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The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies

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9 The Study of Online Relationships and Dating

Barrie Gunter is Professor of Mass Communication, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester, UK.

  • Published: 12 March 2013
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This chapter, which investigates a range of evidence about online dating behaviour, and a synthesis of approaches to research in this area, also evaluates the nature of the market and the experiences of those who have engaged in online dating. Further issues linked with patterns of online self-disclosure and self-presentation, and concerns about deception in online dating, are then assessed. Corporate data have indicated that the online dating business is mostly on an upward trajectory. Data show greater age difference tolerance of online daters and a willingness to adopt a broader selection of partners compared with offline-only daters. Many online dating site users increasingly fail to be fully engaged by sites that offer search opportunities for partner matches using check-box profiling. The issues of deception and trust in relation to personal profiles have been regarded as problematic factors that could cause tension among online daters.


The Internet has long been a social medium that is used to facilitate communication with others through a number of different modalities. The early centrality of email has been augmented by new modes of text, audio, and video for interpersonal communication. It has therefore opened up multiple opportunities for people to make new social contacts through generic online tools that can be adapted to idiosyncratic applications, such as social networking sites, and via more closed online services that are designed to provide specialist functions, such as online dating sites. In this context, online dating has emerged as one of the most widely used applications on the Internet. It has also developed into a highly profitable business with growing numbers of people worldwide being prepared to pay for access to services that will find them a romantic or sexual partner, or enhance their relationship prospects.

This chapter examines a range of evidence about online dating behavior, as well as a synthesis of approaches to research in this area. It examines the nature of the market and the experiences of those who have engaged in online dating. The market for online dating is both a “mass” and fragmented: that is, there are services that promote themselves to all comers and others that target specific sub-groups in society defined by demographics, socio-cultural factors, or special interests (The Internet Dating Guide 2007 ; Matchmaking Institute 2009 ). Questions about the motives that users display for online dating are examined. Further issues associated with patterns of online self-disclosure and self-presentation and concerns about deception in online dating are also examined. Online dating is also considered within a broader context of the “social” Internet.

Emergence of online dating

The use of advertising to find a romantic partner dates back to the nineteenth century with the phenomenon of mail-order brides and the matchmaker services found among certain communities—particularly those transplanted via migration to locations far distant from their original homelands (Jagger 1998 ; Steinfirst and Moran 1989 ). These services had restricted impact, however, and it was not until much later in the final quarter of the twentieth century that personal advertising for romantic or social partners became widely established (Bolig et al. 1984 ).

The potential for using the Internet as a method for finding a romantic or sexual partner has increased as the prevalence of Internet use has grown dramatically within a fairly short period of time. By June 2010, for instance, Internet penetration had almost reached two billion worldwide, or 29 percent of the world's population, and most people in developed nations and increasingly in developing countries now go online for a variety of purposes (Internet World Stats 2010 ).

In the twenty-first century, the adoption of the Internet has been driven increasingly by its use as a social communications medium. Online communication, most especially the use of email, was always one of the most widespread applications among Internet users (Horrigan 2001 ; Cole et al. 2004 ; Gunter et al. 2004 ). As web technology developed, more dynamic, real-time forms of communications evolved enabling online conversations to occur on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis. Social networking on the Internet quickly became widespread after 2003 with major brands such as Bebo, Facebook, and MySpace evolving dramatically from small-scale use among localized communities to global applications and millions of regular users. These tools became especially popular among young people (Lenhart 2007 ). These sites are also used in the context of romantic relationships, both to find new companions and to report upon the status of existing relationships.

Another factor associated with online dating is the growth, in many countries, of the proportion of the population that is single and therefore may potentially be in the market to find a partner. There is greater population mobility resulting in local community networks becoming diluted. In addition, career and time pressures are increasing for many people and make it more difficult for growing numbers of singles to find romantic partners (Barraket and Henry-Waring 2004 ; Hardey 2002 ). Online dating represents a more convenient search tool where external support is available to provide singles with a shop window of choice of potential partners brought straight to their computer screen. A further factor of relevance in this context is the decline of workplace romances in the face of sexual harassment concerns (see Brym and Lenton 2001 ).

Given the scale of the online dating phenomenon and the significance of the issues with which it is concerned, it is important that we develop a comprehensive understanding of why people engage with it and with what desired outcomes. Any online activity that involves some degree of self-disclosure in a public arena in which unseen and unknown observers are present and whose motives may not always be transparent or truthfully expressed, carries a degree of risk. The significance of this “risk assessment” is underlined by observations that people can develop deep emotional attachments to others they meet online that are every bit as powerful as offline relationships (McKenna et al. 2002 ; Walther and Parks 2002 ). Furthermore, such online connections can lead to short-term or sometimes lasting intimate relationships in real physical life (Joinson 2001 , 2003 ; McKenna 2007 ).

What is the prevalence of Internet dating?

Online dating estimates derive from a number of sources. These include self-report estimates made by respondents in ad hoc surveys, online digital log measures of website hit rates, and corporate data released by major online dating companies about their customer bases.

Corporate evidence

Internet dating companies provide some data about use of their sites and this can vary in quantity and quality, ranging from generalized statistical information about memberships or customer bases to more detailed market or social scientific research on specific aspects of dating behavior. Corporate research is impressive in terms of its scale, but less so in respect of the insights it can provide into the subtleties of online dating behavior that enhance our understanding of it. Even as measures of market size, corporate data need validation from independent sources of market analysis because user data, as reported on corporate websites, are an integral part of corporate promotions, where a key agenda is to attract yet more users.

Corporate data have indicated that the online dating business is mostly on an upward trajectory. The economic recession in 2007–09 did not seem to affect this growth. Many online dating agencies reported significant increases in both membership lists and revenues during this period (Dawley 2008 ; Espinoza 2009 ).

Self-report evidence

Questionnaire-based surveys in which respondents provide self-reports about their online dating activities derive from a number of different sources, including academics, commercial pollsters, and the industry itself. American research has found that although bars and clubs remain important meeting places, growing numbers of people report going online explicitly to find people to date (Fallows 2004 ; Madden and Lenhart 2006 ; Netimperative 2005 ). Similar evidence has emerged from the UK (Gunter et al. 2003 ; Gunter et al. 2004 ). Online dating is now widely seen as socially acceptable and not the behavior of desperate, lonely people (Madden and Lenhart 2006 ; Response Source 2008 ).

Online measurement

Continuous measurement of Internet use has also yielded data on the prevalence of online dating. A number of specialist marketing research agencies routinely monitor and measure Internet traffic. Among the leading data suppliers in this field are ComScore, Hitwise, and Nielsen.

ComScore ( 2006 ) reported that nearly one in five European Internet users (18 percent) visited online personals sites during the month of July 2006, which slightly exceeded the equivalent figure for North America (17 percent). This meant there were 38.2 million online dating site users in Europe and 29.1 million in North America. More recently, research by Nielsen, reported that American online dating sites attracted 27.5 million unique visitors in June 2009 (Comstock 2009 ).

What kinds of people use online dating?

Evidence has emerged from some markets, that the demographic profile of online daters does not match that of the general Internet-using population. Online dating was initially embraced by younger Internet users, but eventually spread to other age groups. It remains more popular among young adults in their 20s and 30s than any other age group (Brym and Lenton 2001 ; Madden and Lenhart 2006 ; Marketing Vox 2007 ; Gunter 2008 ). Evidence from academic and industry research has indicated only small degrees of user variance based on gender (Madden and Lenhart 2006 ; Hitwise 2007 ; Marketing Vox 2007 ).

Table 9.1 summarizes key findings from prominent studies of the demographics of online daters in different parts of the world. Men adopted this form of dating more extensively than did women early on, but over time both genders have come to make widespread use of such services. Online dating has also been popular among young people, mostly aged under 40 years, but again over time, old age-groups have increasingly used these services. Of particular significance is the extent to which people already in relationships, and not just those who are single, use online dating services. The findings reveal the varied motivations that can underpin online dating behavior.

It might be expected that most users of online dating sites would be individuals who are romantically unattached. There is mounting evidence, however, that this is not always true. Canadian research found that nearly one in five online dating site users (18 percent) were either married or in a live-in relationship (Brym and Lenton 2001 ). In the US the proportion of online dating site members who were married or in a relationship was even higher (30 percent) (PRWeb 2005 ). This evidence suggests a different kind of motive for using these sites, driven more by risqué excitement than a genuine desire for romance. It might also be regarded by some users, who feel trapped in unhappy marital relationships, as an escape route. More evidence is needed on these questions.

The idea that online daters are desperate individuals who are socially isolated or inadequate has received equivocal support from empirical research. This perception was prevalent in the earliest days of online dating and may have reflected opinions that prevailed about use of the personals columns in magazines and newspapers (see Klement 1997 ). Online daters have been found to have active offline social lives and see themselves as self-confident. Dating websites represent one avenue of social contact among many (Brym and Lenton 2001 ; Gunter 2008 )

There is interesting evidence concerning the age differences of online daters who go on to form lasting partnerships (Dutton et al. 2008 ). In more than six in ten cases (61 percent) online daters formed long-term relationships with someone with whom the age difference was less than six years. There was more likely to be an age difference of six or more years, however, between couples meeting online (39 percent) than between those meeting offline (24 percent). In a later report by the same researchers, the tolerance for age differences among online daters was found to vary somewhat between countries. While online daters in Spain and the UK were similarly likely to display an age difference of greater than six years, this proportion was markedly lower in Australia (Dutton et al. 2009 ).

These findings may reveal greater age difference tolerance of online daters and a willingness to embrace a wider choice of partners compared with offline-only daters. This in turn increases the likelihood that lasting partnerships will develop between people of varying characteristics. As we see later, there are also differences between genders in what they seek from a partner that can mediate the success of different forms of self-disclosure that occur in online social contact settings.

What motivates online daters?

People visit or use online dating sites for a variety of reasons. There are two aspects to motivation: the nature of the motive and the strength of motivation. Strength of motivation can be indicated through the degree of persistence that online-dating-site users exhibit in sticking with the task. Once they get started, many online daters use Internet services repeatedly (Gunter 2008 ).

Gender differences in expectations and outcomes have been found. Women were more likely to go online seeking friendships, while men sought a relationship. Men were four times as likely as women to say they sought a “no-strings” fling. Men were also more likely to instigate contact on the basis of an attractive photograph whereas women responded to an interesting description (Netimperative 2005 ). These findings are consistent with evolutionary theory explanations of male versus female sexual-partner-seeking behavior. According to this theory, women tend to be more selective than men (Feingold 1992 ). Consistent with this theory, female Internet daters tend to specify more attributes than do males in relation to determining the right partner for themselves (Bartling et al. 2005 ).

Further evidence has emerged that male online daters are most influenced by the apparent age and physical attractiveness of potential female partners, whereas female online daters look more closely at social status indicators such as education and occupation (Lance 1998 ). Other research, discussed later, reinforces the position of this theory that men and women seek different characteristics in potential mates within the context of Internet dating that reflects differences in the way they are “hard-wired.” Their distinctive socio-biological orientations may also underpin their propensity to emphasize or distort specific features about themselves that they believe will enhance their attractiveness to potential mates.

Are online daters satisfied with online dating?

Research has shown that most online daters agreed that it is an effective way of meeting people (Brym and Lenton 2001 ). Most users of these sites express broad satisfaction with the service received, though this was less prevalent in terms of the numbers of contacts provided and dates achieved (Gunter 2008 ).

One common source of concern was retention of anonymity while online. Thus, while online daters seek face-to-face contact opportunities, this must be done in secure locations from which they can walk away. While actual dates would provide an opportunity to engage in more direct contact with a potential new friend or romantic partner, many online daters would like to remain in shopping-around mode, perhaps, but in a more socially rich online situation (Gunter 2008 ). The perceived advantages of online dating include the provision of a large pool of potential dates that increases the chances of finding a suitable match (Madden and Lenhart 2006 ).

If the explanations of gender differences in mating habits of evolutionary theory are to be accepted as relevant here, this expanded choice is likely to be utilized differently by men and women Internet daters. We would expect women to do more window shopping before committing to a purchase, while men might be more likely to try out multiple goods.

