It can be hard to impress a date in a bunker with tinned food and a human-waste compactor. But there is hope for people looking for love despite believing the end of the world is nigh. Survivalist Singles, an American website for amorous doomsayers, is among dozens of niche dating services enjoying an unlikely boom in popularity. GSOH? Fine, but if you're not a farmer, cat lover, married, or a fan of Ayn Rand, you're out of luck.
The niche dating scene is similarly buoyant in Britain, and considerably more positive about the future. UniformDating.com has a disproportionately visible presence in TV ad breaks for "the UK's premium dating service where you can find lots of women and men in uniform", but reports a growing membership.
Elsewhere online, in a global industry worth an estimated £2.5bn, there are sites designed for most religions (JDate, for Jewish singletons in the UK, has been around for more than 10 years), rich people, horsy people and even married people – Undercoverlovers.com has more than 500,000 members and last week unveiled posters it plans to release at the same time as the Euro 2012 football championships in Poland and Ukraine this summer. The ads feature photos of Wayne Rooney and John Terry and say: "After scoring at home, time to play away!"
Almost one in five newly married couples now report starting their relationship with the click of a mouse. Once seen as the preserve of the desperate, online dating has tipped into the mainstream. But now it's no longer enough to tick boxes to state interests on general dating sites. Tracey Cox, who writes about relationships and sex, says she is not surprised by the rise of more specialised services. "We already live in an age where we can tailor most and custom-build our lives so it makes sense to narrow everything down when we're looking for a partner," she says.
But is it natural or productive to be quite so exacting? There are dating sites for farmers, vegetarians, druids, gadget geeks, dope smokers, single parents, eco-warriors and celibates. Perhaps the most intriguing among these specialist sites is The Atlasphere, which connects admirers of Ayn Rand, the Russian-American author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Twopianos is a 25-year-old member of Atlas Shagged, as the singles site might otherwise be called. Her profile says: "Hello. I am an anarcho-capitalist pianist looking for like-minded friends."
Cox fears sites such as these only encourage single people to view would-be dates as products. "People say they want a sensitive guy who reads poetry but can also fix a car," she says. "It's fine to have aims but certain things are not usually compatible in the same person. Dating sites can encourage the belief that there is somebody out there who will tick all the boxes. Often too much choice can work against us and leave us feeling dissatisfied – and still single when we're 85." In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, the American psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that growing consumer choice can induce a sort of paralysis, making us anxious and depressed. "Even if we overcome this, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options," he said at a TED conference in 2006. "Imagined alternatives induce you to regret the decision you made, subtracting from the satisfaction you get out of the decision, even if it was a good one."
But the ultimate box-tickers will not be swayed. Survivalist Singles, that end-of-the-world site, has the slogan: "Don't face the future alone." It has recently quadrupled its ranks to almost 1,700 members, not all of whom predict an imminent apocalypse (some are only concerned by the prospect of nuclear war). One user, a 34-year-old man from Vermont, says in his profile: "In addition to what people think of when they hear the word 'survival', I can do all of the basics... cooking, cleaning, laundry, and firearms maintenance." We're sure he'll be snapped up like a shot.Reuse content