Human Collateral: Dating in the Face of the Financial Meltdown

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When it comes to dating, money plays a role. Who pays? Where do you dine? Sussing out how much the other party earns.

In finance, with its historically hefty paydays, this is a bigger deal than in other sectors. But now that unemployment is high, what do singles say on a first date about their jobs when there's a good chance they don't have one?

The fact is that in this precarious time, the pursuit of romantic interests is on the rise. Preliminary figures from Forrester Research indicate 2009 online dating site revenues will be up 10 percent, to $1.049 billion.

Terri Sloane, a professional matchmaker and dating coach in New York City, says today's financial markets mean those dating are emphasizing richer relationships - but cheaper dates.

"Because of this financial situation, people want to connect more than ever - they're more value conscious, looking deeper inside themselves to their core values and seeking serious relationships instead of just dating," she says.

Deeper than Money

Scott Majeski, 41, worked in finance for 20 years as an institutional investment consultant before losing his job last year and launching a PuroClean property restoration franchise. He said his professional situation has dramatically changed his dating habits - for the better.

Initially after his layoff he withdrew from dating. He wasn't able to afford the $100 theater or sports tickets he was used to showering on dates. But then he realized his new situation was familiar to others, and it actually facilitated his quest for a long-term relationship.

"I pulled back thinking I was going to be seen as someone who doesn't have the resources go out on a date," says Majeski, of Chicago. "Then I realized there are plenty of smart women out there who will get it. And in fact most women I date find it impressive that I didn't wait around and wallow in self pity, but took charge of my life and destiny and went out to build something."

In turn, Majeski is now better able to spot what he's looking for: "Midwestern women who like to go out and work and are not looking for a sugar daddy."

He echoes others who say that both men and women are more open to going Dutch. "At the end of the day everyone is affected by the downturn and normal, average people have done something to change their lifestyle as well," he says.

It's Just Coffee

All those interviewed for this story agreed that the expensive restaurants visited for first dates has now become drinks or coffee, and second dates may be a modestly priced meal. Inexpensive or free activities are also more acceptable, as are homey events like group potluck dinners.

One 25-year-old investment bank analyst - who asked that his name not be used - has kept his job through the downturn but says he's slashed restaurant spending in the face of the crisis. "A few years ago I wouldn't hesitate to drop $100 to $150 on dinner," he says. "But now I'm less inclined to go to nice restaurants." His total bill for dining out is now $70 to $100.

The new realities of the financial world have curbed the way his peers speak publicly about their work, especially in Los Angeles where this former New Yorker currently lives.

"People in LA who don't work in finance stereotype the industry as being all about bailout money and egregious lifestyles," he observes. "Now it's looked down upon to talk about bonuses in public and people are a lot more confidential about money in general. In the past my friends and I would joke about going to dinner at outlandishly expensive restaurants. But we can't really joke that way any more. It's not socially acceptable."

More than Skin Deep

Even those in less-than-desirable situations are choosing their words carefully. For example, Laurie Davis, an online dating consultant, has seen significant changes in virtual flirting. In the "job" section of online profiles, people now promote, "Getting my MBA," or "Freelancing" en lieu of "Unemployed." One client saw a significant uptick in responses once he changed his status from "Owns a startup" to "Entrepreneur." "It's all how you word it," Davis says.

Bruce McClary, of Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Richmond, Va., says the new sign of financial prowess on a first date isn't slapping down plastic, but cold, hard green. "Plastic can be scary for someone on the other side of the table since people are so over-leveraged these days," he notes. Now he finds himself evaluating not his date's net worth, but rather her ability to handle her resources. "The new status symbol of this decade isn't how much bling you have, but how well can demonstrate your ability to manage your finances," he says.

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