It was noted earlier that online daters seem to be willing to accept bigger differences between themselves and their partners than is often found among offline daters (Dutton et al. 2008 ). This observation has been reinforced by other evidence obtained from active or recent online daters that they cast the net wider in terms of the character range of potential companions they are willing consider compared with the usual choice profiles that are prevalent in the offline world. Thus, men are no more likely than women to be influenced by the physical attractiveness of potential online dates and women in the online world are not as strongly motivated to find a male partner with high socio-economic status (Whitty 2008 ).

The degree of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) experienced by online daters has been directly linked to the formats adopted by online dating sites. Online dating site interfaces that offer standard profile-based information about potential companions can be off-putting. Research has indicated that many online dating sites users increasingly fail to be fully engaged by sites that offer search opportunities for partner matches using check-box profiling. One study found that Internet daters reported spending more time searching through profiles than engaging in the kinds of interactions usually associated with dating. It therefore tested new formats in which participants could send instant messages to each other and post images as conversation points. This approach created greater immediacy in otherwise remote interactions, which modeled more closely exchanges that might take place in initial real-time, face-to-face encounters. Participants preferred others with whom they had initially interacted rather than those whose profiles they had read during face-to-face meetings (Frost et al. 2008 ).

How successful is online dating for making social contacts?

The success of online dating is difficult to determine in any absolute sense as it is dependent upon users’ expectations associated with their reasons for doing it. Casual users and seekers of life-long partners have different motives. In between these two extremes, however, there are many other potential measures of success calculated in terms of dates achieved, dates with potentially good matches, and so on.

A number of independent studies in different countries have confirmed that most users make multiple contacts with potential dates, either through self-initiated actions or by responding to the actions of others (Brym and Lenton 2001 ; Trueman 2005 ; Gunter 2008 ). One meeting often led to others although relationships surviving more than one year occurred for fewer than one in five (Trueman 2005 ).

Criteria of success may differ for online dating simply because dating is conducted remotely, whereas in the offline world the establishment of a relationship requires physical proximity between romantic partners (Levine 2000 ; Wildermuth 2001 ). Studies of online dating have found, however, that one central criterion of success was whether it led to offline meetings (Brym and Lenton 2001 ; Parks and Roberts 1998 ). Ultimately then even for online daters for a relationship to flourish, it must be feasible for them actually to meet someone face to face. Hence geographical proximity for online daters remains an issue just as in the offline dating world.

What are the consequences of online dating?

Making initial contacts from which face-to-face encounters are arranged are the first steps in realizing what might be a more involved objective of engaging in a full-blown relationship that might be purely sexual in nature or entail a longer-term commitment. A majority of Canadian online daters (63 percent) said they had had a sexual relationship with at least one person they met online. This outcome was slightly more likely among men (66 percent) than among women (58 percent) and was especially high among gay men (79 percent). Many (60 percent) reportedly enjoyed at least one long-term relationship from meeting with someone they initially contacted via one of these sites. Far fewer (27 percent), said they met someone they came to consider as their “partner.” Only a tiny proportion (3 percent) married someone they met online. This outcome generally followed a protracted courtship online in the form of exchanges of emails and photographs (Brym and Lenton 2001 ).

In the US, more than four in ten (43 percent) online daters said they had gone on dates with people they met through Internet dating sites, with far fewer (17 percent) entering long-term relationships or marrying people they met this way. Across US Internet users, 3 percent who were married or in a long-term relationship said they met their partners online (Madden and Lenhart 2006 ).

In the UK, more than four in ten users of online dating services claimed to have experienced at least one sexual relationship as a result, while only around three in ten enjoyed a lasting relationship and just under one in ten found a marriage partner (Gunter 2008 ). A major study of online daters in the UK and Australia revealed that 6 percent of responding Internet users in the UK and 9 percent in Australia said they had met their current partner online (Dutton et al. 2008 ).

How important is self-disclosure style?

Online dating, as with any other form of dating, requires participants to disclose details about themselves as part of the process of building a rapport and then a relationship with another person. In the online dating world, face-to-face contact is delayed and may never occur. Instead, other channels of communication are used. These include email, online real-time chat, exchanges of photographs and even audio or video links. Contacts initially begin with the preservation of anonymity through text-only communication. Other channels that reveal more about participants can subsequently be introduced when participants wish to take the initial contacts further (Couch and Liamputtong 2008 ).

The ways that people represent themselves can vary between different online settings. Thus, self-disclosures and virtual “courtship” behaviors have been observed to differ between online dating sites and other virtual communities such as chat rooms and discussion boards. The real-world geographical distance between participants in these sites can also vary. In online virtual communities not established explicitly for dating purposes, users may be more tolerant of large geographical distances because memberships of these communities may typically be international. In respect of online dating sites, where the primary intention may be to find a new romantic partner, there will be an expectation that eventually an online friendship will evolve into an offline relationship. In this case, geographical proximity will become an important factor underpinning how easy and convenient it will be for both partners to arrange a face–to-face meeting. Consequently, online friends are more likely to meet in person when they live relatively close to each other and will be more likely to meet sooner to test the offline dating potential of someone contacted online (Baker 2005 ). In general, those who meet via dating sites are more likely to meet at all compared with those who meet on other online virtual communities (McKenna 2007 ).

Research with online daters has revealed that they use a number of different communications channels. In Australia, for example, a small qualitative study with fifteen online daters found that they used email, online chat, and webcams to interact with potential romantic partners. They also used an array of filtering mechanisms to help them decide whether to take any of these remote contacts through to face-to-face meetings. These filters again took advantage of text, audio, and video channels to inform impressions of others with whom remote interactions were taking place (Couch and Liamputtong 2008 ).

Self-presentation has emerged as a critically important variable that can influence success in Internet dating. There should be no surprises about this because developing intimate, romantic relationships, whatever the context, generally involves an unveiling of the self to another. In the offline world, during face-to-face meetings, a person's anonymity is forfeited and first impressions based on judgments about appearance and initial disclosure of personality can be critical. In the online world, the individual is afforded some protection through invisibility when initial disclosures occur in text message form. This can lead to individuals adopting a more strategic approach to self-disclosure that entails being carefully selective in the information they present about what they are and what they are like (Bargh et al. 2002 ; McKenna et al. 2002 ). At the same time, in an online setting, individuals may disclose specific details about themselves sooner than they might ordinarily do in offline settings and develop a closeness with another even sight unseen (Walther et al. 2001 ). Despite these differences between the offline and online worlds, relationships in both spheres have been observed to display a gradual development from exploration of surface level characteristics to disclosures of deeper-seated values and attributes, a psychological process articulated by social penetration theory (Altman and Taylor 1973 ; Whitty and Carr 2006 ).

Whitty ( 2008 ) has explained how past theories of the “self” have routinely distinguished between different levels of personal representation, usually embracing a concept of the “real self,” some other “idealized self,” and possibly an “externalized self” that may reveal parts of the real self, but not all of it. It is therefore only to be expected that these offline processes and habits should migrate into the online world. Whitty ( 2008 ) also noted that in the context of relationship formation in the offline world, the self is revealed a bit at a time. Such exchanges between those who are dating represent an intricate part of relationship formation. Disclosure of intimate details occurs gradually as trust is built up between daters, and as more of each other's true selves are revealed judgments can be reviewed about whether there is a good match. This ritualized pattern of self-disclosure may be followed in the online world though the pace at which it proceeds can be more rapid, in some respects, than in the offline world.

There is evidence, for example, that online daters use their online dating experiences as opportunities to try out new identities. The intention here may be as much about self-exploration as giving misleading impression of who they really are. Thus, online daters may post idealized selves characterized by attributes they do not actually possess, but would like to. Feedback is then received on these alternative self-images from other users, enabling posters to judge which attributes are most highly valued by others. One possible outcome of this exploratory behavior is identity re-creation on the part of the individual (Yurchisin et al. 2005 ).

Another aspect of online behavior that has emerged as important to progression of a relationship beyond initial stages of online contact is the use of emotional words in early text exchanges. Emails with strong emotional terms in which the correspondent indicates their excitement at the opportunity to find someone new can lead to more favorable first impressions and a greater likelihood that the recipient of such messages will choose to pursue the relationship further (Rosen et al. 2008 ).

Internet daters may try out different representations of themselves. This process can include deciding on different ways of verbally describing what they are like as well as carefully selecting photographs of themselves that they post on dating websites or send to potential offline dates. Online daters may seek to put forward the best of themselves (Heino et al. 2005 ). This is understandable in that they wish to present themselves as possessing attributes potential partners will find attractive. This motivation can result in distorted, exaggerated, or misleading self-portrayals emerging (Toma et al. 2008 ). Such behavior can also create a tension among some online daters who feel under pressure to be more open and honest about themselves because they ultimately want their dating experience to be successful (Ellison et al. 2006 ).

The repercussions from telling lies about oneself online are that eventually someone might find out. Furthermore, in the online dating context, if the real persona as revealed in an offline meeting is totally different from the image projected online, potential partners may be put off. Totally exposing one's true self can place an online dater at a disadvantage, however, so some degree of mild deception in the form of selective disclosure could prove the most effective strategy (Whitty 2008 ). While such mild deceit may be ethically acceptable and justifiable in terms of safeguarding both personal privacy and security and self-regard in settings of personal disclosure to unseen strangers, more serious forms of malicious deceptive behaviour has also been recorded online, sometimes in dating contexts, that can result in real harm to victims in the offline world (Whitty and Joinson 2009 ).

The concept of “warrants” has been invoked in this context which is related to the closeness of contact between a person's real world and online identity (see Walther et al. 2009 ). Warrants comprise disclosures that permit another to authenticate or verify any personal claims an individual might make about their character. The reduction in degree to which offline and online lives and identities are divorced from each other can control the level of deception likely to occur in online self-disclosures (Warkentin et al. 2010 ).

Even though online daters may be aware of the risks they run in respect of the success of subsequent face-to-face meetings with potential romantic partners initially courted online, they may still fall into the temptation of telling minor untruths or “white lies” about themselves. Validation tests of online self-descriptions in the form of direct observations and measurements of online daters have indicated that both men and women lie about some of their personal attributes. Deceptions included details disclosed about height, weight, and age, with claims made of being taller, less heavy and younger than was the truth. In most cases, however, the deception was mild rather than severe (Toma et al. 2008 ).

Conflicting evidence has emerged that men and women distort different attributes. Men seek women who are physically attractive and youthful, leading women to exaggerate these attributes in themselves in their self-disclosures. Women seek men who can offer them comfort, status, and security and therefore look for these attributes in the self-disclosures of male online daters. In terms of evolutionary theory, to which reference has already been made, men seek women with reproductive fitness and therefore focus on physical and biological characteristics of potential mates. Women, in contrast, seek not simply a mate with whom they can procreate but also one who will provide longer-term security both for herself and her offspring (Buss 1988 ; Buss and Schmitt 1993 ).

The “screen names” that online daters use can shape the impressions others form of them in terms of their personality or physical attractiveness (Whitty and Buchanan 2009 ). Online daters have openly admitted posting profiles that misrepresent them. Once again, though, it seems that this is not done through malicious intent but simply to find out which self-images work best in that environment (Whitty 2008 ).

The open text descriptions that Internet daters provide of themselves can also vary in their truthfulness. As a form of self-protection, online daters who lie on their personal profiles tend to use fewer self-references and fewer emotionally negative words, both to enhance the self-impression they hope to create while at the same time psychologically distancing themselves from any distortions their self-descriptions might contain. Despite these findings, most online daters in this research were found on independent validation to tell the truth about themselves (Toma and Hancock 2010 ).

Are there other online avenues to finding a partner?

The Internet offers users a variety of different options for meeting people for social and romantic purposes. There is mounting evidence to show that that there are other online opportunities for finding romantic partners in addition to specialist dating sites. Internet users adopt these alternatives sometimes instead of or in addition to dating websites (Mintel 2009 ).

