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“It’s an upsetting, depressing, scary time, and to have someone to relate to and to vent with would be nice,” said Ms. Berry, who works for a children’s clothing company in New York and notes that the cost of meeting people the old-fashioned way — by going out a lot — is an expense she can no longer afford. “The money I do have, I want to save in case I get laid off,” she said.
Speeddate.com was averaging about 80,000 virtual encounters a day in October; today traffic is up 60 percent, with an average of 130,000 daily encounters, said a founder, Dan Abelon.
The $34.99-a-month fee to join Match.com’s for-profit site is apparently not deterring new members: the site’s North American membership grew 17 percent in December. Nor has a $50-a-month fee scared away people from Perfectmatch.com, which had a 30 percent increase in January.
Of course, online dating has had a following ever since dating sites popped up around 1994, said Mark Brooks, editor of Online Personals Watch, an industry news blog. A few years later came sites like Friendfinder.com, Match.com and Matchmaker.com. Niche sites — that is, those catering to people with specific interests (say, Christian singles) soon proliferated; some promised more “scientific” results by bringing in relationship experts like the anthropologist Helen Fisher at Chemistry.com.
During the last economic downturn, in 2001, Duane Dahl, the chief executive of Perfectmatch.com, noted that there was a spike in interest similar to what the industry is seeing now. For instance, he said, the strong third and fourth quarter results his company saw in 2008 were consistent with 2001 numbers. Mr. Brooks said the industry then started leveling off in February 2005. David Evans, an online dating consultant, noted that about 30 million people will log on this year to one of the estimated 1,500 online dating services nationwide.
These days the sites seem to be attracting a more frugal crowd.
“During recessions people stay at home more, they don’t want to pay and go to bars. They’re going online to meet each other,” said Markus Frind, the chief executive of Plentyoffish, a free site, where visits have increased 77 percent from December 2007 to December 2008, and 32 percent over the last three months.
“Typically, we always see an increase in traffic in the beginning of a new year — part of a New Year’s resolution,” said Matt Tatham, a media analyst at Hitwise, an online measurement company. “People are looking for some change in their life. This year is different than in years past. Because of the economy there are a lot of people who are out of work and have free time and can spend more time online going to dating sites.”
In the universe of online dating, the selection criteria for potential partners are showing initial signs of shifting as a result of the recession. While “marriage” and “children” were always popular key words, Mr. Frind said, during this period last year Plentyoffish.com users mentioned the word “job” in their profiles 5.5 percent of the time. This year, that number has risen to 7.7 percent.
On Blackpeoplemeet.com, a site for black singles, the percentage of people listing “job” as a criterion when asked ‘What are you looking for in a partner?’ increased 18 percent from January 2008 to January 2009. (Other profiles are more direct: “Looking for a date for dinner, Dutch treat,” read one Match.com headline).
MEANWHILE, offline romance specialists say they are also seeing a spike in business. Mary Jo Fay, who operates a seminar for 30- to 50-year-old singles in Denver, said her business has quadrupled over the last few months. In November, 12 people paid $10 for the two-hour event; this month, she has 60 people lined up, with a waiting list of 25.
On Saturday, about 500 people attended the Rocky Mountain Singles Summit, a singles event in Denver, up from 400 a year ago. From October through December 2008, new membership at The Right One/Together Dating, a dating service with 60 locations across the country, increased about 18 percent compared with the same period the previous year. The price of membership starts at $1,000, said the company’s chief executive, Paul A. Falzone.
“People are putting down deposits rather than paying in full, which is fine,” Mr. Falzone said.
Indeed, many singles are guarding their wallets, but that doesn’t mean they are staying home.
“Dinner and a movie has turned into the early-bird special at Denny’s and a DVD from the library,” said Tony Dudek, 55, a single technology entrepreneur in Denver. “Everyone is so emotionally and financially constrained that it’s made it a lot more difficult.”
One single, Kevin A. Pemberton, a vice president with a money management company in New York, thinks the current economic climate is forcing men to re-evaluate what they want in a partner. He said he has noticed “humility” as far as dating goes, a “return to substance.”
If the recession results in a desire for a relationship that is not based on one’s personal finances, then it may actually be a boon for love, said Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman, a psychologist in New York and author of “Dating From the Inside Out” (Atria Books, 2008). “There’s so many aspects of a person,” she said. “It’s kind of sick that we only focus on jobs or money.”
That’s a view that Annie Edgerton, an actress in Manhattan, shares. She is currently taking her time to get to know prospective partners through e-mail and Facebook messages.
“This whole thing has actually taken a lot of the pressure off to impress with money,” she said. “Now you can get to know a person for who they are, rather than what they do, because they might not do it anymore.”Continue reading the main story