Stock prices and retirement funds might be fizzling, but the dating scene is hotter than ever.

"People want to be with someone when times are tough," said Brian Barcaro, founder of CatholicMatch.com, which has seen steady growth during the recession.

He's not the only one to see romance on the rise during the downturn. Numerous online- dating sites are reporting record revenue and membership figures.

Though thinner wallets might make flowers, rings and fancy dinners tougher to afford, the rise in dating is no paradox, according to industry members. Barcaro, for one, thinks the correlation boils down to a need for support and traditional family values in a time of insecurity.

In a recession, CatholicMatch.-com is "attracting singles who seek partners to pray with, commiserate with and split the bill," said Barcaro, whose site has 200,000 users and caters to Roman Catholic singles searching for love, friendship and marriage.

According to Forrester Re-search Inc., on-line dating is the third-largest producer of revenue of all paid content sites, generating $957 million in 2008, a figure the firm predicts will grow 10 percent by 2013.

Dating site Match.com now has more than 20 million members, a figure that grows by 60,000 daily.

The company charges members $35 per month and had revenue of $366 million in 2008, a 5 percent increase from 2007.

Searching for companionship during tough times makes sense from a psychological standpoint, said Diane Marsh, professor of psychology at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

"The recession is marked by a sense of anxiety. People are gloomy, depressed and anxious, and research certainly indicates that under those circumstances, social support is enormously important."

Dating is just one facet of the search for social support in lean times.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, couples are more likely to stay together in times of need than in plenty. The number of divorces and annulments dropped by 16,000 from 2006 to 2007, a decline of 2 percent.

The rise of romance could owe as much to finances as to the need for companionship: it's less expensive to have a partner than to be single.

"Two single people paying rent would certainly be better off living together," said Marsh, who cites skyrocketing co-habitation rates as evidence of how economics influences behavior. "Though that's probably not the best reason to get married."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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