(CNN) -- Everybody's got a hungry heart, but when bad times hit, it can become positively starving.
Matchmakers rely on questionnaires, interviews and instinct to decide which clients to bring together.
As layoffs mount, portfolios shrink and headlines become gloomier, many singles may be finding the harsh reality of having no one to lean on during the economic crisis unbearable.
Some are intensifying their search for love, triggering a boom for matchmakers who are putting a modern spin on the ancient practice of bringing people together.
"People shift their focus in times of economic uncertainty to the things that are sustainable and the things that get them through, and I think that always comes down to relationships," said Ann Robbins, founder and CEO of LifeWorks Matchmaking in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
"People have an absolute need to love and to be loved. That's really, at the end of the day, that's what you have."
Robbins said her number of clients doubled in the first quarter of 2009, compared with the previous quarter. She attributed the rise in part to people re-evaluating their lives during periods of stress and trouble. Watch Robbins give advice about love »
Lyle, a 38-year-old financial consultant who lives in New York, became a client about five months ago. (He asked that his last name not be used in this report for privacy reasons.) He reached out to a matchmaker because his busy schedule makes it hard to meet people and online dating didn't feel right for him, he said.
"It always helps to have someone to lean on in life, and it's great to have someone to share great times with, but when times are tough as they are right now, it certainly helps all the more," he said. See what matchmakers say are the worst mistakes men and women make while dating »
'Something to look forward to'
Online matchmaking site eHarmony.com is also seeing increased interest. From September 2008 to January 2009, monthly registrations rose an average of 20 percent, compared with the same time period the prior year, according to eHarmony CEO Greg Waldorf.
Matchmakers aren't surprised they are staying busy during the recession.
"I think that as people go through more difficult times, being alone becomes more difficult," said Patti Novak, owner of Buffalo Niagara Introductions in Buffalo, New York.
"[Even] if they can only afford popcorn and a six-pack on a Saturday night, they'd rather do it with somebody than alone," she added.
Novak, who is the author of "Get Over Yourself!" and starred in the A&E reality series "Confessions of a Matchmaker," has seen a 30 percent increase in clients in the last eight months, she said.
Recent sign-ups include Melissa, a 39-year-old Buffalo, New York, resident who joined the matchmaking service in December. (Melissa asked that her last name not be used in this report for privacy reasons.)
She has since been matched with about seven "really nice people," leading to a number of dates and making it easier to cope with the possibility that her job could be in jeopardy because of the bad economy, Melissa said.
"It actually brings a brighter part to my day to know that I've made an investment for myself that has had great returns already. So it's a very positive feeling and something to look forward to after a very stressful workday," she said. iReport.com: What would you ask a matchmaker?
Comfort of love
Mental health experts say turbulent periods can heighten people's need for love and companionship.
"In tough times, you activate your coping mechanisms, and one way to cope is to connect more with people and to get more social support," said Nadine Kaslow, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine and chief psychologist at Grady Health System in Atlanta, Georgia.
Some people looking for emotional support may also be considering the financial benefits of pairing up. One mortgage is easier than two, and a couple can stay afloat even if only one person is working. But Kaslow cautioned singles against rushing into things.
"When people are really stressed, sometimes their judgment isn't as good as it should be," she said. "Sometimes they think something is better than nothing but they don't really think about the pros and cons of the something."
Matchmakers say one of the benefits of their services is that clients are screened so there are no surprises when introductions take place.
"You know already if they've been married -- once, never or 15 times. You know whether they have kids, are smokers, what their religious background is," said Beatrice Gruss, founder of Traditional Matchmakers in Atlanta, Georgia.
About 1,500 independent matchmakers operate in the United States, according to the Matchmaking Institute, which offers training and certification. Most rely on questionnaires, interviews and instinct to get a sense of a client's perfect match. Fees can vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, and clients can typically expect a couple of matches a month.
For singles yearning to find love, matchmakers can be of value, but there's no one right way to look for a relationship, experts advised.
"You need to look at who is available in your social world already," Kaslow said.
"I think it's always useful to ask friends and other people to help set you up. But there's a value to these online dating services and there is a value to matchmaking, and I think if you really want a relationship, you try one or more of these options and see what works for you."
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