The dramatic rise of social networking sites has enabled millions of people worldwide to expand their lists of social contacts (Lenhart 2009 ). Social networks have always represented a critical aspect of the fabric of our lives. They underline family and community ties that define self-identity and can provide us with social, emotional, and economic support (Wellman and Gulia 1999 ; Wellman and Potter 1999 ). Offline social networks have migrated into cyberspace and online social networks represent both a reinforcement and an extension of offline networks (Donath and boyd 2004 ). While people present their identity through their physical selves in the offline world, in online settings they must create a screen profile dependent on self-report. In such contexts, there is often less richness of personal information available in online profiles for others to form an impression of an online actor as compared with a face-to-face meeting in the physical world (Postmes et al. 1998 ; Walther and Tidwell 2002 ). Nevertheless, such computer-mediated communication environments can promote the development of new relationships and the maintenance of existing relationships that can be socially as powerful as offline interactions (Walther 1997 ; Wang et al. 2009 ).

Within computer-mediated settings, however, the rules governing interpersonal engagement and impression formation can differ from those found in face-to-face encounters. Social identity effects that arise from situations in which anonymity of communicants places group-level cues centre stage enhances impressions of group cohesiveness and common identity where broad group membership attributes are shared. SIDE (social identity of deindividuation effects) theory has posited that computer-mediated relationships can be strengthened through this process even in the absence of many of the cues that underpin interpersonal attraction in the physical world (Postmes et al. 1999 ). The common sense of group identity can be so strong, that subsequent exposure to more personalized information about participants in a computer-mediated communication task can reduce interpersonal attraction responses (Lee 2004 ; Postmes et al. 1998 ; Walther 1997 ).

At the individual level, Walther ( 1995 ) offered an alternative theoretical interpretation of how online interpersonal relationships can emerge and develop. His social information processing theory posited that even online individuals will draw upon many of the cues they might use offline in assessing others, but the pace at which a relationship develops online is slower. Early tests of this theory, however, found that it may have underestimated the extent to which computer-mediated communication can facilitate relationship formation.

In an extension, called hyperpersonal theory, it was argued that the capacity afforded by computer-mediated communication to modify self-disclosures and to modify the self-identity that is projected can create a setting in which extremely powerful interpersonal relationships develop (Walther 1996 , 1997 ). In computer-mediated settings, individuals may take great care over self-presentation by carefully drafting and re-drafting personal profiles to control the tone, complexity, and emotionality of the language used (Walther 2007 ). Although synchronous online communications can be littered with anonymous and deceptive self-descriptions, in asynchronous online environments, users can take greater care over the impressions they create of themselves, responding to the reactions of others and modifying their profiles strategically to maximize their attractiveness while not straying too far from the truth. In such contexts, powerful interpersonal relationships can emerge (Tidwell and Walther 2002 ).

US research with teenage social networkers indicated that while most used their profiles to maintain contact with established friends, around half used them to make new friends, and in some cases social networks were used to flirt with others (Lenhart and Madden 2007 ). UK research found that nearly one in four Internet users had made new social contacts online and about half of these individuals had gone online with the intention of meeting new friends (DiGennaro and Dutton 2007 ; Dutton and Helsper 2007 ).

Research in Australia, Spain, and the UK among Internet users who met their spouses online reported that although online dating sites were named more often than any other online site among UK respondents, this was not true in Australia or Spain (Dutton et al. 2008 , 2009 ). In the UK, online chat rooms and instant messaging provided contact points as well as dating sites. In Spain and Australia, chat rooms were the most popular sites of first social contact (Dutton et al., 2009 ).

We saw earlier, in the context of using Internet dating sites, that the issues of deception and trust in relation to personal profiles were regarded as problematic factors that could cause tension among online daters. Trust in personalized information is relevant in other online social interaction settings, including those that involve highly popular social network sites such as Facebook (Walther et al. 2009 ). In this context, the concept of warrants can be significant in that they can serve to constrain the inclination to stray too far from the truth when constructing online self-descriptions. In particular, any personal claims are more likely to command the trust of others when they are authenticated by independent sources. Thus, in the context of Facebook, for example, remarks generated by others tended to be trusted more than those generated by self in relation to judgments made about personal profiles (Walther et al. 2009 ).

Further evidence has emerged however that the propensity to tell lies—even if only mildly deceptive in nature—varied between online social interaction platforms. Deceptions were less likely to occur in emails and social network sites than in live chat rooms, Internet forums, or instant messaging. Warrants, or self disclosures that revealed information about self that others could check out, were least likely to be deployed in those areas where lies were most prevalent—chat rooms, forums, and instant messages. If warrants suppress deception, as has been hypothesized, then social network sites would appear to offer potentially the most trustworthy personal profiles (Warkentin et al. 2010 ).

Whether social networking sites designed primarily to enhance general social contacts and (non-romantic) friendships represent significant competition for specialist dating sites remains to be seen. It is likely that they will at least represent one more tool in the dating toolbox for those who seek convenient and economical routes to making new romantic contacts. Certainly, on the basis of recent evidence, they may are more likely than other online disclosure to provide the most authentic personal profiles.

What does the future hold?

From the end of the twenty-first century, online dating emerged as one of the most widely used applications of the Internet. In the space of less than a decade, this market has evolved rapidly. It has grown in terms of overall market size. The phenomenon of online dating is global in reach. The number of suppliers of these services has also increased over time at an accelerating pace. The immaturity of the market in many countries is an important contributory factor in the rapid growth in numbers of different suppliers. As the market matures and consolidates with a few dominant suppliers capturing the greatest market share, market entry for smaller suppliers could become more difficult because of the costs involved in establishing a viable market presence (Mintel 2009 ).

Although online social networking services that are not branded specifically in relation to dating have surfaced as competition to specialist online dating agencies, most of the biggest online dating agencies have a distinct selling proposition based on the detailed profiling they carry out with their clients to ensure that contacts represent good romantic matches. Given that most online daters do not simply want to gain contacts, but contacts with a specific type of relationship potential, the more sophisticated matching services should always find a market.

Empirical research has indicated that deception in personal profiling online is regarded as a problem (Toma et al. 2008 ). There are factors that can be introduced to suppress the propensity to lie online (Lucid 2009 ). Moreover, deception seems less likely to occur in asynchronous online communication settings, such as Internet dating sites, than in synchronous online communication environments (Warkentin et al. 2010 ). Signals of authentication of personal profiles are likely to enhance the reputation of online dating sites among users, even in the face of growing competition within the market and from social network sites.

Within the specialist online dating supply chain, however, market changes are occurring that will pose business challenges to market leaders. Even the specialist market is becoming increasingly crowded. There are two significant phenomena that have affected market dynamics. The first of these is the emergence of free dating sites that do not charge users any fees directly. Instead, their business models depend upon the generation of revenue via advertising on their sites. The second change is market fragmentation.

Parts of the pay market for online dating have responded to “free” sites by launching free sites of their own. Some major companies have merged to capture bigger market shares in specific national markets. It is also important to note that online daters do not always remain loyal to one site or restrict their search to one supplier at a time. Even free sites, such as PlentyofFish, have acknowledged that up to 15 percent of its users also sign up to pay sites (Mintel 2009 ). As in other service markets, quality of service is a critical factor that drives customers’ choices. Online daters still use paid-for sites because many free sites offer limited customer service.

Another positive factor for pay sites is that few “free” sites make enough money from advertising to sustain their businesses (Mintel 2009 ). There remains scope for further analysis of business models likely to prove successful in the future. Given the significance of factors such as deception and trust, that may be linked in turn to privacy and security issues on the part of online daters, fee-based dating services could remain competitive if they offer greater value in terms of profile authenticity checking, which is likely to demand additional resources on the part of service suppliers.

The online dating market is fragmenting. There are growing numbers of online dating services within national markets that are targeting niche sub-markets defined by sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age group, lifestyle preferences, and a range of special interests or needs. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of market fragmentation has been manifest in the growth of dating sites that cater for members with unusual distinguishing attributes or interests (Scott and Martin 2009 ).

A further dynamic that is influencing the shape of the online dating market is the entry into the market of other well-known brands, in particular media companies. Media organizations that publish outlets that have traditionally carried personal ads or that run dating competitions have sought to extend their reach in the dating arena via online dating. Media companies have achieved this objective via partnerships with established online dating companies, through take-overs of such companies or by setting up new online dating services themselves. In the UK, a number of major newspapers have established or bought into online dating sites. Many of these have enjoyed business growth, although they have yet to penetrate the top ten (Mintel 2009 ). Hence, although such mergers that combine powerful brands could be seen as having strong and widespread appeal, their success will depend upon which partner dominates the business decision-making and upon whether for consumers the partnership seems like a good fit.

Final remarks

There is a steadily expanding body of research about online dating that derives from industry market monitoring, commercial ad hoc studies of users’ experiences by online dating agencies and opinion pollsters, and research by academics. Online dating has become socially accepted and in many countries and demographic strata has long passed the stage of early adoption and become a mass participation activity.

There remain important questions on which more research is needed. How will online dating continue to evolve? Will the online dating market become more fragmented, with agencies targeting smaller and more tightly defined groups or communities? Will the major dating companies need to diversify more in the future to embrace communities that are defined by more than standard demographics?

To be successful, online dating services may need to become more literate in terms of their understanding of the rules of social interaction that apply in computer-mediated environments (see Walther 1996 ; Walther et al. 2001 ). As online dating expands, will it experience problems that have been linked to the wider social networking phenomenon of site misuse, invasion of privacy, personal security threats, and identity theft? Most users have been found to exhibit sensitivity to dishonesty in online dating, but few perceived it as a real risk (Brym and Lenton 2001 ; Madden and Lenhart 2006 ).

Market analysts have provided macro-level data that are helpful in tracking global and national market movements in this sector. Their methods, as they stand, are inappropriate for understanding the key drivers of online dating behavior. More theory-based research is required that determines the degree to which offline norms and rules relating to interpersonal communication, impression, and relationship formation can be migrated into the online world is essential.

More studies that combine linguistic analysis of the texts of personal profiles with analysis of discourses used by online daters to describe their intentions and expectations could provide valuable insights. In addition, interventionist designs that manipulate specific features of online personal profiles to evaluate the responses elicited by specific features in the presence of controls over other features could reveal micro-level attributes. The latter could then be utilized in macro-level analyses of online dating site texts using data mining software permitting systematic and subtle levels of evaluation of massive quantities of online content (e.g. Thelwall 2008 ; Feizy et al. 2009 ). In view of cross-national differences in online dating habits (e.g. Dutton et al. 2009 ), such triangulated analyses should also be conducted cross-culturally.

Finally, in light of growing concerns about deviant practices on the Internet, some of which are manifest in the context of ostensibly genuine online relationship formation (Whitty and Carr 2006 ), there is a need for greater understanding of the types of people who utilize the Internet in search of friends and partners, beyond the standard market demographics. This need is underlined by emergent evidence that individuals who lack confidence in terms of self-presentation may be more likely than others to prefer social interaction online. This syndrome has been described under the broad heading of Problematic Internet Use (PIU) (Caplan 2002 , 2003 , 2005 ).

Socially responsible online dating services might seek to profile their clients psychologically so that value-added advisory services can be provided to guide potentially more vulnerable Internet users, for example, those who might be taken in by the phenomenon of so-called “romance scams” whereby criminals infiltrate online dating sites with fake profiles in order to construct bogus romantic relationships with susceptible victims, often culminating in attempts to extort money from them. Researchers have begun to study the linguistic styles of these fake profiles to develop algorithms for their detection to provide support to law enforcement agencies that are often called in to such cases (see Whitty and Buchanan 2011 ).

