Online Dating Sites and us: Where is it heading?
We are to ask ourselves whether dating online is currently a phenomenon, with those in favour wanting to hitch on the ride we experience as the new digital era driven by openness and fear (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 1995; Boyd, 2012), and with those opposing or neglecting it, disregarding it as much of what the future holds for us. In the latter case, why do couples still experience some sort of stigma when telling their story? Why do those who met someone of interest still fall back into filtering for someone even ‘better’ at the first sign of deterioration of their relationship? These are just a few thoughts on what will be discussed later in this work.
Needless to say, online dating has developed to be one of the most popular means of meeting partners. Since the first dating site www.match.com opened its portal to the world almost 20 years ago (The Economist, 2012), a lot has happened. Today in the UK, more than 1400 sites or applications (apps) offer people, regardless of their preferences (e.g. Jewish: www.jdate.com, vegetarian: www.datingvegetarian.co.uk, black: Black Tryst App, Indian: www.shaadi.com, lesbian: www.dattch.com, etc.), a tailored platform in their pursuit of love, or casual relationships (The Telegraph, 2013). There are three identified categories of platforms (Fiore & Donath, 2004): (I) search/sort/match systems like www.rsvp.com.au that allows users to search for partners with specific characteristics; (II) personality-matching systems like www.eHarmony.com with control over the matching procedure remaining with the system administrators who use specific metrics; and (III) social network systems like www.friendster.com that encourages users to recommend people to the site or to possible matching users. Online behaviour and relationships are now an intensively studied field, which is covered by an increasing number of literature (Barraket & Henry-Waring, 2008). But little is discussed about the sociological implications shifting our “customary laws” and potentially even challenging – as contradicting that may sound, future “natural laws”.
The ‘Online Dating Summit’, 1st February 2013, UCL, London
The overall impression of the presentations and round-table was that it was relatively informative, but vague in regard to their wide areas of application. Following insight, recapturing the essentials of the summit, shall give the basement for further critical evaluation.
Data from PEW Internet and Daily Life project revealed already in 2006 that 11% of all online adults seek romantic relationships (Madden & Lenhart, 2006). Cunningham (2013) asserted that people who do online dating, are from a specific social class: They are not from the lower class (e.g. lack of resources), not from the upper class (e.g. people who work for the government, or are CEOs, who are too busy, but mainly rich), but from the middle class, namely busy professionals. There are also two noteworthy categories of people using dating sites (Spalton, 2013; Cunningham, 2013): those in their (early to mid) 20s, stuck in the same circle of friends, and those above 40, who went through a divorce, got widowed, were looking for someone throughout, focused on their careers first, but never found the significant other.
Also, around 70% amongst all users are women, and the majority is above the age of 30 (Cunningham, 2013; Spalton, 2013). Cunningham (2013) continues how proceeding and throughout the 90s, men were the ones active, taking the initiative on setting up a date. But since the new millennium, women have better carriers, and have the control (with more specific candidate profiles, and easier technologies) over contact initiation and dates, even more than men. This well refers to the inspirations of Donna Haraway’s and her “Cyborg Manifesto” essay that lead to cyberfeminism, supporting, now not so much utopian, ideals of a unified “virtual realm” that liberates social constructs like gender, sex difference and identity (Hardey, 2002). The ideology behind it has been transforming our world (at least the western hemisphere) since the mid 90s and is still to reach its zenith, argumentatively feminist politics being somewhat the stronger driver in comparison to the technological developments (Wajcman, 2006).
When Cunningham (2013) opened the session, introducing how dating online has evolved through the use of technology, and how trust increased, after, for almost two decades online-initiated relationships were regarded for the incompetent “lovers” or unattractive ones, or even psychopaths. He continued describing how, because of the high of number of users today, one is ought to give more accurate information to stand out, and needs to interact more actively with one another, and further with a higher number of users, since filtering does not always do the trick. The idea of providing more accurate information about oneself increases the credibility of ones profile and comes down to avoiding generic, commonly used, or ambiguous expressions that describe a user’s personal characteristics (e.g. funny, smart, etc.), instead, by using specific cues and descriptive elaborations that exert one’s interest or proficiency in something as an integral part of ones daily life or underlying values (Anderson, 2013). Additionally, the self-report nature of most of these platforms induces social desirability bias, hence admitting users to rationalize intentional distortion of information (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006). Hence, women, straight or not, spend a considerable amount browsing other women, and they tend to like the lower self-disclosing females, whereas men do not seem to mind (Rosen, Cheever, Cummings, & Felt, 2008).
