NEW YORK, Feb 13 (Reuters Life) - It's crippling for businesses but the credit crisis is giving Cupid a boost ahead of Valentine's Day as more people hunt online for mates to weather the economic storm.
Unlike other companies where revenues are slumping and layoffs are climbing, online dating sites seem to be resistant to the recession.
Internet dating sites usually see a spike in would-be Romeos and Juliets in the build-up to Valentine's Day but hard times this year have driven it higher.
"In a tough economy, you want someone to appreciate you for who you are and not because of your jobs or material possessions," said eHarmony chief executive Greg Waldorf.
There may also be practical considerations as well, added Markus Frind, chief executive of plentyoffish.com.
"When times are tough people want to get together to share the rent (and) buy groceries together to save costs," he said.
The ballyhooed buildup to the romantic day is always good news for online dating sites.
"The advertising and media hype surrounding Valentine's Day has put pressure on singles to look at February 14 as the day of reckoning," said Digicraft dating site expert David Evans.
The push begins after Christmas, if not Thanksgiving.
"They (singles) have gone through the wringer of family reunions where the talk eventually turns to when are you getting married and when am I going to have grandchildren," he added.
Frind said there are more determined and driven singles trying to find someone fairly quickly. The gloomy economy may also be testing the relationships of people who are already paired off.
"In a strong economy you may not see weakness in a relationship the same way you do in a tough economy because the stress of the economic environment seeps into your relationship," said Waldorf.
Use of free dating sites has been skyrocketing, according to Matt Tatham, a spokesman for Hitwise.com, which tracks Internet usage.
"Because of the economic downturn it only makes sense that there is an upsurge in free dating sites," he said. "People are less inclined to want to spend money for a pay-based site, and at the same time they may have more time on their hands if they're working less."
"When we look at the first six weeks of this year compared to last year, visits to the top 100 dating sites are up 2 percent, he said.
Free sites, which make money from ads, were up 57 percent.
Even for pay-based sites like Match.com the economy may pose new opportunities.
"People are anxious right now," Match general manager Mandy Ginsberg said. "They want to find someone with whom to weather the financial storm."
Online hunting for a date is cheaper, she said, than mate-seeking in a bar or even at Starbucks.
While more singles hunt on the web, they're choosier, she added. "People are becoming more selective about going out on a first date because of the expense." she said.