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  • v.4; 2016 May

Online intimacy and well-being in the digital age

Anna m. lomanowska.

a Department of Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6, Canada

b School of Psychology, Laval University, Quebec City, QC G1V 0A6, Canada

c Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, Quebec City, QC, G1J 2G3, Canada

Matthieu J. Guitton

d Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, Quebec City, QC G1V 0A6, Canada

Engagement in intimate social interactions and relationships has an important influence on well-being. However, recent advances in Internet and mobile communication technologies have lead to a major shift in the mode of human social interactions, raising the question of how these technologies are impacting the experience of interpersonal intimacy and its relationship with well-being. Although the study of intimacy in online social interactions is still in its early stages, there is general agreement that a form of online intimacy can be experienced in this context. However, research into the relationship between online intimacy and well-being is critically limited. Our aim is to begin to address this research void by providing an operative perspective on this emerging field. After considering the characteristics of online intimacy, its multimodal components and its caveats, we present an analysis of existing evidence for the potential impact of online intimacy on well-being. We suggest that studies thus far have focused on online social interactions in a general sense, shedding little light on how the level of intimacy in these interactions may affect well-being outcomes. We then consider findings from studies of different components of intimacy in online social interactions, specifically self-disclosure and social support, to indirectly explore the potential contribution of online intimacy to health and well-being. Based on this analysis, we propose future directions for fundamental and practical research in this important new area of investigation.

  • • Intimacy in social interactions has an important influence on health and well-being.
  • • A form of intimacy can be experienced in online interactions.
  • • Research into the relationship between online intimacy and well-being is critically limited.
  • • Analysis of components of intimacy sheds light on its contribution to health and well-being.
  • • Future directions for fundamental and practical research are proposed.

1. Introduction

Engagement in meaningful and intimate social interactions and relationships is one of the key components through which social factors influence general health and well-being ( Berkman et al., 2000 , Cohen, 2004 , Helliwell and Putman, 2004 , Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010 , Kawachi and Berkman, 2001 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 ). However, the recent and widespread integration of Internet and mobile communication technologies into our daily lives is changing the principal modalities through which we engage with others ( Amichai-Hamburger, 2013 , Steinfield et al., 2012 , Zhong, 2011 ). In light of these changes, it is critical to consider how interpersonal intimacy experienced in the context of online social engagement may influence health and well-being outcomes in the digital age.

Social factors act at multiple levels to influence health and well-being, including upstream effects of social-structural conditions (e.g., cultural and socioeconomic factors) and social network characteristics (e.g., size, density, reciprocity), as well as downstream effects of psychosocial mechanisms of interpersonal behavior, including intimate interactions ( Berkman et al., 2000 ). These effects ultimately converge at behavioral, psychological and physiological pathways that are linked more directly to particular health and well-being outcomes. Similarly, the social contexts of the Internet can be considered at multiple levels, from the explosion in the capacity for social connectivity enabled by online social networking applications ( Dunbar, 2012 , Steinfield et al., 2012 ) to interactions that facilitate interpersonal disinhibition and intimate self-disclosure ( Jiang et al., 2011 , Joinson and Paine, 2007 , Ledbetter et al., 2011 , Shim et al., 2011 ). While online social networking can increase one's social capital ( Ellison et al., 2007 , Steinfield et al., 2008 ), increased connectivity, however, does not necessarily translate to an increase in meaningful social connections ( Dunbar, 2012 ). This has been described by some as the condition of being “alone together” ( Ducheneaut et al., 2006 , Schultze, 2010 ). Conversely, factors such as increased online disinhibition and self-disclosure favor online intimacy ( Jiang et al., 2011 , McKenna et al., 2002 , Valkenburg and Peter, 2011 ), promoting increased satisfaction in online interpersonal interactions ( Bane et al., 2010 , Ko and Kuo, 2009 ). Thus, certain aspects of Internet-mediated interactions can facilitate meaningful and intimate social interactions, highlighting the potential of this medium for cultivating well-being through high-quality social engagement online.

The existing literature on the impact of the social use of the Internet on psychological health and well-being points to both benefits and draw-backs of this medium of social interaction ( Bessiere et al., 2010 , Kang, 2007 , Moody, 2001 , Shaw and Gant, 2002 , van den Eijnden et al., 2008 ). However, there has been little consideration of the quality or the intimacy of different online interactions in relation to health and well-being outcomes. Furthermore, there has been no systematic exploration of the specific relationship between online intimacy and well-being. In light of this research void, the aim of this review is to consider the existing evidence in this emerging field to identify potential starting points for more systematic research in order to understand how online intimacy may influence well-being in the digital age.

We begin by considering the concept of intimacy in the digital age by identifying the characteristics of intimacy in online social interactions, its multimodal components and its caveats. We then summarize the evidence for the influence of online social interactions on health and well-being outcomes and consider findings from studies of different components of intimacy in online social interactions, mainly self-disclosure and social support, to shed light on the potential contribution of online intimacy to health and well-being. Finally, we discuss future directions for fundamental and practical research in this important new field.

2. Interpersonal intimacy in the digital age

2.1. characterizing online intimacy.

Interpersonal intimacy is regarded to be at the core of the most fulfilling, affirming, and gratifying human social exchanges ( Prager, 1995 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 , Sperry, 2010 ). It is commonly related to a number of comparable concepts, such as love, closeness, self-disclosure, support, bonding, attachment, and sexuality, with the boundaries between them often considered to be continuous rather than distinct ( Prager, 1995 , Sperry, 2010 ). Although a number of definitions of the concept of intimacy exist ( Register and Henley, 1992 , Reis and Shaver, 1988 , Waring, 1985 , Wilhelm and Parker, 1988 ), in a broad sense, intimacy can be defined as a dyadic exchange that involves sharing what is personal and private ( Prager, 1995 ). It can be realized in the context of intimate interactions and relationships that encompass both verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as shared behavioral, physical, emotional, and cognitive experience ( Prager, 1995 ).

Advances in Internet-based communication and social networking applications over the last several decades have lead to a major shift in the mode of human social engagement ( Amichai-Hamburger, 2013 , Steinfield et al., 2012 , Zhong, 2011 ). This shift has resulted in new ways to experience and actualize intimacy, both in the context of pre-existing relationships and interactions with strangers. Physical proximity and direct face-to-face contact are becoming less prevalent in day to day interpersonal interactions with close individuals ( Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010 , McPherson et al., 2006 , Putnam, 2000 ). This is indicated by changes in family lifestyles, including increased numbers of dual-career families, reduced intergenerational living, greater mobility, delayed marriage, and the increase in single-residence households, as well as by the increase in the number of individuals who report not having a confidant ( Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010 , McPherson et al., 2006 , Putnam, 2000 ). In contrast, Internet and mobile applications such as email, instant messaging, and video chat have become the mainstays of daily social contact with family and friends ( Broadbent, 2012 , Wilding, 2006 ). Likewise, social networking platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have amassed millions of users throughout the world ( Ellison et al., 2007 , Pujazon-Zazik and Park, 2010 , Steinfield et al., 2008 ) and multiuser virtual environments, such as massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and other virtual social platforms, have become one of the most popular forms of online social entertainment ( Cole and Griffiths, 2007 , Ducheneaut et al., 2006 , Zhong, 2011 ).

Since the early days of the Internet, researchers have questioned whether it would be possible to foster intimate relationships using this medium ( Kiesler et al., 1984 , Rice and Love, 1987 ). It is now evident that the development and maintenance of friendships and romantic relationships online is common and that these relationships can be similar in meaning, intimacy, and stability in comparison to conventional offline relationships ( Broadbent, 2012 , Ellison et al., 2007 , Hsu et al., 2011 , McKenna et al., 2002 , Pace et al., 2010 , Parks and Roberts, 1998 , Whitty, 2008 , Whitty, 2013 ). However, online contexts vary according to the features of different platforms, such as the number of participants (social parameters), the modalities of interaction (text, audio, video, etc.), or whether they facilitate contact and establishment of new relationships between strangers or the maintenance of existing offline relationships. Individual differences can also influence which online contexts users prefer and how they engage with others online ( Amichai-Hamburger and Hayat, 2013 , McKenna et al., 2002 , Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2012 ). Therefore, a number of factors may influence the way in which intimacy is expressed and perceived by users in interpersonal exchanges online. Owing to the relative novelty of this field of research, there are still many outstanding questions regarding the contribution of these factors to the experience of online intimacy. For instance, what is the frequency of occurrence of intimacy in different online contexts and how does this differ from the occurrence of intimacy in conventional offline contexts? How do the modalities of interaction and the richness of the media, from text-based to immersive, contribute to the occurrence of online intimacy? Does the experience of intimacy differ when interacting with individuals who we already know offline compared to those we meet online? Although the lack of evidence to answer these types of questions does not permit an elaboration of a concrete model of online intimacy at this point, we summarize some of the factors that are important to consider in understanding how intimacy is experienced online in Fig. 1 . We discuss these factors in more detail below.

Fig. 1

Potential factors influencing the experience of online intimacy. A number of factors may influence the experience of online intimacy, including social parameters, modality, and prior familiarity. Social parameters refer to the online context in which interpersonal interactions occur, including one-on-one, multi-user or social networking contexts. Prior familiarity relates to online interactions either with strangers or with individuals with whom one has a prior offline relationship. Modality encompasses the physical features of the online setting, including unimodal text-based platforms, multimodal text, audio and video platforms, or immersive 3-dimensional online environments. Finally, individual characteristics modulate the perception of the different features of online contexts to influence the experience of online intimacy.

2.2. Intimacy in new relationships established online

Many Internet and mobile applications facilitate social contact between strangers. Certain types of online platforms, such as online dating websites (e.g., eHarmony, PlentyOfFish) and mobile applications (e.g., Tinder), are specifically designed to facilitate meeting strangers for the purpose of subsequently establishing intimate interactions and relationships offline. Finkel et al. (2012) provide a comprehensive review of advantages and disadvantages of online dating for meeting potential partners online and subsequent relationship outcomes. Other platforms, that are not designed for this purpose, can nevertheless foster intimacy online. In particular, by preserving anonymity online contexts can promote the disclosure of personal information, opinions, and feelings much more readily than in face-to-face interactions ( Joinson, 2001 , McKenna et al., 2002 ). Meeting and maintaining interactions online also enables individuals to overcome certain “gating features” that may otherwise deter them from engaging with others, such as personal characteristics related to sex, gender, age, race, any physical features of appearance, disability, or any form of real or perceived stigma ( McKenna et al., 2002 ). In particular, in many online multi-user virtual worlds or role-playing games, users are able to create avatars that portray personas as similar to or as different from themselves as they choose by varying their appearance, gender, species or form ( Guitton, 2012b , Guitton, 2015 , Lomanowska and Guitton, 2012 ). These online social platforms also allow individuals to share common experiences as they explore virtual settings together or participate in role-playing games ( Chen et al., 2008 , Guitton, 2012b , Guitton, 2015 ). Taken together, these features of online interactions between strangers can actually accelerate intimacy formation in comparison to offline contexts ( Genuis and Genuis, 2005 , Rosen et al., 2008 ). Indeed, as is the case for online dating websites ( Finkel et al., 2012 ), relationships formed and maintained in other online contexts can lead to subsequent face-to-face interactions that continue to develop in the real world, and in some cases they have been shown to lead to lasting romantic partnerships and marriages ( Baker, 2002 , Cole and Griffiths, 2007 , Ramirez and Zhang, 2007 ).

2.3. Online intimacy and existing offline relationships

Much of the social interactions occurring via the Internet and mobile applications involve pre-existing offline relationships ( Broadbent, 2012 , Ellison et al., 2007 , McDaniel and Drouin, 2015 , Valkenburg and Peter, 2011 , Wilding, 2006 ). For instance, the most popular social networking websites, such as Facebook, mostly promote interactions within existing relationships as users are typically not anonymous ( Ellison et al., 2007 , Hsu et al., 2011 , Subrahmanyam et al., 2008 ). Social networking also facilitates the maintenance of weak ties between acquaintances, but does not typically increase the level of intimacy in these relationships ( Ellison et al., 2007 , Hsu et al., 2011 ). Therefore, in these contexts, individuals generally engage in more intimate online behavior with those who they are already close to offline ( Hsu et al., 2011 ). Furthermore, various digital applications are commonly used as a means of maintaining long-distance relationships with family and friends, fostering a sense of belonging, shared space and time, and perceived proximity ( Bacigalupe and Lambe, 2011 , Madianou and Miller, 2012 , Vetere et al., 2005 , Wilding, 2006 ). As with social networking interactions, the existing nature and closeness of offline relationships is generally maintained in electronic exchanges ( Wilding, 2006 ), although in the case of established close relationships, online communication can actually enhance intimate self-disclosure ( Valkenburg and Peter, 2007 ). Overall, the distinction between online and offline social engagement and intimacy among individuals who have a prior relationship is becoming somewhat blurred, with online interactions becoming an extension of offline relationships ( Ellison et al., 2007 , Hsu et al., 2011 , Subrahmanyam et al., 2008 ).