Social factors, much reflected through other literature, were identified in their reasoning to use online dating sites (Barraket & Henry-Waring, 2008): (I) change in location/country for work and to meet people; (II) isolation experienced as a single parent; (III) long/irregular work-hours limiting possibilities for face-to-face interaction; and (IV) having ended a (long-term) relationship and looking for a new partner.
The main issue people face is that they do not trust themselves, and do not know how to portray themselves online/send the image they would like to (Spalton, 2013). Furthermore, people do get frustrated because they have to keep their profiles abreast, experience neglect and rejections, have to have several dates, go through one or the other bad date, looping in a viscous circle that leaves a user unmotivated (d’Felice, 2013). Research suggests that the distortion of the ego-centric self when meeting a stranger online, in case of non-fulfilment, does not indicate the end of the belonging to a particular community (in this case online dating community), but merely the reformulation of the community based on experienced ethical encounter with others within the community (Introna & Brigham, 2007).
Professional Endeavour of a Dating Coach
Spalton (2013) gives personal feedback for dates as a dating coach: he would have a test-date organized with him or one of his female coaches, or have sessions where one has to interact with three random candidates, separately, in order to fight fear, get a taste and just to feel at ease after. In order for Spalton to do this, he tried many dating sites, to increase his own knowledge within the field. On another note, he helps people to have their online profile pictures taken. He asserts that there is a tendency for users not to believe others’ profile pictures. Corresponding with current research knowledge profiles with a picture are considered more trustworthy, but that the picture may almost always involve an element of deception (e.g. edit, light, angle, selective (body-) framing, etc.) and not fully representing the real self (Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, 2008). Profile pictures are chosen so that they indicate the least amount of deception (Hancock & Toma, 2009).
Saha and Kingsley-Miller (2013) have embarked on a pursuit of an “anti-date” app, which attempts to avoid dating in the traditional sense. In a nutshell, instead of letting the website do the matching, location-based services suggests ‘alike’ people based on their proximity. The assumption however that the people one may spontaneously meet up during e.g. lunch-hour, are probably alike/not weird, seems plausible given that it is targeted at professionals (a similar group), but slightly far-fetched in regard to that suggestions may not consider preferences or background. Hence, the integration of a profile (with background information), preferences (e.g. movies and books) might be an option; but, since similar apps exist, what is their key performace indicator?
The columnist d’Felice (2013) contributes to articles in the tabloid METRO and provides consulting services to the site www.match.com. It seems that her practical approach found wide attention and application: for the matching section in METRO, she publishes requests people send in, e.g. announcing “to the red-haired girl on the Central Line, embarked at…“; For the sex column she contributes with fellow experts on questions of readers who find themselves in ‘bottlenecked’ sex-situations and relationship dilemmas. It seems the advancement of the digital-age has brought about that people face higher difficulties to start-up a conversation face-to-face all the way through an average day. Whether in the tube, in the queue during lunch-break, or in the elevator, the new emerged norms suggest that time and timing may not be adequate to initiate a haphazard conversation under the given circumstances (Barraket & Henry-Waring, 2008); in comparison the usage of mobile (data) connection to stay in touch, online platforms (including dating sites), or the occasional tabloid request letter service to create new connections is becoming more accepted.
Information, Technology, and the Future of Relationships
As to what Herbert Simon bespoke in the 1970s, an “information-rich world” will bring about the “scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes”: the attention of those who perceive or receive the information (Simon, 1971, pp. 40–41). As such the notions of “information overload” and “attention economy” have become very prevalent, especially in regard to the digital landscape (Boyd, 2012). Whether it is online advertising, an email or an online article, our attention does have a value (e.g. brand recall, customer service, readership, etc.) and if attention is seen as a resource, we only have a limited amount of it. Could the idea of “radical transparency” as suggested by Daniel Goleman possibly counter-effect the deception and over-load, leaving only little to chance (Sifry, 2011)? For all we know, recreational sex and polyamory (i.e. multiple relationships, with consent of all parties involved), much as described in Albert Huxley’s novel Brave New World, does not seem an utopia anymore. In a globally transcendent “colour-blind” era, one would expect that at some point only mixed-raced people would dominate the world-population, but currently indicate sorting within a race still marks the landscape, based on a preference for the (culturally close) same-raced. But hence multicollinearity exists between race and education or income, intra-ethnicity sorting may as well take place as a result of preferences for these attributes, former being a strong determinant of preference (Hitsch, Hortaçsu, & Ariely, 2010; Lee, 2009). Interestingly, neither income nor education are a predetermining factor of signing up to a dating site (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007).
