www.cheapdate.comMemberships Are Soaring At Dating Websites As More Singletons Opt To Screen Out Duds Online Before Spending Cash On A Face-To-Face Date
Globe and Mail
January 29, 2009
Cheapos Unite, In Digital Love
The downturn is proving to be a boon for online dating sites as Canadians look to hide in the arms of lovers they can suss out for free (or a nominal fee) online rather than over pricey fine dining that could yield a dud.
Websites such as Lavalife.com, PlentyofFish.com, Match.com and PerfectMatch.com have seen their memberships soar after September's stock-market plunge.
Lavalife registrations are up 11 per cent from last month (Toronto is experiencing a 20-per-cent increase), and messaging among members is at its highest point in six months. Likewise, Vancouver-based dating site Plenty of Fish enjoyed a 77-per-cent growth in visits from December, 2007, through December, 2008. About 900,000 people now log in daily.
"It's a pretty good deal at $25 a month to go out and meet people online, versus going out and spending 50 to 100 bucks per night and possibly not meeting anyone," says Plenty of Fish spokesperson Mark Brooks, who delivered the keynote speech at the Internet Dating Conference in Miami last week.
The mood in Florida was upbeat, he said, with owners of free and niche dating sites in particular reporting huge growth.
That, Mr. Brooks said, is because unlike the real world, dating sites offer the lovelorn a "completely refined, focused community."
"At the end of the day, if somebody wants to wander around and meet somebody, that's not a good idea on two counts: No. 1, it'll take them a long while and No. 2, if they do meet somebody, they've got to get all the difficult questions out of the way."
Dating sites take care of the formalities: Plenty of Fish, for example, forces aspiring members to list their marital status, disclose whether they want children and how many times they booze it up in a week, and finally to elucidate "what makes you unique."
In-person dates are, of course, far from extinct, but they are happening later in the romantic process. A survey by Florida-based Avalanche LLC - which operates international sites date.com, matchmaker.com and amor.com - found that 48 per cent of respondents were spending more time online or on the phone with a potential date before spending cash on a face-to-face meeting.
Dating sites have long relied on people's romantic notions about "the right one" - as well as on their laziness and frugality, says Mandy Ketcheson, a Toronto-based psychotherapist who provides relationship counselling. "Online sites play on that hope with the added bonus of not having to go to a lot of trouble getting dressed up [and] spending money."
For some of her single clients, cruising free dating sites has become a cheap hobby lately, with people "perusing other people more like commodities," the way they might shop for deals on eBay, she said.
The psychotherapist adds that some of the searching is simple pragmatics: "There is a rising sense of desire to couple up in poor economic times because pooling resources is a better way to ride a bad economy."
Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine, agrees that bad economic times force people to "reprioritize their goals in life."
"People don't like to face negative news alone," he says. "It's nice to have someone to share difficult times with.
Thus they look harder for that 'special someone.' "
With online dating, the hunt costs a little less.
"There will still possibly be that 'expensive dinner,' usually around the second date, but the process allows singles to better filter and select who they want to go out with."
"[Online dating] is like lipstick: It's one of those comforting things that doesn't cost a lot," says Lavalife chief executive Marina Glogovac. "When people get disillusioned or structures are breaking down, they feel less confident or secure with the material things in their lives."
Indeed, Paul A. Falzone, chief executive of Boston-based LoveAccess.com, says this windfall is reminiscent of what happened after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It just seems that people, when they're confronted with any type of dilemma in their lives, they tend to want to migrate back to what's comfortable to them. They go back to eating their comfort foods, they crank up the heat by the fire instead of going out all night, and they want someone to be able to share things with."
That said, Mr. Falzone has no time for misers using online services to skimp on chivalry.
"If somebody is being a cheapskate, it's a lot easier to act on a $29.95 subscription than it is to step up to the line.
They might be getting their jollies meeting a lot of people, but they'll never have a crack at them if they don't step up and act like a fair human being about it and not expect everything for free."