2.4. Multimodal aspects of online intimacy

Although the existing evidence indicates that Internet technologies can facilitate online intimacy, it is important to consider how the multimodal characteristics of these new media affect the quality of the individual experience of intimacy. Internet media differ according to the number of individuals that one can interact with, including interacting one-on-one, with a select group of individuals, or within a massively multi-user context. As well, Internet-based communication interfaces can vary according to the modalities used, from unimodal asynchronous interfaces (e.g., email, text messaging) to synchronous multimodal (e.g., video chat or fully immersive settings such as virtual environments). For instance, increasing the modalities of media that are used by a virtual community is related to an increase in the potential for inter-individual connections ( Guitton, 2012a ), while the potential for shared social experiences as measured by increased social density is related to the redundancy of communication within a medium ( Guitton, 2015 ).

One important difference between intimate exchanges online and offline is the lack of physical proximity and contact between online partners. Advances in virtual reality technology have enhanced the immersiveness of online experience in a way that mimics some aspects of physical proximity and contact between individuals. The use of 3D human-like avatars in currently available online virtual world interfaces allows for simulated physical interactions between individuals that are realistic in nature ( Cole and Griffiths, 2007 , Gottschalk, 2010 ). Even though these interactions are perceived mainly through visual and auditory stimulation, individuals can experience a sense of embodiment within their own avatar as well as the ‘palpable’ presence of another person through symbolic sensation of awareness and contact ( Pace et al., 2010 , Schultze, 2010 ). With the addition of haptic feedback devices to these virtual interfaces, actual tactile sensation can also be incorporated into the virtual experience ( Bailenson et al., 2007 ). Alternatively, the digital transmission of intimate physical contact has also been explored through the use physical objects that are integrated with Internet-enabled devices ( Vetere et al., 2005 ). Furthermore, recent developments in mobile technologies and augmented reality promise continued advancements in the digital simulation of conventional physical contact ( Long et al., 2014 ).

It is important to note that distinguishing online intimacy from conventional offline intimacy does not necessarily mean that the definition of intimacy fundamentally differs in these two forms of communication (face-to-face vs. online), but rather that intimacy is actualized differently depending of the medium. Furthermore, recent work demonstrates that intimate interpersonal exchanges in the digital age regularly involve multiple modalities of communication, with online exchanges serving as an extension of conventional offline interactions ( Broadbent, 2012 , Broadbent, 2015 ) and with individuals seamlessly integrating multiple types of media in their digital exchanges ( Madianou and Miller, 2012 ). Indeed, the contemporary expression of intimacy spans both the online and offline realms, with individuals supplementing conventional offline interactions with intimate contact through various types of media, including text and video messaging, social media, and virtual environments. The individual experience of interpersonal intimacy in the digital age involves a unique combination of media use based on applications, platforms and modalities (including both online and offline) that suit the particular needs of specific interactions and relationships.

2.5. Caveats of online intimacy

Despite the potential of the Internet to facilitate online intimacy, it also has a number of shortcomings as a medium for positive relational experience. While accelerated intimacy in anonymous online communication may facilitate relationship development, it may also lead to excessive self-disclosure, sexual disinhibition, and unrealistic expectations about online partners ( Genuis and Genuis, 2005 , Padgett, 2007 , Whitty, 2008 ). At the same time, there is a greater inherent risk of encountering dishonesty, deceit, and exploitation in such anonymous interactions ( Genuis and Genuis, 2005 , Robson and Robson, 1998 , Whitty and Joinson, 2009 ). Furthermore, as social networking applications become more integrated into everyday lives, the distinction between private and public space becomes blurred ( Bateman et al., 2011 ), marring the appeal of online intimate disclosure and posing a risk to vulnerable individuals. In particular, the emergence of cyber-harassment, cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking among adolescents and adults poses a serious threat to positive online social engagement ( Guan and Subrahmanyam, 2009 , Whitty, 2008 ). Finally, the added sense of obligation or the perception of continued surveillance related to sustaining regular contact with family and friends via the Internet and digital media may in some cases reduce the satisfaction of maintaining intimate relationships using this medium ( Madianou and Miller, 2012 , Wilding, 2006 ). These concerns may compromise healthy relationship development and maintenance online and beyond the Internet realm. Nevertheless, the availability and continuous advancement of various platforms, applications, and websites designed for different types of social interactions has the potential to mitigate many of these shortcomings.

3. Relationship of online intimacy to health and well-being

The beneficial effects of social relationships have been observed across a wide range of physiological and mental health outcomes, with research particularly highlighting the importance of high-quality intimate social interactions ( Berkman, 1995 , Karelina and DeVries, 2011 , Kawachi and Berkman, 2001 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 ). However, research on the health impact of the social use of Internet technologies is still in its early stages, with studies focusing mainly on psychosocial outcomes. A number of studies have reported positive effects on psychosocial well-being related to online social interactions, including increased self-esteem and self-efficacy ( LaRose et al., 2001 , Shaw and Gant, 2002 , Steinfield et al., 2008 ), better mood ( Green et al., 2005 ), greater perceived social support and reduced loneliness ( Kang, 2007 , Reeves, 2000 , Shaw and Gant, 2002 ), as well as lower incidence of depression and anxiety ( Bessiere et al., 2010 , LaRose et al., 2001 , Selfhout et al., 2009 , Shaw and Gant, 2002 ). Other studies have reported an opposite relationship between the social use of the Internet and psychosocial well-being, including increased loneliness and depression ( Moody, 2001 , van den Eijnden et al., 2008 ). These discrepancies are likely related to differences in the populations studied. In fact, the direction of the relationship between social use of the Internet and psychosocial well-being can vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of online social application used, the type of feedback received in online interactions, as well as sex, personality and social disposition, and the level of existing offline social engagement ( Blais et al., 2008 , Donchi and Moore, 2004 , Morahan-Martin and Schumacher, 2003 , Swickert et al., 2002 , Valkenburg et al., 2006 ). However, studies so far have focused on online social interactions in a general sense, thus shedding little light on how the level of intimacy in these interactions may affect well-being outcomes.

3.1. Comparing online and offline intimacy

An important question to ask when considering the role of online intimacy in health and well-being is whether the features of intimacy that contribute to health-related outcomes differ between offline and online interactions. According to the characteristics of online intimacy described above, certain aspects of intimacy, such as self-disclosure can be experienced in various online settings, whereas others, such as physical contact are very difficult to convey virtually. In addition, the time-course of intimacy development online, particularly with respect to intimate self-disclosure, can often be accelerated compared to conventional offline contexts ( Jiang et al., 2011 , McKenna et al., 2002 , Valkenburg and Peter, 2011 ). Therefore, in order to begin to elucidate whether online intimacy differs from offline intimacy with respect to its health effects, it is necessary to examine what is known regarding the contribution of different aspects of intimate interactions to health and well-being. Here we consider three aspects of intimate interactions which have been examined individually in the health and well-being literature, self-disclosure, social support and physical contact. We then consider how self-disclosure and social support in online contexts may influence health-related outcomes.

Self-disclosure (especially in the sense of confiding) and social support are thought to be particularly important in mediating the positive effects of intimacy on health and well-being ( Prager, 1995 , Reis and Franks, 1994 , Robles and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2003 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 ). Self-disclosure through talking or writing is known to be beneficial as a means of coping with negative emotions, conflict, stress, or traumatic events ( Pennebaker, 1993 , Pennebaker, 1999 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 ). One of the immediate effects of self-disclosure is reduced autonomic nervous system activity, while the long-term benefits include enhanced immune function and improved physical and mental health ( Pennebaker, 1999 ). Intimate interactions are also a vital source of social support, for instance, when one partner discloses personal feelings and the other provides understanding and reassurance ( Reis and Franks, 1994 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 ). Social support, particularly one's perceived availability of support, has received a lot of attention as an important mediator of many of the health benefits attributed to social engagement and intimacy ( Berkman et al., 2000 , Haber et al., 2007 , Reis and Franks, 1994 , Uchino et al., 1996 ). Social support encompasses many aspects, including emotional, instrumental, appraisal, and informational support. Intimate interactions are important in facilitating the emotional aspects of social support, which help individuals to gain confidence in their own ability to cope with distressing circumstances, thus enhancing self-efficacy and self-esteem ( Berkman et al., 2000 , Ryff and Singer, 2000 ).

Physical contact has also been shown to mediate some of the health benefits of intimate interactions ( Ryff and Singer, 2000 ). Physical proximity, touching, massaging, hugging, holding hands or kissing, and sexual contact in the case of romantic partners, are important components of intimate interactions ( Prager, 1995 , Register and Henley, 1992 ). There is an extensive literature on the beneficial and therapeutic effects of physical contact drawing on both human and animal research ( Duhn, 2010 , Field, 2002 , Fleming et al., 1999 , Lomanowska et al., 2011 ). Physical contact is particularly influential in the context of parent-infant interactions ( Charpak et al., 2005 , Duhn, 2010 ), health care provision ( Moyer et al., 2004 , Wilkinson et al., 2002 ), and sexual and non-sexual contact between romantic partners ( Brody, 2010 , Ditzen et al., 2008 , Grewen et al., 2005 , Levin, 2007 ). For instance, warm physical contact has been shown to reduce stress reactivity among romantic partners ( Ditzen et al., 2008 , Grewen et al., 2005 ), while the frequency of sexual intercourse has been associated with a number of health benefits, including better mood and satisfaction with psychological well-being, increased analgesia, improved cardiovascular function and stress reactivity, decreased cancer risk, and longevity ( Brody, 2010 , Levin, 2007 ).

Overall, all three of the above features of intimate interactions have been shown to individually contribute positively to health-related outcomes. However, it is unclear at this time whether certain aspects of intimate interactions are more influential than others with respect to health and well-being, or whether they may exert their influence in concert.

3.2. Online self-disclosure and social support

Online contexts are known to promote and facilitate self-disclosure in interpersonal communication ( Barak and Gluck-Ofri, 2007 , Henderson and Gilding, 2004 , Joinson and Paine, 2007 ). The health-related effects of self-disclosure online have been studied in the context of Internet support groups for individuals coping with various health and emotional issues ( Barak and Gluck-Ofri, 2007 , Shaw et al., 2006 , Shim et al., 2011 , Tichon and Shapiro, 2003 ). These studies indicate that self-disclosure in this context has positive effects on the users' emotional well-being and self-efficacy. Although little is known about the health benefits of self-disclosure in online relationships, there is evidence that self-disclosure on social networking sites and blogs can improve subjective well-being ( Ko and Kuo, 2009 , Lee et al., 2011 ) and can also promote the exchange of social support online ( Barak and Gluck-Ofri, 2007 , Ko and Kuo, 2009 , Tichon and Shapiro, 2003 ).

Online contexts have also become popular settings for social support ( Barak et al., 2008 ). The health effects of online social support have been primarily examined in individuals with health concerns who participate in online support communities. Participants of these communities have been shown to experience some benefits, such as an increased sense of self-efficacy and well-being as well as a reduction in negative mood and other symptoms of depression ( Griffiths et al., 2009 , Shaw et al., 2006 , Shim et al., 2011 ). However, there is still a paucity of well-controlled studies to clearly evaluate the effectiveness of the Internet as a medium for social support ( Griffiths et al., 2009 ). Thus, online interactions characterized by certain components of interpersonal intimacy may hold promise for enhancing health and well-being, but further research is necessary to carefully assess these outcomes.

Overall, surprisingly little attention has been given to the study of intimate online interactions in relation to their impact on health and well-being. At this time, one can only speculate about how the health and well-being effects of online intimacy compare to intimacy in conventional offline contexts. The challenge for future research in this area is to take advantage of existing knowledge regarding the influence of conventional intimate interactions on health and well-being to examine how online intimacy contributes to these outcomes.

