Monday, January 19, 2009

There’s no recession for online dating

Housing prices are plummeting. Jobs are evaporating. And 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 romantic success.

In addition to “this cougar is looking for her prey” and other come-ons, singles are now headlining their posts with more somber come-hithers, such as “it’s a gloomy time of year and I’m 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 registrations have each seen 20 percent increases in 2008. memberships were 22 percent higher in December than they were in the same period last year. Even more interesting, eHarmony and 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 North America.

That was in mid-November, a historically slow time for Internet dating. But ask people who were brave enough to check their 401(k) balances at that time: November was historic for other reasons, too. Not only did the Dow dip below 8,000, but the unemployment rate was climbing, and housing prices were dropping.

“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; 92 percent of 1,092 respondents reported feeling stressed about the economy. How does that manifest in individuals’ desire for long-term relationships? About 19 percent of unmarried men and 25 percent of unmarried women say they want one even more.

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,” she says.

Doing things like going for a walk means there’s more talking. 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,” she says. “It’s not about impressing the other person, because you can’t (afford) to impress them.”

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