Meg Gerritson, 31, remembers the moment she felt like a mom stalker.
Gerritson, of Hull, Mass., was filling her car's gas tank at a station down the street from her house. She noticed a young mom walking into the store, pulling her son in a wagon behind her. The woman looked laid-back and fun. Her son held a surfboard. Gerritson, who lives in a beach town, loves to surf and had a young son about the same age.
"Who is that?" she thought to herself. "I've never seen her before." She was at the stage in early parenthood that can feel so isolating.
"I thought to myself in the car, 'Do I follow her?'" Her immediate next thought: "That's so creepy! I'm not a stalker!"
That's also when it clicked.
There had to be an easier way to make friends with other like-minded mothers.
As it turns out, two other moms -- Christa Terry and Julia High -- had the same idea. Why couldn't they do for moms what eHarmony and Match had done for singles?
They found each other while doing research on this business idea. Beyond sharing an entrepreneurial spirit, they had each had their own challenges finding the right playgroup.
Gerritson's son Jack, now 2, has severe nut and egg allergies. She quickly figured out how this would affect social relationships when she signed up for a local moms' group outing. She had asked the organizer if Jack's food allergy would be a problem, and was assured the playdate would be safe for him.
There were at least a dozen 1-year-olds at the event, and one boy was eating peanut butter crackers. Gerritson, whose son is sensitive to even being touched by someone who has eaten peanuts, approached the boy's mother and said, "I hate to say this, but would you mind putting those away?"
The woman looked at her and said, "Oh, it's okay. Your son doesn't have to eat them."
At that point, Gerritson felt uncomfortable enough that she simply left the event early.
"I was trying to make friends, not enemies," she said.
One of her business partners, Terry, 34, of Beverly, Mass., had two premature children and found it difficult to find other moms who could relate to her concerns about taking them out when they were babies.
And across the country, High, 35, of Kirkland, Wash., had just relocated from the East Coast and didn't know anyone. She remembers being in a park shortly after moving and watching her 2-year-old play with a little boy about the same age.
"I was chatting up the boy's mom. We were getting on so well, so I asked for contact information. It turned out -- of course -- that they were from Canada, and had just stopped at this park to take a break from their road trip."
Gerritson, Terry and High have launched Mom Meet Mom, a national website for mothers seeking friends that takes into account location and personality. The site promises to eliminate the awkward and accentuate the connection.
Women can register their personal information for free, along with answering a short survey about the type of parent they are and the type of friends they are seeking. Even details like allergies, or other health considerations, can be factored in. The site uses geomapping and social mapping to generate the best matches.
It launched in Boston last Mother's Day and rolled out nationally by the end of July. The founders have at least 10,000 registered users in the U.S. and plan to expand internationally in a few weeks, with their eyes on Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Now, research (and common sense) suggests that attracting and keeping meaningful friendships is not a problem unique to mothers. The State of Friendship in America Report, published by LifeBoat, which describes itself as a movement of people rediscovering friendship, claims most Americans are in a friendship slump and that the country faces a friendship crisis. The 2013 report says only a quarter of adults in its survey reported being truly satisfied with their friendships. They singled out Gen Xers as the most in need of true friends.
Incidentally, that generation is now at an age when many people are in the throes of caring for young children.
And so, the playground is the new singles bar.
"It's a shot in the dark," Gerritson said. You may be a vegan who ends up investing a lot of time in a conversation with a woman who can't imagine a meal without meat.
Their site is designed for mothers, even expectant ones, with children of any age.
She touted a success story: One of her friends met a match through the site who only lives a mile down the road from her and has a daughter the same age. The two turned out to be so compatible that they've gone into business together.
Some friendships just click.