Laid-Off and Looking for Love

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in this recession, but that doesn't mean they have lost their hearts.

As the economy has worsened over the past few months, apparently more people are looking for love -- or maybe just that someone special who can console them.

The Dow might have lost 44 percent of its value, but membership on dating site grew 17 percent more in December than over the same period last year. And they're not alone.

"In general, online dating services, since the economy has gotten really bad, have grown anywhere from 10 to 50 percent," said Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine. "People are spending more time at home and, as a result, they kind of get bored and lonely. So they tend to go online and use social networking and online dating services more."

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Tracy said that people don't like to face negative situations alone and therefore feel a much stronger need to have someone close to them when things aren't going well.

"Economic downturns typically cause people to reprioritize our goals and as a result, relationships generally move up on that list," Tracy said.

Christine B. Whelan, an assistant professor of sociology at The University of Iowa and the author of Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love, said that hard times certainly lead people to look for love.

"Many people who have defined themselves by their job are feeling particularly hard-hit by this economic downturn," Whelan said. "They're not just losing their job, they might be losing their sense of identity and their dating currency."

Some people are also looking for mates for financial security. This generation of men have grown up around successful women and don't have any problem with the idea that women can earn a good salary.

"In a tough economy, getting into a relationship with a woman who wants to continue working, it can take some of the burden off the guy," Whelan said. "We're always looking for that special someone but you can also look for support from someone else when times are tough."

Tracy said that he is shocked at the growth of online dating "because online dating services charge such a high amount money, some up to $50 a month."

"That, it seems, would contribute to someone's economic problems," he said. "But because they're doing less things -- driving less, going to less dinners and movies -- they kind of have a little bit of money to invest in a potential relationship because there's such a strong need to have someone to share this time with."

For women, he added, the online dating fees might quickly be made up for with free meals.

"If most men are the gentlemanly type who offer to pay for dinner on a date," he said, "then this is a great time for women to use online dating services." CEO, Thomas Enraght-Moony, said his company's business has really picked up as the recession grew.

"We really wrapped up a terrific year," he said

Match customers, Enraght-Moony said, tell the company that they are "more choosy" about who they date.

"Given limited budgets, that makes sense," he said. "For less than a dollar a day, people can connect with somebody great."

Enraght-Moony added that Americans no longer need to be driving that big SUV but that love is a basic need.

"The human need to be with someone is so fundamental that I think that's true no matter what the economy is doing," he said. "Having said that, this is a time when people are getting back to basics. They are focusing on what's important."

Like any other expense, some people are finding ways to save a few bucks. That includes free dating sites, such as We Just Click.

Jeff Strank, the founder and CEO of a free dating service on Facebook, said he has had a strong response so far.

"A desire to find love and companionship is recession-proof, but the ability to pay for services that let you do that isn't," Strank said. "They still want to find love but can't necessarily pay $49 a month for it."

But not everybody is signing up just because of the bad times.

Les, a 27-year-old who has been online dating for about a week, said she doesn't think she'd weather the recession any better with a significant other.

"I'm not the type of girl who relies on a guy to pay for things, so it wouldn't help me out financially. And honestly, I was just telling someone the other day: New love is expensive," Les said. "When you first get together, you want to do all the fun things your city has to offer: try new restaurants, snuggle during movies, make out at dive bars."

While she is trying out online dating, Les said, "When I do meet someone special, I'm definitely going to have to be careful not to let my urge to experience that get so out of control that my budget suffers."

Doree Lewak, a New York-based relationship expert and author of "The Panic Years," has also seen the economy hurt the dating world, particularly singles parties.

"Charity events and galas that in the past drew huge numbers of singles to the sell-out functions are now forced to reduce their rates and offer unheard-of promotions, such as getting a steep discount by bringing a friend," Lewak said. "The slew of singles parties and events has become too prohibitive for people and so they're taking a sort of de facto break from actively dating."

She said that while some women might lament their single status, many are saying that this is not the right time to strike if you're looking for long-term love.

"Their fear is that they might meet the right person, but at the wrong time," Lewak said. "They say that it's risky to meet a down-on-his-luck man who might not feel the self-confidence or have the self-worth to put himself out there in the dating scene."