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Kai Ryssdal: Dating can be awkward. It can be painful. It can be, in its worst incarnations, humiliating. But it is almost always gonna cost you money. New outfits. Dinner and drinks. A movie or a show. With people cutting back you'd think the dating industry would be hurting. But it's not. Because it turns out that when the Dow drops, singles search even harder for mates. Sally Herships went on the prowl to find out why a bad economy can mean good news for the business of love.
SALLY HERSHIPS: Can you put a price on love? Janis Spindel can. She's a matchmaker in Manhattan. And she is not cheap.
JANIS SPINDEL: My basic fees to retain me, to even just get me to talk to you or work for you, is $25,000 up front.
And depending on the client her rates can zip right up to $250,000. But even in the midst of recession, Spindel says she is busy.
SPINDEL: Busier then I could possibly deal with.
Her calendar is booked three weeks in advance. But it's not just millionaires' matchmakers who are busy right now. Match.com, the online dating service, had over 20 percent more members this December than last. And digital cupid E-Harmony did a study that shows when the stock market dips, traffic to their site increases. Mark Brooks is a consultant to the online dating industry.
MARK BROOKS: Now we have a recession, we're seeing double-digit growth in many of the leading companies.
I asked him if the numbers would be even higher if the economy was doing well?
BROOKS: I think they'd be flat. I don't think it would be growing at the same sort of level right now.
So the recession is actually good for the industry.
BROOKS: Yes, it's unfortunate. It's good for the Internet dating industry, but it's not like we're clapping our hands and partying it up.
Maybe they should. How is it this one particular industry is doing so well? Why aren't people cutting back?
MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: When people are going through tough times they look to be with people who care about them, who will understand their concerns.
That's psychologist Dr. Michael Cunningham. He's been studying relationships for decades. One of the important things he says, people get when they connect, is support. Which can feel awfully good if you're doing something that challenges your confidence -- like job hunting.
CUNNINGHAM: Looking for a job is an unequal status relationship. They have the money, the position that you want, you're begging.
But when you go out on a date...
CUNNINGHAM: There are two people who may have exactly the same status and exactly the same needs and exactly the same interests.
Meet in the middle, and you can cheer each other up. And that's why Boston resident Rachel Levy continues to spend money on socializing. The 37-year-old was laid off in July. She's looking for a new job in marketing and a boyfriend. One of her friends suggested a two-for-one.
RACHEL LEVY: And I said, "What do you mean by that?" And she said, "Well if you meet somebody who's going to offer you a job and a date would you take it? And I said "absolutely!" That's more bang for my buck.
How much does each date end up costing you?
LEVY: Oh! Probably $100, I would guess.
Wow. Levy just spent $700 on a matchmaking service called Lunch Dates, which doesn't include lunch by the way. She says she knows all this dating is expensive, but she doesn't consider it to be "discretionary". After all, she wants to have a family and kids, regardless of the economy. And that's an attitude the dating industry, well, loves.
I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.