Even during a snow storm, this is the hottest time of year for online dating

Even during a snow storm, this is the hottest time of year for online dating

For many lovelorn singletons, the holidays are the loneliest time of year and, in the New Year, the $1 billion online dating industry sees a surge in users.

And when millions of people work from home during, say, a snow storm? Based on similar scenarios where people stay put, dating apps are hopping.

Dating app Zoosk typically sees a 20% jump in users in the first two weeks of the year and eHarmony sees a similar increase in mobile registrations since the holidays, both companies said. Grindr, an app for gay men, usually experiences a 30% to 50% increase in users over the holiday season. Match.com IAC, -0.63% sees a 60% surge in new members between Christmas Day and Valentine’s Day. Sign-ups on OKCupid, also part of IAC Corp., spike by almost one-third.

‘Many singles sit around the family dinner table during the holidays and think, ‘Maybe it would be better to have a partner.’’

Mark Brooks, editor of Online Personals Watch

Why now? “Many singles sit around the family dinner table during the holidays and think, ‘Maybe it would be better to have a partner,’” says Mark Brooks, a dating-industry analyst and the editor of Online Personals Watch. “That’s when they start hitting dating sites in droves and go on dates before the indigestion sets in.” It may also be more polite to arrange dates in the New Year rather than during the holidays, especially with family around. “They’re going to be around for you long after your relationships,” he says.

Of course, dating apps also have a surge in activity any time millions of people are off work at the same time, such as during a snow storm. But here is a more extreme example: During the first and second week of the federal government shutdown in October 2013 when 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, the number of times Zoosk members played Zoosk’s “Carousel” game increased by 92%. Much like Tinder, the Carousel displays random profiles allowing people to choose those who catch their fancy. During the second week of the shutdown, the number of profiles viewed by Zoosk members in the D.C. area jumped by 46%.

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With the constant stream of happy holiday photographs over social-networking sites like Facebook and Instagram, experts say the pressure to be in a romance this time of year has never been so intense. “There’s an onslaught of images of family and togetherness,” says Pepper Schwartz, author of “Dating After 50 for Dummies” and a love and relationship ambassador for AARP. “That imagery strikes home when you’ve been alone for a while.” But Schwartz adds, “People don’t post about the family screaming at each other, they post idealistic pictures of children opening their gifts.”

‘There’s an onslaught of images of family and togetherness. That imagery strikes home when you’ve been alone for a while.’

Pepper Schwartz, author of ‘Dating After 50 for Dummies’

Nor is online dating always cheap. Free apps nudge people to upgrade their service for a fee, and the fee-only sites are aimed (in theory) at serious daters. Roughly 30 million unique users, or about 10% of the U.S. population, visit dating sites every month, according to market researcher Nielsen. Match.com charges $42 a month and eHarmony charges $60 a month, although users can save by signing on for, say, a six-month bundle ($24 per month and $40 per month, respectively). And some sites, like PlentyofFish.com and OkCupid, offer basic membership for free.

Studies show that many online daters lie about their age, although some dating sites have recently taken steps to penalize users for taking years of their age in an effort to prevent that. Other singletons use filters or airbrushing apps to make themselves look fresher. Dating sites provide access to more potential partners than do traditional dating methods, according to one study published in the journal “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” “but the act of browsing and comparing large numbers of profiles can lead individuals to commoditize potential partners and can reduce their willingness to commit to any one person.”

(This story was updated.)

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