.

Ayanbule thinks the site will spark interesting conversations. "My goal is to get couples talking," he says. "That's what really resolves conflicts."

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