Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week, a special Valentine's Day program about love in hard economic times.
(MUSIC: "My Funny Valentine")
Love is in the air this weekend as Americans celebrate Valentine's Day on Saturday, February fourteenth. For people who are still looking for their true love, there are several resources for finding a partner. Online dating services and dating experts are just two ways that the search for love has turned into a big industry. Barbara Klein has more.
(MUSIC: "Looking for Love")
Searching for love is no longer just a favorite subject for songs. It has also become a huge industry. Researchers say the online dating industry in the United States earned six hundred and forty-nine million dollars in two thousand six. They expect this number to increase to more than nine hundred million dollars by two thousand eleven.
(MUSIC: "Love For Sale")
Experts say that the industry has grown because traditional social ties in the United States have weakened. Many young people leave behind a close community of friends and family to find work in bigger cities. People work longer hours, so they have less time to meet new people. So they depend increasingly on technology.
This helps explain the popularity of online dating. Some estimates say one hundred twenty thousand marriages a year result from matches made on the Internet.
The dating industry has also been expanding in new and interesting ways. Many companies around the country offer personalized services for finding the perfect mate. These companies are answering a large demand by single people. They are willing to invest their time and money to find love with carefully planned methods, instead of leaving love to chance.
For example, AskRomeo is a company in Reston, Virginia. It provides single people with advice on how to meet a person for the first time and make a good impression.
Also in Virginia, the company True Life Partners provides a more costly and detailed dating service. The company's owner, Stephanie Rockey, says her customers are busy professionals who do not have time to search for their life partner. Customers hire Ms. Rockey's team of trained experts to help them find people they will like based on detailed information they provide about themselves.
The company says it is a team of professional personal recruiters who help couples meet. But this level of attention comes at a high price. Men pay thousands of dollars for the service. But women get to take part at no cost.
There are lots of other costs linked to dating. And we wondered how the economic recession has affected dating in the United States. So here is Doug Johnson with more.
(MUSIC: "I'm Yours")
It appears that love still succeeds, even in times of economic crisis. The online dating Web sites Match.com and PerfectMatch.com both say that their membership numbers have increased greatly since the recession worsened in September. Match.com announced last year that the month of November showed the strongest increase in paid members in seven years.
Last year, PerfectMatch.com also reported that its memberships increased by forty-seven percent compared to earlier months in the year. And, the Web site says memberships this January were up thirty percent from the month before. A relationship expert on Perfectmatch.com says that dealing with bad news is hard when a person is alone. So, people spend more time online to find friends with common values and goals.
Online dating may have increased, but many single people have had to change their real-life dating activities to save money. For example, couples might choose to meet at a free museum instead of spending money on theater tickets or dance clubs. Jason Levergood in Washington, D.C. has a better idea than eating out at costly restaurants. He and his date meet at the grocery store and decide what meal they want to make. Then they buy the food and spend their evening together cooking and relaxing at home.
(MUSIC: "Glory of True Love")
People might be saving money on dates. But experts say lovers will still spend money on Valentine's Day. Faith Lapidus has more.
The National Retail Federation says Americans will spend about one hundred dollars per person on flowers, chocolates, jewelry and other gifts. This is twenty dollars less than last year. The National Retail Federation says total spending for Valentine's Day goods this year is expected to reach more than fourteen billion dollars.
(MUSIC: "At Last")
Some activities this Valentine's Day are meant to save money. For example, in Norwalk, Connecticut, Justice of the Peace Mary Pugh is offering a free group marriage ceremony.
Judge Pugh told the local newspaper that she thinks the hard economic times are helping people realize what really is important in life. She said people are spending more time with family and friends and learning they do not need a lot of money to be with the ones they love.
The judge also said if the event is successful she may offer it again, next Valentine's Day.
(MUSIC: "Chapel of Love")
Another place people might want to consider getting married this Valentine's Day, or any other time, is the beautiful new Manhattan Marriage Bureau in New York City.
City officials opened the new twelve million dollar space last month. It has two chapels where marriage ceremonies are held. It has a store that sells flowers, rings and other wedding necessities. It has dressing rooms for the brides. And it has beautiful artwork from the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
The New York City government hopes its new Marriage Bureau will compete with Las Vegas, Nevada as a place people will want to run away to for their wedding.
(MUSIC: "Night and Day")
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. It was written by Dana Demange and Caty Weaver, who also was the producer.
Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.