Hearts flutter as markets stutter but it needn’t break the bank

Credit the recession for staycations and bringing us more game-night parties at home. But also give it a shout for spurring more first dates.

CHICAGO — Credit the recession for staycations and bringing us more game-night parties at home. But also give it a shout for spurring more first dates.

Economic woes, it seems, unleash something practically primal in many of us who find ourselves without a partner: a hard-wired desire for companionship.

Some singles are now hunting for dates with the same fervour others are showing hunting for jobs. On matchmaking website eHarmony.com, membership is up 20 per cent despite monthly fees of up to $60, and activity has soared 50 per cent since September at OkCupid.com.

It’s not just the frequency of our dates that’s changing — it’s also the people we’re choosing to spend time with.

“They’re looking for something that’s genuine in a world that isn’t very secure,” said Bathsheba Birman, co-founder of the Chicago dating event Nerds at Heart. “With headlines full of why you can’t trust established institutions that you thought you could … people are re-examining their own values.”

Attendance at the monthly gatherings, where mostly young professionals pay $25 for a drink and a chance to spend the evening clustered around trivia and board games — was more than double expectations in April and has stayed high since.

“Misery loves company, especially if the prospect of romance and-or sex looms large,” said Craig Kinsley, a neurologist at the University of Richmond. “Really, dating, rather than being considered as expensive, can be a thrilling and inexpensive distraction. Like getting drunk without the wallet-hit or hangover.”

Kinsley said stomach-fluttering first dates also release brain chemicals that can temporarily erase worries, even about pensions, layoffs, falling portfolios and upside-down mortgages.

Still, Sam Yagan, the founder and CEO at OkCupid.com, sees the changing dating climate as a matter of dollars and cents.

The way he figures it, a man can spend $100 buying drinks at a bar trying to pick up a stranger and leave with little more than a cold shoulder. But, when he’s in a relationship, a Saturday evening can be as simple as Thai noodle takeout, Netflix and some fun under the covers. All in all, Yagan said, that’s “more bang for your buck.”

It’s more than just the recession. Experts say changes in behaviour can relate to other world events — with upticks when news is bad.

Last fall, comparing periods when the stock market fell more than 100 points and when it rose by the same amount, eHarmony found more members searched for matches when the financial news was grim. Activity also grew in the days after a tragedy like the Virginia Tech shooting, while it stayed the same during “good” global events, like the Olympics.

Unlike those one-day or weeklong events, the recession already has spanned more than 18 months, and its effects are expected to last just as long — and that likely will mean more discernible changes in human behaviour.

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