4. Future directions for research

Future directions for research in this area encompass both fundamental questions regarding the nature of online intimacy compared to offline intimacy in the context of health and well-being as well as practical implications for psychologists and other practitioners. In order to promote more systematic study of the influence of online intimacy on health and well-being, it is important to continue to study online intimacy itself to more clearly characterize and understand this phenomenon. One starting point for this research is the development of instruments to assess online intimacy, for instance, to measure interest in seeking meaningful and lasting companionship through online relationships ( Stanton et al., 2016 ). Another aspect that requires operationalization and the development of appropriate assessment measures relates to the actual experience of online intimacy, particularly in relation to the different features of online environments ( Fig. 1 ). It is important to assess how individuals perceive and express intimacy in the context of different online interactions, ranging from shared communications in text-based settings to shared experiences of physical proximity and contact in more immersive online settings. We are currently conducting observational studies in online virtual worlds to examine how these environments enable physical proximity and contact and how individuals take advantage of these possibilities. Furthermore, while most research on online intimacy tends to focus on a single type of media, such as social networking, virtual worlds, or online dating, the reality of online social experience, even for the same individuals, is much more complex and typically involves multiple media. Therefore, in order to gain a clearer understanding of how online intimacy is experienced, future research will need to develop measures that establish more unified models. Importantly, an examination of online intimacy as an extension of conventional offline forms of intimacy will be important to consider in this unified approach.

A further important direction for future research is the incorporation of measures of well-being as well as interpersonal and/or relationship satisfaction into studies of online intimacy. This could be accomplished by using existing measurement tools, with necessary modifications ( Diener et al., 2010 , Ryff and Keyes, 1995 , Vaughn and Matyastik Baier, 1999 ). In the same vein, studies aiming to better understand the role of social interactions and relationships in health and well-being would also benefit from including online social experiences in their assessments. In addition, it would also be important to examine physiological responses to intimate social interactions in online contexts in order to shed light on potential physiological mechanisms through which online intimacy may contribute to health and well-being, and to determine whether and how online experiences may differ in this regard from intimacy experienced in offline contexts.

Finally, as the study of the phenomenon of online intimacy continues, the question of the practical applicability of this emerging field also needs to be addressed. How do psychologists and other practitioners incorporate online intimacy into assessment and treatment approaches? How do the potential benefits and drawbacks of intimate social interactions online fit within the framework of promoting social engagement for better mental and physical health outcomes? How do individual differences contribute to experiences of intimacy in online and offline contexts? Addressing these and related questions is critical for updating psychological practice for the digital age.

5. Conclusion

As the nature of human social interactions in the digital age continues to evolve alongside ongoing advancements in Internet technologies, it is critical to gain a better understanding of the immediate and long-terms effects of these changes on health and well-being outcomes. Given the recognized importance of high quality intimate social interactions, particular focus on the influence of online intimacy on health and well-being is needed. Research to date demonstrates that intimate relationships formed online can indeed be similar in meaning, intimacy, and stability to conventional offline relationships and online contact can also enrich existing offline relationships. As well, augmented reality devices can be used to simulate some of physical aspects of intimate interactions. There is also evidence of positive psychosocial effects associated with online social interactions, including those characterized by key components of intimacy, self-disclosure and social support. However, little is still known about the benefits and risks of online intimacy in relation to health and well-being. Future work in this area should take advantage of exiting knowledge of the pathways mediating the wellness benefits of conventional offline intimate interactions to examine their involvement in online intimacy. Since many online social platforms have become well-established, assessment on a large scale of the long-term effects of online intimate social engagement on both psychological and physiological health and wellness outcomes has now become feasible. In order to ensure that the well-recognized benefits of interpersonal intimacy are sustained in modern society, research and wellness promotion programs must take into account the new digital realm of human social interactions.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Meir Steiner for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by grants to AML and to MJG from the “Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Santé” (FRQ-S).

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Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science

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Although the authors find that online dating sites offer a distinctly different experience than conventional dating, the superiority of these sites is not as evident. Dating sites provide access to more potential partners than do traditional dating methods, but the act of browsing and comparing large numbers of profiles can lead individuals to commoditize potential partners and can reduce their willingness to commit to any one person. Communicating online can foster intimacy and affection between strangers, but it can also lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when potential partners meet in real life. Although many dating sites tout the superiority of partner matching through the use of “scientific algorithms,” the authors find that there is little evidence that these algorithms can predict whether people are good matches or will have chemistry with one another.

The authors’ overarching assessment of online dating sites is that scientifically, they just don’t measure up. As online dating matures, however, it is likely that more and more people will avail themselves of these services, and if development — and use — of these sites is guided by rigorous psychological science, they may become a more promising way for people to meet their perfect partners.

Hear author Eli J. Finkel discuss the science behind online dating at the 24th APS Annual Convention .

About the Authors

Editorial: Online Dating:  The Current Status —and Beyond

By Arthur Aron

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I agree wholeheartedly that so-called scientific dating sites are totally off-base. They make worse matches than just using a random site. That’s because their matching criteria are hardly scientific, as far as romance goes. They also have a very small pool of educated, older men, and lots more women. Therefore they often come up with no matches at all, despite the fact that women with many different personality types in that age group have joined. They are an expensive rip-off for many women over 45.

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Speaking as someone who was recently “commoditized” by who I thought was a wonderful man I met on a dating site, I find that the types of people who use these services are looking at the wrong metrics when they seek out a prospective love interest. My mother and father had very few hobbies and interests in common, but because they shared the same core values, their love endured a lifetime. When I got dumped because I didn’t share my S.O.’s interests exactly down the line, I realized how dangerous this line of thinking truly is, how it marginalizes people who really want to give and receive love for more important reasons.

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I met a few potential love interests online and I never paid for any matching service! I did my own research on people and chatted online within a site to see if we had things in common. If we had a few things in common, we exchanged numbers, texted for a while, eventually spoke on the phone and if things felt right, we’d meet in a public place to talk. If that went well, we would have another date. I am currently with a man I met online and we have been together for two years! We have plans to marry in the future. But there is always the thought that if this doesn’t work out, how long will it take either of us to jump right back online to find the next possible love connection? I myself would probably start looking right away since looking for love online is a lengthy process!

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I knew this man 40 years ago as we worked in the same agency for two years but never dated. Last November 2013 I saw his profile on a dating site. My husband had died four years ago and his wife died 11 years ago. We dated for five months. I questioned him about his continued online search as I had access to his username. Five months into the friendship he told me he “Was looking for his dream women in cyberspace”. I think he has been on these dating sites for over 5 years. Needless to say I will not tolerate this and it was over. I am sad, frustrated and angry how this ended as underneath all of his insecurities, unresolved issues with his wife’s death he is a good guy. I had been on these dating sties for 2 and 1/2 years and now I am looking at Matchmaking services as a better choice in finding a “Better good guy”.

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I refer to these sites as “Designer Dating” sites. I liken the search process to ‘Window Shopping’. No-one seems very interested in making an actual purchase or commitment. I notice that all the previous comments are from women only. I agree with the article that says essentially, there are too many profiles and photos. Having fallen under this spell myself…”Oh, he’s nice but I’m sure there’s something better on the next page…” Click. Next. And on it goes. The term Chemistry gets thrown around a lot. I don’t know folks. I sure ain’t feelin’ it. Think I’ll go hang out with some friends now.

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Stumbling upon this article during research for my Master thesis and I am curious: Would you use an app, that introduces a new way of dating, solely based on your voice and who you are, rather than how you look like? To me, we don’t fall in love with someone because of their looks (or their body mass index for that matter) or because of an algorithm, but because of the way somebody makes you feel and the way s.o. makes you laugh. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if someone has blue or brown eyes and my experience is, that most people place fake, manipulated or outdated pictures online to sell someone we don’t really are. And we are definitely more than our looks. I found my partner online and we had no picture of each other for three months – but we talked every night for hours…. fell in love and still are after 10 years… We met on a different level and got aligned long before we met. So, the question is, would you give this way of meeting someone a chance… an app where you can listen in to answers people give to questions other user asked before and where you can get a feeling for somebody before you even see them?

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines .

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online relationships thesis

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CMC Senior Theses

Three theories of love: analysis of online dating.

Amanda Han Follow

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Craig Bowman

Online dating has drastically changed how people meet their significant others and how people form connections. More and more relationships are starting online, and I wanted to see if Match.com and eharmony were utilizing pre-existing love theories to drive their match-making processes. Match.com and eharmony are the most successful pain online dating websites. I analyzed Match.com and eharmony using three theories of love. I analyzed their processes using the Evolutionary perspective, the Triangular Model of Love, and Attachment theory. I found that while Match.com does not use the Attachment theory, it is more successful than eharmony, which uses all three theories. This leads me to question the importance of other features as a part of online dating websites and how mobile dating (through phone apps) will impact our relationship behaviors in the future.

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Han, Amanda, "Three Theories of Love: Analysis of Online Dating" (2020). CMC Senior Theses . 2469. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cmc_theses/2469

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.

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Home > ETDs > 4960

Electronic Theses and Dissertations

The influence of online dating on emerging adults' levels of empathy, objectification of others, and quality of romantic relationships.

Zachary Bloom , University of Central Florida

The purpose of this research study was to investigate the directional relationship between emerging adults' intensity of online dating and their levels of empathy, objectification of others, and quality of romantic relationships. This investigation tested the theoretical model that emerging adults' (N = 1,613) intensity of online dating (as measured by the Online Dating Intensity Scale [ODI]) contributed to their levels of empathy (as measured by the Adolescent Measure of Empathy and Sympathy [AMES]; Vossen, Piotrowski, & Valkenburg, 2015), objectification of others (as measured by the Sexual-Other Objectification Scale [SOOS]), and quality of relationships with romantic partners (as measured by the Relationships Structure Questionnaire [ECR-RS; Fraley, Heffernan, Vicary, & Brumbaugh, 2011] and Relationship Assessment Scale [RAS; Hendrick, 1988]). Specifically, the researcher tested the hypothesized directional relationship that emerging adults with greater intensity of using online dating services (e.g., websites and applications) would have (a) decreased levels of empathy, (b) increased levels of objectification of others, and (c) decreased quality of relationships with romantic partners. In addition, the researcher investigated the relationship between emerging adults' demographic variables (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) and the intensity of their use of online dating services, levels of empathy, objectification of others, and relationship quality with romantic partners. The researcher conducted a thorough review of the literature regarding the constructs of interest in this investigation, providing conceptual evidence and empirical support for the research hypotheses and exploratory research questions. A convenience sample of emerging adult undergraduate or master's level students enrolled in various colleges and universities throughout the United States were invited to participate in this study. The researcher collected data through web-based survey and face-to-face administration. The researcher employed structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses to test the research hypothesis. In order to utilize SEM, the researcher also conducted confirmatory factor analyses and exploratory factor analyses to evaluate the validity and reliability of the assessment data used in the investigation. Additionally, the researcher conducted multiple linear regression, Pearson Product-Moment correlations, Spearman Rank Order correlations, and analysis of variance to analyze the data for the exploratory questions. The results of the structural equation model (SEM) analyses identified that emerging adults' intensity of online dating contributed to their levels of empathy (5.3% of the variance explained) and objectification of others (9% of the variance explained). Furthermore, the results of the analyses indicated a dynamic relationship between emerging adults' levels of empathy and objectification of others. Specifically, emerging adults' level of empathy shared a strong negative relationship with their level of objectification of others (98% of the variance explained). In contrast, emerging adults' level of objectification of others positively related to empathy (59.3% of the variance explained). Lastly, emerging adults' levels of empathy and objectification of others contributed to emerging adults' quality of romantic relationships (64% of the variance explained; 37% of the variance explained respectfully). The researcher compared the findings from the current investigation to previous research and assessed the limitations of this study. The findings from the study have implications for future research, clinical practice, counselor education, and instrument development. Specifically, findings from this investigation provide support for (a) increased clinical awareness of emerging adults' widespread use of online dating services; (b) the incorporation of social communication technology and online dating subjects into CACREP accredited counseling courses; and (c) and insight into the instrument development of the ODI, AMES, and SOOS.

