Housing prices are plummeting. Jobs are evaporating. The economy is a mess.
But singles are wading into the online dating pool in record numbers, giving virtual matchmakers their best traffic figures in years – and giving users even better odds for finding a snuggle buddy, a fling or The One.
In addition to “This Cougar is looking for her prey” and other bootylicious come-ons, lonely hearts are headlining their posts with more somber sentiments, such as “its a gloomy time of year and im not talking about the rain” or “need hot girlfriend, will provide food.”
Whether they charge by the month or accept free posts, online personals are experiencing a major boost, even if their users seem to be scaling back on the cost and quantity of their dates.
Craigslist personals postings and eHarmony.com registrations each saw 20 percent increases in 2008. Match.com memberships were 22 percent higher in December than they were in the same period last year.
Even more interesting, eHarmony and Match.com reported especially high traffic on days when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted.
“We had our third busiest weekend of the year following the five-year low in the stock market,” says Mandy Ginsberg, general manager of Match.com North America.
That was in mid-November, a historically slow time for Internet dating. Not only did the Dow dip below 8,000, but the unemployment rate was climbing and housing prices were dropping.
Those disturbing economic trends aren’t likely to end anytime soon. In fact, they’re likely to continue, bringing twin results: even higher anxiety levels, and impulses to entwine one’s life with that of another.
“Stressful times can have a big effect on people’s desire to be in relationships,” says Gian Gonzaga, an eHarmony research scientist. “When people are feeling stressed about the economy and feeling stressed about their love lives, they’re more likely to want to be in a relationship than when they’re not feeling stressed.”
Gonzaga was part of the eHarmony team that analyzed the results of a new relationship anxiety survey conducted by Opinion Research, in which 92 percent of 1,092 respondents reported feeling stressed about the economy.
How does that manifest in the desire for a long-term relationship? About 19 percent of unmarried men and 25 percent of unmarried women said they wanted one even more.
Jamie Fields is one of those women. The 42-year-old from Santa Monica, Calif., rejoined Match.com the weekend after Thanksgiving, having broken up with the guy she’d been seeing the last few months.
Although Fields had attempted to find men in the real world, the last few times she’d been to wine bars with a girlfriend in the hopes of meeting someone new, she says, “We were like, ‘Where are all the people?’ There aren’t any.”
For a lot of folks, it’s decreased wealth – both real and perceived – that’s keeping them home, inspiring them to spend less money and more quality time with their computers.
Financial worries are making them even more picky. Although Match.com reported a 50 percent increase in profile views from November to December, a recent survey of 1,500 members found that 84 percent were “being more selective about first dates in today’s economy.”
“There’s this underlying anxiety I feel energetically everywhere I go,” Fields says. “Everybody I meet, there’s this tentativeness.”
Wendy Rice, a 33-year-old chef from Hollywood, says she’s experienced an unusually high frequency of daters playing “chicken” with the bill.
“Some guy took me out to dinner at Benihana’s, and he only brought $100. I was like, ‘Hello. You’re taking me out,’ ” she says.
“Another guy took me out and said he forgot his wallet,” Rice says. She didn’t believe him: “You left your house. You picked me up. You put gas in your car. You bought yourself cigarettes.”
Men ages 25 to 44 are feeling the most stressed about the effects of their personal economic situations on their love lives, according to the eHarmony survey.
Psychologist Diana Kirschner speculates it’s because American men derive so much self-worth from their jobs.
“A lot of self-esteem and self-love and the identity of being a powerful person is tied up with work in this culture,” says Kirschner, a New York City relationship expert and author.
“It can really stress people out if they’re out of work or financially challenged or feel like they can’t do their normal courting routine.”
But even though less income often means lower self-esteem, it doesn’t have to be that way, Kirschner says: “When there’s less money available to go on fancier dates, people can have a very simple connection that’s even more fulfilling.”
Doing things like going for a walk means there’s more talking, she says. And where “there’s more talking, there’s more sharing, so there’s intimacy. There’s more closeness. You wind up being more real with each other.
“It’s not about impressing the other person, because you can’t (afford) to impress them.”
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