When it comes to relationship satisfaction, individuals with similar personalities seem to be happier  (Dyrenforth, Kashy, Donnellan, & Lucas, 2010). An investigation around the idea of homophily within dating environments is not a surprise given the nature of online dating sites: users opt for similarities (e.g. life course, wanting children, or physique or smoking habits) rather than leaving it to chance whether one might “click” with one another (Fiore & Donath, 2005). The search “for the other half” will prevail over time no matter the development in the technological realm; so it seems.
Online dating sites offer an opportunity to merely get to know one another online, and move later on to a face-to-face relation (Hardey, 2002). Assumedly, this hype will take on bigger dimensions in the near future. Interestingly, in an American study with 811 college students, only 25% of the students using online means to find a partner would actually not want to meet up face-to-face at any point (Koeppel, Smith, & Bouffard, 2013). It may probably seem far-fetched to assume that the Cyborg-metaphor, as introduced by Haraway (1994), is the foundation to the argument that our younger generations are not much more concerned with the physical world as compared to the virtual one. The Cyborg metaphor symbolizes the idea of unrestrained and fluid selves constituted in cyberspace (Campbell, 2004). The Cyberspace acts as a mediator between reality and virtual-space for an intimate embodiment (Barraket & Henry-Waring, 2008), thus people may be embodied more virtually than in the real world, especially now that the virtual population demographically almost resembles the physical population (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). All we know for now is that there will be more single individuals and one-person households, relatively to the increase in Internet usage (online dating in particular) (Hardey, 2002); UK and Australia have been experiencing this trend since some time already.
Dating online has it as an advantage that long-distance relationships are started and maintained with ease. The mere thought of being continents away is not of prevalent concern at initiation; not until it comes to the need for ‘proximity’. Research speculates the virtual relations cannot “attain the thickness of flesh” (Ihde, 1998; Murray, 2000; Hardey, 2002). Past research also showed that long-distance relationships, as compared to proximal relationships, did not induce less quality relationships (Guldner & Swensen, 1995; Stafford & Merolla, 2007), much based on the idea that long-distance, induced a large amount of idealisation of the relationship at hand (i.e. distortion, romance, perceived agreement, etc.) (Stafford & Merolla, 2007). Nevertheless if virtual relationships are not taken to shared personal offline experiences, i.e. shared events and circumstances through which a history is created and consequently a foundation for mutual trust and reciprocity is developed, relationships remain weak, impersonal and less holistic (Mesch & Talmud, 2006); The novel A Brave New World (by Huxley) depicts us in this very form, not far from now. Additionally, the temporal length of relationships is diminishing with the growth and increase in popularity of online dating sites; the ready pool of individuals awaiting an inviting conversation, intimacy, or a simple compliment is vast, diverse and ever-growing (Slater, 2013).
But for those, at the beginning of their relationships, or on a temporary geographical separation, who is to say that this “idealisation” cannot be maintained by ‘reducing’ the ‘virtual’ distance? In fact, Havas Worldwide Sydney in cooperation with Durex, are running an experiment called Fundawear (i.e. from “Fun”, and “Underwear”), in which the sensation through tactile stimuli are taken into account for geographically distant relationships  (HAVAS Worldwide Sydney, 2013).
The Focus Group and more recent Research
A focus group  conducted by the author of this paper, summarized that dating online should be used to get to know people to the extent of “bare necessities”, upon which a face-to-face date is to be set up. Moreover online dating sites only exist to facilitate the search for a real partner, and that the actual match depends on a variety of factors is a ruthless but true fact to accept (Hitsch, Hortaçsu, & Ariely, 2010). Another outcome of the focus group was that one has access to a pool of people with whom one may not have had any interaction with, which supported Castells ideas (2001). The group also discussed the reasons for deception, amongst which a positive first impression and self-presentation were the prevalent ones, aligning with Ellison, Hancock, & Toma (2011) work; other studies showed that eight in ten participants lied at least on one factor (i.e. physical attributes as weight, height, physique were distorted the most) (Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, 2008), and that small lies (with low magnitude) are perceived (by our self-concept) as not grave, not causing an internal shift away from a honest individual (Mazar & Ariely, 2006). This has eventually led to scepticism about the authenticity of profiles online and the genuine interest of an individual to get involved in ‘a’ serious relationship. But while scepticism still remains moderate-to-high, it is in fact only “rejection sensitivity” that had predictive validity over whether or not to use an online dating platform. And interestingly, those with higher sensitivity (i.e. more afraid of a rejection e.g. through a message, or not receiving an answer) were more likely to use such online dating sites. But it is also the higher rejection sensitive individuals, along with those low on conscientiousness and men, who then go on to engage in risky offline behaviours with online dating partners (Blackhart, Fitzpatrick & Williamson, 2014). It also seems men are 4 times more likely to contact their heterosexual/female counterparts (Blackhart, Fitzpatrick & Williamson, 2014), as women are less likely to use these type of platforms to solely find (casual) sex partners (Clemens, Atkin & Krishnan, 2015). Yet, only women who initiate the contact, indeed significantly connect with more desirable partners. Nevertheless, both women and men have initial tendencies of almost exclusively contacting their alters that are socially most desirable individuals (Blackhart, Fitzpatrick & Williamson, 2014). It’s only after few trials that one approaches users that reflect one’s own social desirability. Homosexuals, who are more open to experience compared to heterosexuals, use online dating sites for a broader array of gratification, such as a relationship, but as well in search for a sex partner, distraction, and/or convenient companion (Clemens, Atkin & Krishnan, 2015).
