CHICAGO — David Wheeler is trying to build a business based on honesty, including the fact that his business isn’t exactly booming.

Wheeler, a graduate of St. Charles East High School, launched a dating site in 2014 that encourages users to post both flattering and unflattering photos of themselves and to list their flaws alongside their assets.

“We’re trying to build a community of honesty, so people can be themselves,” Wheeler, 31, told me.

But business is a bit slow.

“To be completely blunt and honest, we’re still at about 5,000 members,” Wheeler said. “In the dating space, that’s still so small. What we’re hearing from a lot of people is they love the concept, but they might log on in the middle of Nebraska and only have 10 members nearby, where Match has a million in every single city.”

A slight exaggeration, but does have 2.4 million paid subscribers in 25 countries, according to its media kit — the most of any dating site.

Still, there’s always room for another dating site, right? A record number of Americans are single after all, and the percentage of those singles using dating websites continues to grow, especially among young people. The number of 18- to 24-year-olds who go online to find dates has tripled since 2013, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Wheeler has tried plenty of them himself. He met his girlfriend on ChristianMingle, in fact.

“I’ve been on Match, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, eHarmony,” he said. “And I met some really good people. I just feel like the honesty in the relationships came out a lot later on those sites. I always wished you were more encouraged to be yourself.”

Wheeler, for example, is balding. He used to post profile photos in which his bald spot was hidden, until it occurred to him that he was contributing to the less-than-honest facade that bothered him about the whole industry.

“I started uploading pictures of myself balding and where I didn’t look the best,” he said. “But I knew my competition wasn’t. Their pictures were all after they just did bicep curls and flexed.”

So he and his business partner, Jacob Thompson, launched Settle For Love, which recently became available as an app for Apple and Android. The site and app are both free.

And the honesty doesn’t end with the photos. Users are encouraged to list their “imperfections” alongside their “perfections” in their profiles.

“I have endless amounts of cons,” Wheeler said. “I drive a Dodge Stratus with duct tape on the bumper. Some girls look at that as horrible, and some look at it as, ‘I like that he’s frugal and spends money on his house and not his car.’”

Which gets at the larger point he’s trying to make: There’s no such thing as perfection, because each of us has different tastes, priorities and predilections. One person’s dream date is another person’s nightmare. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And so on.

So why not put the real you out there from the beginning and see whom you attract?

“Our hope is you end up finding someone who loves you for who you are,” Wheeler said.

Duct tape and all.


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