If this is your thesis or dissertation, and want to learn how to access it or for more information about readership statistics, contact us at [email protected]

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Lambie, Glenn

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College of Education and Human Performance

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Education; Counselor Education



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Bloom, Zachary, "The Influence of Online Dating on Emerging Adults' Levels of Empathy, Objectification of Others, and Quality of Romantic Relationships" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations . 4960. https://stars.library.ucf.edu/etd/4960

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Home > Student Work > Honors Theses > 315

Honors Theses

Online dating and relationships on campus: gender, religion, and parental marital status influencing expectations and experiences.

Carla Gottlich , Union College - Schenectady, NY Follow

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Open Access

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Bachelor of Arts

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Timothy Stablein

dating, online, expected, students, campus

Past research of college campus relationships and dating has found that gender, religion, and parental marital status may each play a role in determining expectations and experiences. Due to the recent popularity with online dating, I explore college student’s expectations and experiences and the roles that gender, religion, and parental marital status play in this pursuit. An anonymous survey was sent to a random sample of 918 student e-mail addresses. Students were asked what they expected from online dating, and what the experiences have been like for those who have participated. The survey, containing both open and closed ended questions, was used to gain descriptive and exploratory information regarding the online dating culture on campus. Results indicate that contrary to gender stereotypes, males and females venture online for similar reasons while females have higher expectations to hook up on campus (through non-online meeting) than do males. Jewish students expected to meet other Jewish partners through online dating platforms more so than other religious affiliated students. Students with married parents expected to marry someone within the same religion and also expected to form serious relationships from on campus dating. Higher rates of students of divorced or separated parents expected “hooking up” (over forming a serious relationship) as an outcome of meeting others through online dating platforms. I discuss the implications of my findings in relation to the existing literature on these topics.

Recommended Citation

Gottlich, Carla, "Online Dating and Relationships On Campus: Gender, Religion, and Parental Marital Status Influencing Expectations and Experiences" (2015). Honors Theses . 315. https://digitalworks.union.edu/theses/315

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Relationships and Online Dating Essay

Negative factors, truth and trustworthiness, expectations and reality, denial and avoidance, perceptions and waiting, the need for improvement.

The rising popularity of online communication changes the way people socialize. Friends and relatives can stay in touch and feel as though they are close to each other, even if they are at opposite corners of the world. Moreover, now people can find friendship and love online. The increasing interest in online dating also raises the question of whether this particular phenomenon is helping or damaging the current quality of relationships in society.

Many scholars attempt to answer this question by exploring different aspects of online dating. Many of these research articles come to a similar conclusion – online dating has a number of issues that stem from human nature as well as some technological factors. The central problems highlighted in the works of these scholars deal with individuals’ expectations and hopes. While dating online has benefits for finding people with similar interests, it also distances people and makes them suspicious of each other’s true identity.

Human relationships, romantic or otherwise, may be hard to establish and maintain for many reasons. The creation of online dating sites and applications was most likely intended to eliminate these issues and make the process of finding new partners easy and stress-free. Nevertheless, people encounter many problems as they create profiles, search for other individuals, and engage in a conversation. The following arguments show that online dating can complicate an already intricate process of finding affection.

It has been shown that people’s choice to date each other is strongly connected to the aspect of trust. According to McGloin and Denes (2016), attractiveness plays a significant role in both men’s and women’s desire to continue their relations. However, their reactions to this factor are somewhat opposite. Men, as the study finds, are more likely to trust female profiles with less attractive photos. These pictures are usually untouched or not enhanced with professional lighting and photo editing. Men consider images, which appear to be of much higher quality or have various visual effects as suspicious and fictitious. On the other hand, women find retouched photos more attractive and more trustworthy at the same time.

These findings show that online dating makes both men and women perceive their potential partners through a lens of distrust. Constant uncertainty of whether they are talking to the person they see on the screen may disrupt the usual process of bonding, which is typical for real-life meetings. People who cannot trust each other because of their visual appearance may start doubting different sides of their relationship. Interestingly, men, while being more suspicious of an attractive profile picture, are still more interested in dating women with edited photos (McGloin & Denes, 2016). This way of thinking can lead to such issues as the creation of unrealistic expectations and false ideals.

The problem of manufacturing an unrealistic image also results in many negative experiences for older individuals. While younger generations are used to the technological world and usually have a better understanding of the online culture, adults and the elderly encounter many difficulties trying to make themselves more attractive. An article by McWilliams and Barrett (2014) states that older adults feel pressured to appear more youthful online than they are in reality because of the competition from younger individuals. Women suffer from the concepts of beauty being centered on youthfulness and physical attraction and rivalry from younger women, while men have a limited social network.

Therefore, many older individuals try to become someone who they are not. This manipulation of pictures, descriptions, and even behavior leads to the creation of a false identity, which adults often try to retain while interacting with others online. For example, men focus on their abilities, often exaggerating their achievements and assets (McWilliams & Barrett, 2014). Women, as a contrast, try to appear more youthful physically and by editing their pictures to adhere to the current standards of beauty. These characteristics are the primary interests of these two groups because men are more concerned about their partner’s attractiveness, while women look for someone engaging and financially stable.

When two individuals overcome the issues connected with finding each other, their interaction uncovers another range of problems. Flirting is the primary activity and intention of online dating applications, and it is also affected by all previously mentioned elements. Imagery plays a significant role in finding partners, and flirting online is often connected to one’s appearance. However, as people start to learn more about each other, the desire to exaggerate one’s physical attributes can evolve into the need to present oneself as a completely different person.

Mortensen (2017) argues that online flirting allows people to show themselves in a different light and express personality traits that they usually do not have in real life. The fear of being rejected by another person pressures some individuals to behave differently from their personalities.

Such artificially created personas cannot continue their relationship in real life and are bound by their fear of personal intimacy. This issue strengthens the divide between the online and the real world. While the purpose of online dating is to bring people together and have a positive and accepting atmosphere, it may result in people trying to avoid or ignore negative experiences (Mortensen, 2017). Imaginary visuals and personalities do not have a positive impact on people’s perceptions of reliable partners and stable relations.

If people finally decide to meet in real life, their thoughts about each other may differ from the persons they see face to face. A study by Ramirez, Sumner, Fleuriet, and Cole (2014) evaluates the outcomes of individuals meeting face to face after communicating through dating sites and applications. The authors find that people’s behavior, amount of accessible information, and period of interaction influence their final reaction to the first real-life date.

For instance, people that talk to each other online for a long time are often disappointed during their first meeting. It can be explained by the fact that both individuals start to imagine some personal traits and qualities of their partners and idealize their physical appearance and attitude. Therefore, upon meeting face to face, they are disheartened as their created image is not real.

Some inaccurate expectations do not come from simple idealization but also from dishonesty and exaggeration. Self-presentation, which is often exploited by people online, leads to various disappointing outcomes. To avoid these issues, people can meet each other after some brief online interaction. Alternatively, they can use different platforms for communication to exchange more information about each other.

Various personalized forms of communication, such as phone numbers and personal e-mails, are able to bring people closer than online dating applications can. Furthermore, more private information sharing can also fill the gaps of knowledge that would be otherwise filled with one’s imagination. Photos, interests, and other aspects of one’s everyday life can increase the level of trust and intimacy between people. The authors find that individuals who do not share information cannot spark any interest in other persons (Ramirez et al., 2014). Therefore, people can quickly fail at realistically portraying themselves online.

It is clear that technology is not the only reason for the issues of online dating. People often misinterpret or abuse the information that is available to them. Therefore, online dating, as a concept, can bring some positive results. Moreover, it can be improved to help more individuals build healthy relationships. Although the quality of relations most likely decreased due to the growing lack of trust, people gained an opportunity to find each other with a click of a button. The issue of false imagery can be fixed if individuals stop pressuring each other to fit particular standards and instead focus on real and reliable connections.

Currently, online dating has a number of problems that significantly affect the state of relationships in society. People that meet each other online base their desire to interact on trustworthiness, which is directly connected to profile pictures and personal information. Photo editing is a problem that leads to heightened expectations. Also, many individuals try to behave differently online, which creates false personalities and further contributes to one’s trust issues. Misunderstanding and idealization are also common issues, which further interfere with one’s ability to create meaningful connections in real life. Online dating has adverse effects on people’s relations, but it can and should be improved.

McGloin, R., & Denes, A. (2016). Too hot to trust: Examining the relationship between attractiveness, trustworthiness, and desire to date in online dating. New Media & Society. Web.

McWilliams, S., & Barrett, A. E. (2014). Online dating in middle and later life: Gendered expectations and experiences. Journal of Family Issues, 35(3), 411-436.

Mortensen, K. K. (2017). Flirting in online dating: Giving empirical grounds to flirtatious implicitness. Discourse Studies, 19(5), 581-597.

Ramirez, A., Sumner, E. M., Fleuriet, C., & Cole, M. (2014). When online dating partners meet offline: The effect of modality switching on relational communication between online daters. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20(1), 99-114.

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IvyPanda. (2020, October 28). Relationships and Online Dating. https://ivypanda.com/essays/relationships-and-online-dating/

"Relationships and Online Dating." IvyPanda , 28 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/relationships-and-online-dating/.

IvyPanda . (2020) 'Relationships and Online Dating'. 28 October.

IvyPanda . 2020. "Relationships and Online Dating." October 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/relationships-and-online-dating/.

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Guest Essay

It’s Not You: Dating Apps Are Getting Worse

online relationships thesis

By Magdalene J. Taylor

Ms. Taylor is a writer covering sex and culture.

“The golden age of dating apps is over,” a friend told me at a bar on Super Bowl Sunday. As we waited for our drinks, she and another friend swiped through Bumble and Hinge, hunting for new faces and likes. Across the bar were two young men: phones out, apps open, clearly doing the exact same thing. Never did the duos meet.

What’s lamentable here isn’t only that dating apps have become the de facto medium through which single people meet. Since 2019, three in 10 U.S. adults have reported using them, with that figure rising to roughly six in 10 for Americans under 50 who have never been married. Not only are people not meeting partners in bars or any of the once normal in-person venues — they’re barely meeting them on the apps, either.

Maybe most of us just aren’t as hot as we used to be. Maybe it’s time our inflated egos got knocked down a notch. Maybe the market of people still willing to put themselves out there in an attempt to date has gotten smaller. Or maybe the apps have functionally, intentionally gotten worse, as have our romantic prospects. The more they fail to help us form relationships, the more we’re forced to keep swiping — and paying.

The internet, where so many of us spend so much of our time, has not been spared from the decline in quality that seems to plague so much of consumer life. This phenomenon was described by the writer Cory Doctorow in a November 2022 blog post and is sometimes called “platform decay”: Tech platforms like Amazon, Reddit and X have declined in quality as they’ve expanded. These sites initially hooked consumers by being almost too good to be true, attempting to become essential one-stop shops within their respective spaces while often charging nothing, thanks to low interest rates and free-flowing venture capital funding . Now that we’re all locked in and that capital has dried up, those initial hooks have been walked back — and there’s nowhere else to go.

This is precisely what is happening with dating apps now, too, with much more urgent consequences. What’s worsening isn’t just the technological experience of online dating but also our ability to form meaningful, lasting connections offline.

The collapse of dating apps’ usability can be blamed on the paid subscription model and the near-monopoly these apps have over the dating world. While dozens of sites exist, most 20-something daters use the big three: Tinder, Hinge and Bumble. (Older people often gravitate toward Match.com or eHarmony.) All three sites offer a “premium” version users must pay for — according to a study conducted by Morgan Stanley , around a quarter of people on dating apps use these services, averaging out at under $20 a month. The purpose, many believe, is to keep them as paid users for as long as possible. Even if we hate it, even if it’s a cycle of diminishing returns, there is no real alternative.

In the early heyday of Tinder, the only limits on whom you could potentially match with were location, gender and age preferences. You might not have gotten a like back from someone you perceived to be out of your league, but at least you had the chance to swipe right. Today, however, many apps have pooled the people you’d most like to match with into a separate category (such as Hinge’s “Standouts” section), often only accessible to those who pay for premium features. And even if you do decide to sign up for them, many people find the idea of someone paying to match with them to be off-putting anyway.