More in regard to personalities, generally social individuals and extroverts were perceived to be more outgoing on online sites. Neurotics, i.e. those emotionally less stable, were using online dating sites to build an identity and as a distraction, those open to experience use it to be social, those who are inclined to be less agreeable use it because they undergo peer pressure or because it portrays a particular status, and finally conscientious users are found to use it to find a relationship (Clemens, Atkin & Krishnan, 2015). Generally, online behaviour echoes offline patterns quite comparably; extroverts still have more social interaction than introverts, individuals with less dating anxiety will get more dates than those with more, and the ‘physically’ lonely tend be virtually lonely too (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). This is also reflected by the larger amount of “high rejection sensitive” users, as rejection sensitivity is related to “greater loneliness” (Watson & Nesdale, 2012). This is to say, people who feel lonelier are inclined to use online dating sites more, where rejection is not imminent.
What separates online daters from traditional ones, is that the former group can and prefers to form impressions through written words, value emotionality and a moderate-to-low amount of self-disclosure (Rosen, Cheever, Cummings, & Felt, 2008). However, stigma still seems to exist around the idea of meeting one’s ‘other half’ online; it is not the most desirable or ‘romantic’ way of first encounter (Baker, 2008). This is because currently, most people are together with partners that they met traditionally and offline (e.g. school, work, bars); so empirically recorded correlations in marriages (along certain attributes like income and education), might be entirely due to the social institutions that brought mates together and only partially due to the preferences individuals have over their partners (Hitsch, Hortaçsu, & Ariely, 2010).
In General, it seems, “online dating lowers the search costs of finding a partner in a market characterized by large search frictions” (Hitsch, Hortaçsu, & Ariely, 2010, p.27). Match.com reported back in 2012 already, that every 1 in 5 new relationships and 1 in 6 new marriages have their origin on online dating sites (Ramirez, et al., 2014), and the numbers will only climb. It is also believed that giving the users a query to filter through the online population does give the user a sense of self-censorship, that is the exclusive contacting of candidates who’s preferences one beliefs to have matched, seemingly leading to better quality lists of candidates (Diaz et al., 2010). But interestingly enough, users pass considerable amount of time at random selection too, and there is significant evidence that a discrepancy between a user’s stated dating preference and his/her actual online dating behaviour exists (Xia, et al., 2014).
To recapture the magnitude of how the online dating movement influences the way people currently interact is probably by asking ourselves “is it omissible to ignore online dating without missing out or even causing damage to how life takes its course, and is it evitable in future”? If prospective face-to-face interaction is to diminish, we are facing the necessity of accepting our online presence, with a good amount of self-promotion, and the acknowledgement of deception that will continue to exist until a radical way of making things secure and transparent is imposed.
On the brighter side of things, it is another way of meeting people, which one can employ or not. If embarking onto the online dating world is anything like rowing a boat, then it has the females on one side and males on another. The balance between each side and the direction is important, and it seems, different online platforms have found ways to segment themselves using diverse user or market criteria.
All current tendencies and developments indicate that the virtual world is here to stay, to be an imperative pillar of how our societies form norms and laws in future. Geographical separation will seem less disturbing. The bridge between the virtual and physical world will become more apparent, and the way we interact with each other will need to be rewritten. But evolution is intricate and does not necessarily exclude the merge with the machines.
 Similar personality of the two parties (<0.5% of variance); actor effect (if the partners fits the image of ones perception of an ideal partner) comprised for ca. 6% variance; and partner effect (partner’s image of oneself fits to the image of an ideal partner) for 1-3% in relationship satisfaction.
 Watch the Fundawear “Durexperiment” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb7DN3kpl2o
 4 participants in support and 3 opposing dating online, with 2 supporters having used it to date online.
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