NEW YORK — Sean Hamilton considered stopping his search for that special someone when he lost his job in January.
With 90 percent less income and no unemployment coming in, the 34-year-old IT professional couldn't really pay for a dinner date. And how would he explain his financial situation without coming across as a slacker?
"To speak plainly, chicks don't dig a broke guy," said the Dallas resident, now a part-time consultant. So he came up with a strategy: "I don't bring it up."
Men have been hit much harder than women by this recession. Close to 80 percent of the job losses since December 2007 were jobs held by men, according to economics expert Mark J. Perry, who analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data. April unemployment was a seasonally adjusted 10 percent for men and 7.6 percent for women.
For some guys, unemployment is the last thing they want to reveal to a potential date. Even if men aren't expected to pay for a date, they feel pressure from women who are looking for someone who is financially stable.
"A lot of men are very careful not to say, 'I'm unemployed,'" said Pepper Schwartz, chief relationship expert at Perfectmatch.com. "They say, 'I'm working on this project. I'm taking a sabbatical from work' or 'You heard of GM declaring bankruptcy? I worked there.' They find ways to make it sound like it's not permanent."
Hamilton said when he is pressed, he says he's a consultant. He proposes cheap dates, like cooking an elegant dinner for a woman at her place.
Christie Nightingale of Premier Match, with clients in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York, said an unemployed man is a harder sell. She used to be able to brag to her female clients that a man worked in hedge funds, for example.
Now she has to explain that he is a great match in other areas _ looks, religion _ "but, you know, he's looking for a job."
"I find that women are very accepting," she said. "Some of the women are going through it as well. They have friends that have gotten laid off. It's the times that we're in."
Colin Deeb, 25, who was let go from his computer consulting gig in November, said he has had some experiences where women "seemed a lot less interested the second I told them that I was not gainfully employed."
But that has been rare for the aspiring actor from Brooklyn, N.Y. He said it helps that he is actively looking for work and going on auditions. And he's gotten creative with dates _ meeting for a bike ride, grabbing coffee or finding a cheap play.
"You learn to keep things simple when you're not working as much as you would like to be," he said. "Generally women have been OK with that."
Simple has its limits, though.
Melissa Braverman, who blogs about dating, said she knows someone who was asked out on a walking date and considered it a turnoff. And in the last six months, she's noticed that men don't suggest meals. When they meet for drinks, they limit it to one hour. She believes it's so she won't order a second drink.
"The recession is almost becoming an excuse," said Braverman, 35, of New York City. "Men don't want to take the initiative, suggesting something fun that is inexpensive. It's more well, 'I can't afford to take you out for a meal, let's keep it brief.' Unfortunately, a lot of times chemistry needs time to develop."
Schwartz said unemployed men need to keep a positive attitude and show potential mates that they are stable: "`I don't have a job but I'm doing everything I can to find one. I own my own house.'"
Being too cheap can be a turnoff for women like Virginia Wall, 40, who works in retail sales in Philadelphia. She doesn't believe in coffee or drinks as a first date and expects the man to pay.
If he can't afford to take her to lunch _ nothing fancy, just a casual place to sit and get to know each other over a sandwich _ then he probably shouldn't be dating, she said.
"He shouldn't bring someone in his life if he can barely take care of himself," she said.
Sit out of the dating game, though, and you may miss out on the love of your life.
Christopher Floyd, 39, a photographer and video producer in Albuquerque, N.M., almost stopped communicating with a woman he met on eHarmony late last year because of his financial situation. His business has decreased 65 percent and he is trying to do a short sale on his home.
But his potential love match, Angela Sowers, 31, who works in human resources in Sacramento, Calif., persuaded him to give the relationship a shot. She flew out with friends to meet him and the two hit it off.
Floyd is moving to Sacramento next week and will live with her parents, so the two can date locally.
Sowers, who has had to foot the bill for a few plane tickets, said she isn't too worried about his lack of income. She's hoping he can get his business going in Sacramento.
"The relationship isn't based on how much money he makes," she said. "It's who he is and what's in his heart that matters to me."