One wouldn’t easily associate the recession with a boom in the matchmaking industry. But surprisingly, reports from both online and off-line matchmakers show that interest in dating is up. Match.com ended the fourth quarter in 2008 with the strongest revenue they have had in the last 14 years of business. Both membership and traffic were up by more than 15%. The business has continued to gain momentum in the beginning of 2009. About 20,000 new members join the site every day, about 15% more than previous months.
The gloomy economic numbers seem to have a positive effect on the romance industry.
“Right now there is a lot of anxiety in the U.S. and the market place. I think it drives people more to find someone to weather the economic storm with,” says Mindy Ginsberg, senior vice president and general manager at Match.com, one of the major dating websites in the US. “In this recession, people continue to come to the site and communicate at a much higher rate than we expected.” Match.com charges about $15 a month for a six-month package and about $30 for a one-month package. eHarmony.com, a competitor of Match.com, also reported a 40% increase in business in the last quarter of 2008.
Online dating sites aren’t the only ones seeing soaring numbers. Many off-line matchmakers are also experiencing a boom. Kelleher & Associates, one of the biggest matchmakers in the U.S. with offices in most major cities, says they have seen an increase in national membership, although there is a decline in local membership. Samantha’s Table, a matchmaker in New York, has experienced a 20% increase since the summer time.
“My phones are ringing off the hook since the last summer,” says owner Samantha Daniels. Lately she has been receiving a record number of 150 emails a day from people seeking her service.
Compared with online sites, real-life matchmakers charge higher service fees. The cheapest package at Kelleher & Associates starts from $10,000, all the way up to $150,000 for the elite club program, which only accepts ten clients a year. The minimum service from Samantha’s Table also costs as much as $20,000, for which Daniels will work with the client for one year looking for a suitable partner.
It should also be noted that although bigger companies with long history and a good track record have received more clients this recession, companies that are newly established or don’t have an impressive matching record are being pushed out of the market. For example, Bay Area-based matchmakers Table 6 and Altogether disappeared recently due to lack of business. According to Amber Kelleher, owner of Kelleher & Associates, people watch their money more closely in the recessionary times. Because smaller matchmakers are not in the market long enough to establish their track record, people tend to shy away from them.
The reason for the increased interest in dating can be boiled down to the anxiety about their lives, says Gabriela Cora, psychiatrist at American Psychiatric Association.
“People tend to isolate themselves during tough times,” Cora says. “When they fell from a job with a six figure salary to $7 an hour as a pizza deliverer, they are embarrassed when surrounded by people they know. Therefore many would like to meet people outside their social network in order to find the urge to start afresh again.”
Daniels also notes that when people are having tough times in one part of their lives, they want another part of their lives to be more secure. She says many who turned to her for help recently are those who work for the financial institutions. “You would think because the financial community is very tenuous right now, people wouldn’t think of working with a high-end matchmaker like me,” Daniels says, “but somehow during these times I noticed my service has gone from a luxury to a necessity because those people want to be with somebody right now.”
Russ Winer, a marketing professor at New York University, pointed out that the urge to find a relationship is always there. Tough times only accelerate the process.
“In hard times, people who are single or not in a relationship feel more pain.” Winer says, “So this rush to look for someone to be with has more to do with human behavior factors than consumer behavior factors. Same reaction after 9/11.”
Both Kelleher and Daniels witnessed a sharp uptick in their businesses right after the terrorist attacks. A client of Kelleher’s demanded to meet her at 2 p.m. on the same day of the attack, asking her to find him a partner.
“He said to me that everybody goes back home to be with their family. But I don’t even have a girlfriend. I am 42 and working my butt off,” Kelleher recalled. “At those times people forget about the stock market or their new car,” she says.
Daniel adds that being in a relationship makes a person feel better about him or herself. “It takes off huge pressure if someone says to you ‘Honey, it’s OK. Even if you lose your job, we’ll go through this together,’” Daniels says.
“They can’t afford for you to mess things up,” Kelleher says. In a recent Match.com survey, 84% of members said they are being more selective about their first date because they want to make sure they invest their time and money on someone they really have a meaningful connection with.
Still, most of them think it’s cheaper to find a partner online than going to bars to meet girls.
“Think about it. Taking a girl out for dinner and drinks for one night would cost you a lot more than the 30 bucks you pay for month on Match.com,” says Bryan Osborne, who met his girlfriend seven months ago on Match.com. Osborne tried some free sites before, but he noticed people on the subscription sites are generally more sincere because most wouldn’t pay unless they are serious.
“Free sites like Craigslist are a bit racy,” Osborne says. “A 47-year-old pervy man would pretend to be a 26-year-old girl.”
Winer categorized online dating service as “cheap luxuries,” like movie tickets, which take less of a dive than bigger luxuries, such as going on vacation.
The idea of going to matchmakers has become more and more acceptable among people.
“I don’t think it’s a stigma anymore,” Winer says. People between ages 21 and 44 are a generation that trusts the Internet. Some even spend time at work browsing Match.com, Winer noted.
“It’s an era where people do a bit of everything on line. Signing up for the dating sites has become like signing up for any other sites,” says Carol Gilligan, a professor in psychology at NYU. And the ones who tend to go to real-life matchmakers are those in their 40 to 50s who are established and have never been to dating sites (or whose profiles would have a low hit rate). People in this group seem to be more open and relaxed about finding someone through a matchmaker, according to Daniels, who’s been in the business for ten years.
This recession seems to be pushing the ongoing transformation of people’s perception towards matchmaking because priorities change when people encounter financial difficulties. “People all want someone they can ride through the storm with,” says Kelleher. “They can either invest five million in the stock market and hold their breath or invest $40,000 to find their wife.”
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