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So while it is true, as the romance experts initially reported, that Sept. 11 led to a spike in business for dating services and sales of engagement rings--especially near military bases--the whole story is more complex. A sudden uncertainty about the future has had a clarifying effect in both directions. With a newfound urgency, unattached people are seeking either instant comfort through casual sex or an end to wild-oat sowing and a commitment to commitment. It's not a scientific survey of careless coupling, but eight weeks after Sept. 11, the number of unwanted pregnancies has risen at clinics supervised by David Nova, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge Inc., in Roanoke, Va. "People are looking for comfort," says Nova. "Some find it in food, some reach for each other. Pregnancy rates have always gone up in wartime." To manage the trend, Nova has begun to distribute red-white-and blue condoms.
Meanwhile among the commitment converts, single men and women talk about the stories of the final phone calls made from the burning towers and wonder whom they would call. "Everyone feels more vulnerable now," says Bill Pinsof, a clinical psychologist who heads the Family Institute at Northwestern University, "but it can be especially hard on unattached people." The matchmakers say they don't have enough staff to keep up with demand. You can hear it in the personals: LEARNED MY LESSON--LIFE IS TOO SHORT! reads the ad in New York magazine. Divorce lawyers report a drop in traffic--perhaps only a temporary blip but again, as with the reconciliation movement, it may reflect a trend that has been building for years: the divorce rate dropped 21% between 1981 and '98. "The true antidote to terror is love," Pinsof argues. "It's all we have in the face of death. People don't think, 'I wish I had written that novel or sued an extra client.' They think about their relationships."
Like getting married, deciding to have a baby is a testament of faith in the future. But for many people tragedy has made it almost impossible to plan--not a vacation, not a new job and certainly not a new baby. Some young families with one child who were thinking of having another say they have pulled back for now: the world is too frightening a place, and it's hard enough to protect the child you have without making it twice as hard. There are also fears about the additional financial pressure during recessionary times. But other families conclude that taking that leap is worth the risk, an affirmation of life and a chance to provide the older child with companions in a harder world. "I even have single moms coming in and telling me they want to have another child so that should something happen to them, their first child won't be left alone," says Dr. Iffath Hoskins, a New York City obstetrician.
While some fertility specialists saw patients put their plans on hold after Sept. 11, the more common response was an even greater sense of urgency. Resolve: the National Infertility Association had a 50% jump in its website traffic after Sept. 11. "Looking around at everyone touching and holding their kids made it all so much more raw for us not having them. We felt really lost," says Stephanie Greco from Boston, whose attempt at in vitro fertilization on Sept. 13 failed.