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Tess Vigeland: So there’s this holiday coming up on Monday. Full of chocolates and flowers and twice-the-usual-price dinners out. This is also the busiest time of year for online dating websites, according to OKCupid, which is an online dating website. Single people bursting with New Year’s resolutions apparently sign up at twice the usual rate between January 1st and Valentine’s Day.
Dating is never easy — at least from what I can remember. And it can be especially tricky when you’re unemployed. Ashley Milne-Tyte has the latest in our effort to be the most unromantic program on the radio.
Ashley Milne-Tyte: Mark Hahm lives in Denver. He worked in TV production until he lost his job last April. He’s always telling himself it’s not him, it’s the economy, but he can’t help feeling low sometimes. He’s 37 and he’d like to meet someone, but the idea of wooing women while he’s out of work just doesn’t appeal.
Mark Hahm: It’s a confidence issue. I think when you have financial confidence, you have social confidence.
Hahm gets $400 a week in unemployment benefits. And his family’s helping him out with some loans so he doesn’t fall behind on bills and his mortgage. But he still has to pinch pennies. The condo he owns needs work — he’d be pretty embarrassed to have a date over right now.
Hahm: This carpeting is just so old, and so — it’s flat.
Then there’s the ancient couch. But home improvements will have to wait until he finds work. So will dating.
Hahm: Starting a relationship is almost like going on a job interview. Everybody at one point or another always asks that same question: What do you do for a living? And it’s just been very tough for me to admit that right now I’m not working, I was laid off, and I’m looking for my next opportunity, that kind of thing.
Terry Setzer isn’t dating either, but not because he lacks confidence. Setzer is 25, gay, and lives in New York. He was laid off from his job as a database manager in September, but feels he’s pretty close to landing a new position. We met in a bar where he used to bring dates in better times. He says his problem is he has a stereotype to live down.
Terry Setzer: In the homosexual community, gay community, it’s not good to have a man who’s unemployed. Because it’s so typical for African-American gay men to be unemployed.
Setzer says he’s proud, and used to paying his way. He likes the good life, and can’t imagine dating on the cheap.
Setzer: Every time I think about dating, it always involves money, because usually, say you want to eat in, you have to pay for the food.
These days his dinner consists of a deli sandwich, but he won’t serve that unimpressive fare to anyone else.
But not everyone is reluctant to put themselves out there. Sam Yagan is co-founder of the dating website OKCupid. He and I are searching the site for people who admit they’re unemployed. We come across the profile of a very attractive blonde woman.
Milne-Tyte: Could you read that out?
Sam Yagan: Sure. ‘I’m an unemployed lawyer who will hopefully be getting an offer for a public defender position any day now.’
Milne-Tyte: That’s a positive spin.
Yagan: That’s a positive one! Um, ‘I’ve been unemployed for most of the year and decided to take some time for myself.’
We see this repeatedly — women, usually in their 20s and early 30s, who paint unemployment as a time for self-discovery, rather than a downer. But we could only find a couple of men who said they were unemployed.
Psychologist Nancy Molitor says that’s not surprising. She practices just outside Chicago, and says her out-of-work male clients don’t fare well once they reveal their job status.
Nancy Molitor: Even now, even in this age, in the 21st century, the men will often tell me that when they call the woman back, they won’t typically get the second call or if they get the second call, the woman has sort of backed off.
Many of these guys earned well until they lost their jobs in finance or real estate. Often their whole identity was tied up with their work and earning power. Now she says they see themselves as useless.
Molitor: They will come in with sort of faulty thinking, telling me that ‘I’m a loser, I’m never going to find a woman and nobody’s ever going to want me; what’s wrong with me?’
As a psychologist, Molitor encourages these men to look at their lives from a different perspective. She also suggests more economical ways to date. But she says they feel downcast for good reason — many women seeking relationships still see money as a huge draw. As for her female clients, while some retreat from the dating scene when they lose their jobs, others date more.
Molitor: I had one woman candidly tell me that she couldn’t afford to eat — certainly not to go out to the restaurants that she liked to go out to if she didn’t have a boyfriend who would pay for everything. And she’s very clear about that, she doesn’t feel any discomfort about it.
In Denver, Mark Hahm is in no position to be anyone’s meal ticket. When you’ve been out of work for almost a year, even dinner and a movie can add up. He’d love to take someone out.
Hahm: You do have to kind of show that gesture of, you know I like you, I’d like to see you again, so much so I will pay for dinner.
To do that he needs to get the job, then get the girl.
I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.
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