Sharing the pain
People are flocking to dating services amid the recession
At least once a year, Jean Mozolic used to take herself on vacation, traveling alone to places like Peru and India. Divorced from her husband of 16 years since 1991, Mozolic had gotten used to spending time on her own. But recently, to save money and focus on working, she's had to stop her trips completely.
Even so, Mozolic recently signed up on the dating site Chemistry.com, which costs her $49.95 a month.
"I've been on my own for a long, long time. And trust me, I truly enjoyed it. I really did," said Mozolic, who lives in Wrentham and runs a technical consulting business. "I've just gotten to a point where I want to share some new experiences with somebody. I'm at a point where I want somebody in my life." Mozolic said she would rather spend the money to find someone to travel with than save it and continue to travel alone. And at 56, she admitted she doesn't know how else to meet someone.
Millions of singles are suddenly jumping on the online dating bandwagon, despite the fact they may not be able to afford to go on as many actual dates these days - or expensive ones, anyway. Online matchmaking services - even those requiring fees to join - have seen an unprecedented increase in memberships in the past three months.
Some of the increase is due to the annual rituals of making New Year's resolutions and thinking about Valentine's Day, but experts are attributing most of the rise to the recession itself. People seek companionship during times of crisis, and stress is more bearable when there's a special someone in your life. Some people may even be thinking that it's easier to pay the bills when there are two people footing them.
Match.com, which now boasts 15 million members, recently had the best fourth-quarter earnings in its 14-year history, said Mandy Ginsberg, senior vice president. In December alone, member registration jumped 22 percent, which she described as an unusually large increase. Match isn't the only love company thriving: In November, eHarmony saw a 20 percent increase in users, the biggest spike in its history.
Ginsberg attributes the gains to multiple factors, including new features on Match.com, such as a news feed modeled after Facebook and the "Daily 5," which offers users five new matches a day, as well as a newfound comfort in looking for love online. But her main theory has to do with how people behave in a lousy economy.
"People are anxious. They're not going out as much. They're not spending as much money out on bars [and] restaurants," she said. "So they want someone to find to kind of help them weather the storm."
Joe Tracy, founder of Online Dating Magazine, said people are often too busy with work to think about relationships. But with unemployment rates at the highest they've been in 17 years, people suddenly have a lot of time to ponder their singlehood and what to do about it.
"Economic downturns usually call people to reprioritize their goals in life, and relationships usually move up on that list," he said. "That need for someone tends to go higher when things aren't going as well." January is typically the best month for online dating services, he said, but this year the bump in membership started around October - months before the New Year's and Valentine's Day rushes could kick in.
Though they might worry about losing their jobs, people still splurge on their personal happiness and well-being in times of financial crisis, said Dr. James Houran, a psychologist who developed programs assessing long-term compatibility for the dating site True.com. Houran said looking for love online can relieve stress, making the cost seem worthwhile.
"While online dating certainly isn't a form of entertainment or escapism, [users] see it as a crucial part of life, a critical component that they're not willing to let go," said Houran, who writes a column for Online Dating Magazine.
Rachel Miller, a 22-year-old Belmont resident, had to move in with her aunt and uncle after being laid off. Now she works as a nanny for their three children, and also part-time at
"I've really had to scale back on a lot of things. I don't drive that much, I don't go out that much, of course I work at home," she said. "I just don't get out of the house much, and my social life is almost completely dead." In the hopes of making some connections, Miller joined Chemistry.com, which claims more than 5 million members. "It was at the point where I scaled back enough that I had a little bit of money to work with," Miller said.
Despite the sense of security that paid sites can bring - as many users assume the fee will weed out less serious users - some people prefer to save money by signing up on free sites, like Match.com's new project, Downtoearth.com, Canadian-based PlentyofFish.com, or OkCupid.com.
Linus Minsk, 46, of Waltham joined OkCupid recently. He said he was unsuccessful in getting a date through Match and eHarmony, and has since become unemployed. "In the past when I have spent money to join, there's no guarantee you're going to meet anybody," he said. "And I didn't meet anybody."
After a crisis such as the loss of a job, people tend to search for a significant other, said April Braswell, a personal dating coach. In the six months or so following 9/11, she said, marriage rates spiked significantly.
Yet Braswell doesn't think this rush to the Internet in the hopes of getting matched is entirely healthy, as people are looking to fill a gap in their life that has nothing to do with love. "In terms of dating and wanting to be coupled up, we're thinking that will reassure us about everything that just got really unstable because of the economic crisis," she said. "And in a way it can't, because it does not affect our 401(k), it does not affect our IRA."
Nevertheless, Jean Mozolic said she will continue to look for a travel buddy on paid dating sites, simply because it's the best option she's found yet.
"I wasn't meeting anybody the way I was doing it," she said, "which was sitting at home, waiting for my knight in shining armor to knock on my door."