Tom, a 36-year-old in tech, didn’t think of being an uncle as an attractive quality when he originally matched with his now fiancée on Bumble, which was probably why it worked. Like anyone dating in our times, he simply posted the most decent picture of himself he could find. “I had this one picture of my nephew staring at me drinking a beer, and I thought it was hilarious,” he tells me. “I put it as my main photo because I liked it so much.”
The thing is, it wasn’t just his fiancée. Almost immediately, he started getting all kinds of matches (the quality of his dates went up, too). Even after losing a significant amount of weight, he concedes the better wingman was still a toddler. “I’d lost like 80 pounds, but putting my nephew in made much more of a difference,” he says.
To that end, while the DILF is well-established, there’s a significant subspecies that, until recently, has been pretty much overlooked — the hunkle, or hot uncle.
The hunkle probably had its first cultural moment in the early 1990s with Uncle Jesse on Full House. He wore leather jackets, played in a band, looked like John Stamos and still managed to nurture his three nieces and a lot of formative crushes. But after American Pie debuted in 1999, he was completely eclipsed by Stifler’s mom, the rest of her MILF ilk, and eventually, their male equivalent (the aforementioned DILF).
Thirsty moms and dads reigned supreme for most of the next 15 years until Tinder launched in 2012 and gave hunkles the platform they never knew they needed. At the same time, the girls who grew up swooning over Uncle Jesse were now women looking for love on dating apps. Essentially, it was the perfect confluence.
For his part, Tom mostly credits the algorithm — not that it favors profile pics with children in them, but that the cute picture increased the percentage of women swiping right on him, theoretically boosting his profile and allowing him to cast a wider net. “The more you match, the more forward they put your profile,” he says. “So it becomes a chicken-and-egg type thing. Am I getting more matches because my profile is being presented more, or am I being presented more because I’m matching more?” (He guesses that it’s probably a bit of both.)
Simple biology might help with hunkle appeal as well. Women can tell by looking at males faces if they like children or not, and research shows that they’re drawn to long-term partners who are. However, if a single guy comes in too hot about how much he loves kids, that can be weird. Being an uncle then provides appropriate context to bridge this gap. “That’s quite attractive because in addition to having a good relationship with the kids, it shows that he respects his siblings,” therapist and relationship expert Jaime Bronstein explains. “She can see that he has the ability to be playful, kind, sensitive and nurturing, and those are all wonderful qualities that a woman would want in a man regardless of if she wants to have children or not.”
Kristain, a 44-year-old photographer, admits he will flirt with women by name-checking his niece, mostly to try to resuscitate conversations that aren’t going well. He brings up funny things his niece said, or how she called him that day, even if it was several days ago. “Now that I think about it, it usually never works as a fumble recovery,” he laughs.
Tom, however, has found the opposite: “It’s like saying, ‘I’m cool. People let me hold their babies.’ Talking about a nephew or niece is so safe. There’s no way it’s going to go into some offensive or contentious space. It’s warm and a good conversation starter on a date.”
Maybe that’s why Kristain hasn’t stopped trying, though he does draw the line at using pictures of his niece on dating apps. “My sister wouldn’t mind if I had pictures with [my niece] on dating apps, but I think it’s weird and a little exploitative,” he tells me. He makes an exception, however, for social media. “I’m not going to lie,” he continues, “I picture ex-girlfriends melting when I post pictures of my niece on Instagram.”
Tom’s fiancée — Rita, a 34-year-old real estate agent — didn’t think his picture with his nephew was exploitative, but she understands it was a dating strategy — one she happily fell for. “Being a good uncle and someone who likes kids made him more appealing, not because I’m dying to have kids, but because he wasn’t shy about showing how close he is with family,” she explains. “I’d definitely recommend single women give hunkles a chance.”
As for Tom, his only advice for aspiring hunkles is that the genuineness of their approach meet its lack of subtlety. Or as he puts it, “I can’t imagine it being a great topic if it’s something that isn’t important to you.”