“If I don’t pay, I don’t date,” a friend in his 30s told me. He spends around $50 a month on premium dating app subscriptions and digital “roses” to grab the attention of potential matches. He’s gone on 65 dates over the last year, he said. None have stuck, so he keeps paying. “Back in the day, I never would have imagined paying for OKCupid,” he said.

Yet shares (Bumble’s stock price has fallen from about $75 to about $11 since its I.P.O.) and user growth have fallen , so the apps have more aggressively rolled out new premium models. In September 2023, Tinder released a $500 per month plan. But the economics of dating apps may not add up .

On Valentine’s Day this year, Match Group — which owns Tinder, Hinge, Match.com, OKCupid and many other dating apps — was sued in a proposed class action lawsuit asserting that the company gamifies its platforms “to transform users into gamblers locked in a search for psychological rewards that Match makes elusive on purpose.” This is in contrast to one of the group’s ad slogans that promotes Hinge as “designed to be deleted.”

People are reporting similar complaints across the apps — even when they aren’t taking the companies to court. Pew Research shows that over the last several years, the percentage of dating app users across demographics who feel dissatisfied with the apps has risen . Just under half of all users report feeling somewhat to very negative about online dating, with the highest rates coming from women and those who don’t pay for premium features. Notably, there is a gender divide: Women feel overwhelmed by messages, while men are underwhelmed by the lack thereof.

With seemingly increasing frequency, people are going to sites like TikTok , Reddit and X to complain about what they perceive to be a dwindling group of eligible people to meet on apps. Commonly, complaints are targeted toward these monthly premium fees, in contrast to the original free experience. Dating has always cost money, but there’s something uniquely galling about the way apps now function. Not only does it feel like the apps are the only way to meet someone, just getting in the door can also comes with a surcharge.

Perhaps dating apps once seemed too good to be true because they were. We never should have been exposed to what the apps originally provided: the sense that the dating pool is some unlimited, ever-increasing-in-quality well of people. Even if the apps are not systematically getting worse but rather you’ve just spent the last few years as a five thinking you should be paired with eights, the apps have nonetheless fundamentally skewed the dating world and our perception of it. We’ve distorted our understanding of how we’d organically pair up — and forgotten how to actually meet people in the process.

Our romantic lives are not products. They should not be subjected to monthly subscription fees, whether we’re the ones paying or we’re the ones people are paying for. Algorithmic torture may be happening everywhere, but the consequences of feeling like we are technologically restricted from finding the right partner are much heavier than, say, being duped into buying the wrong direct-to-consumer mattress. Dating apps treat people like commodities, and encourage us to treat others the same. We are not online shopping. We are looking for people we may potentially spend our lives with.

There is, however, some push toward a return to the real that could save us from this pattern. New in-person dating meet-up opportunities and the return of speed dating events suggests app fatigue is spreading. Maybe we’ll start meeting at bars again — rather than simply swiping through the apps while holding a drink.

Have you ditched dating apps for a new way to meet people, or are you still swiping left?

Opinion wants to hear your story.

Magdalene J. Taylor (@ magdajtaylor ) is a writer covering sex and culture. She writes the newsletter “ Many Such Cases .”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

Broke Gen Zers are skipping first dates and meeting each other virtually instead

  • Virtual first dates are becoming popular again due to the soaring cost of living.
  • Gen Zers are opting to meet someone over Zoom or FaceTime for convenience and flexibility.
  • However, virtual dating can't replace the chemistry and spark of an in-person meeting.

Insider Today

Virtual dating — a pandemic-era trend — is back in vogue because going out has gotten so expensive.

Gen Z in particular has embraced the virtual first date, which lets them test the water with new partners while dealing with the increasing cost of living .

According to the dating app Wingman, 65% of users aged 18-27 choose to video call as a first date instead of meeting up.

Wingman founder Tina Wilson told Business Insider that the stat, taken from a survey of 500 users, showed the most notable shift since the height of the pandemic.

Several Gen Zers spoke to BI about the shift, and were broadly in favor.

"Users in that younger age group just absolutely don't bat an eye at it, and they're like, it's efficient, it's great," Wilson said. "You can have a quick chat and you can see if there's that spark."

Some choose to preserve some of the fun of a regular date — but at a lower cost — by ordering takeout to their date's place for the call.

Jaded by dating apps

Gen Z is a generation that knows what it wants and what it doesn't. Wilson said virtual first dates are a good way to weed people out.

"The first whiff of a red flag, they're gone," she said.

Eunice Cycle, a musician living in Toronto, said she feels people in her generation are "jaded by the process of dating" and are looking to speed it up.

Virtual first dates are less expensive because you don't have to worry about buying food and drinks, let alone the $30 Ubers there and back. They're also convenient.

"A lot of people in Gen Z, if they are on Tinder, Hinge, or Bumble, they also see multiple people at the same time," Cycle told BI. "So that's why they might prefer Zoom dates because you could go on multiple dates in a day without leaving your house."

Gen Z women are also more likely to split bills on first dates — creating an extra disincentive to going on bad ones.

"People can't afford rent, let alone going on a date," he said, calling virtual dating "just an overall better experience."

Wilson, the dating-app founder, said there seems to be no shame among Gen Zers making this choice.

"Obviously you've got to put yourself out there, you've got to be a bit vulnerable to get into a relationship," she said. "But you have to think about yourself first. And it's absolutely fine to say, you know what? I can't be spending money on a date. I've got to budget."

Traditional dating is hard for some

Lalitaa Suglani, a relationship expert at eHarmony with a doctorate in psychology, told BI that Gen Z's embrace of virtual first dates offers convenience, flexibility, and safety.

People can "gauge compatibility" and "establish rapport" in a way that's not energetically draining, she said.

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"Virtual first dates can provide valuable insights into a person's personality, communication style, and interests before meeting in person," she said.

Baker said he much prefers speaking online rather than in person because he sometimes struggles with in-person interactions.

"I'm autistic and have social anxiety, so dates are out of my comfort zone," he said. "As I'm an influencer, I'm used to being in front of a camera but I'm so shy in real life."

Most of the people he meets online are happy to do this, he said, and it's a lot less stressful for him.

Carlotta Cattelani, the UK country manager at the dating app Fruitz, told BI that meeting virtually makes dates more accessible.

"If you're not able to meet in person for whatever reason — be it disability, availability, or preference — you can still date and meet new people online," she said.

A virtual date is a less formal chance to see if your match is searching for the same things you are, Cattelani said.

"Plus, if it's not going well, you don't need to invent tedious small talk whilst waiting for the bill."

You have to go offline eventually

Sebastian Garrido, a Gen Z digital marketer, told BI he's seen virtual first dates come back, and believes they are "a really effective way to reduce the price of the date."

But, he said, he doesn't think everyone will be on board.

It's convenient to order your date's favorite food to their house, he said, plus you can get a good deal. This might help those who feel they are expected to pay for the first date.

"It will reduce significantly the cost of your food on the date, and it's delivered to your partners' doorstep. That would be a pro," he said.

The con, however, is that it "may seem like you didn't want to spend money on a proper date," he said.

"I think at the end of the day, it depends on how much money you're willing to spend or how much you have," he said.

Carrie Berk, a content creator and author of the book "My Real-Life Rom-Com: How to Build Confidence and Write Your Own Relationship Rules," told BI she understands the trend but also believes it has its drawbacks.

"I feel like everything has shifted online these days, so it's only natural that dating moved into the online space," she said. "But sometimes we're on our phones so much we forget the value of that face-to-face interaction."

She warns that speaking virtually cannot entirely replace meeting someone in person, so FaceTime dates should be used sparingly.

When the pandemic began, Berk, aged 18 at the time, had never used a dating app. She met her first boyfriend online, speaking with him on social media. They dated virtually for eight months.

"When I did meet this person after eight months, he was nothing like how he was on FaceTime," she said. "I realized I had completely wasted my time."

It's easier to be "catfished" on social media, she said, because virtual dates cannot replace the chemistry, body language, and eye contact you might experience in real life.

"We are humans, after all," she said. "We need that face-to-face interaction, I think, to really fall in love with someone."

Watch: Tinder is 'obsessively' thinking about how to reach Gen Z, says CMO Melissa Hobley

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Valerie Bertinelli Is in Love! How the Romance with Her New Man Started Online: ‘My Belly Is Flip-Flopping’ (Exclusive)

The TV star and cookbook author fell in love when she least expected it: "This was not supposed to happen," she tells PEOPLE

Liz McNeil is an Editor at Large at PEOPLE, where she's worked for over 30 years.

A lot has happened to Valerie Bertinelli in the last two years. The TV star ended her marriage to her second husband , worked hard to find self acceptance, returned to the kitchen, wrote a new cookbook , Indulge — and she found love again. 

“I’m in love,” Bertinelli, 63, tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “It’s a seesaw of emotions because I was adamant I was never falling in love again."

"I was supposed to die with my six cats and my dog,” she adds with a laugh, “and very happily live the rest of my years alone — I'm good alone.”

The former Food Network host is not ready to publicly name her new guy but happily shares, “My belly is flip-flopping. This was not supposed to happen."

Before she could let love in, she had to learn to love herself.

“I want to be clear that this process has taken a long time,” Bertinelli says of the years following her 2022 divorce and the death of her first husband Eddie Van Halen , who died of throat cancer in 2020.

“I got more intentional about my healing,” she says. “That meant a lot of walks with [my dog] Luna, a lot of therapy sessions, a lot of learning that I deserve to feel good.”

“The cookbook was an offshoot of the emotional and mental healing I‘ve been doing,” she explains of Indulge . “First came the work. Why I thought I didn't deserve to be loved. Why I was using food to numb my feelings. All the drama and trauma I hadn’t dealt with — with Ed and my last marriage.”

She tells the story through her favorite recipes and intimate vignettes in Indulge. ”I know we’re talking about a cookbook but this cookbook got me through all of it,” she says with a smile.

As she writes in the book, “The more I let myself cry, the better I felt. I wasn’t trying to be happy or sad or thin. I wasn’t trying to be anything other than who I was.” 

And then came a sweet surprise. She first became friendly with her new guy, an East Coast writer, on Instagram a few years ago. “It was strictly platonic but there was something about him that I connected with that felt familiar,” she says.

They began chatting on the phone earlier this year and only recently did the relationship become romantic. “It’s crazy the comfort level,” she says. 

As new and unexpected as it all is, she says, “it feels incredibly right.”

It’s been a long road for Bertinelli to able to listen to heart, and find what truly nourished her.  “I found joy first," she says, "and then a man entered my life."

For more on Valerie Bertinelli, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

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DeLand corporal counseled over romantic relationship with domestic violence victim

online relationships thesis

A DeLand police corporal investigated for allegedly having a romantic relationship with a domestic violence victim received a warning after the woman and her husband declined to be interviewed by an internal affairs investigator, according to records obtained Wednesday.

"While the internal affairs investigation was unable to sustain allegations that you acted inappropriately towards a community member, it is the expectation of our department that you act and communicate with a greater level of professionalism around fellow employees," police Capt. Mike Quinn wrote in a letter of counseling to Cpl. Damon Clark.

Clark is also a K-9 handler at the department.

In his report, Lt. Juan Millan, now a captain with the department, said "the participation of the (victim and her husband) was of critical importance to reach a determination on whether or not Cpl. Clark took advantage of a victim of domestic violence," but said they signed waivers saying they will not testify.

Millan further noted that Clark's relationship was one that was mutual between two consenting adults, and that it happened while Clark was off duty.

In the letter issued to Clark on Feb. 7, Quinn pointed out that Clark was expected to conduct himself in a professional manner and that the corporal would face harsher discipline if the mistake was repeated.

"Because your communications were considered to be careless, any future incident involving you in similar circumstances will result in you being subject to progressive discipline," Quinn wrote.

Captain fired over sexist comments: DeLand police captain fired for allegedly making sexist, homophobic comments

The complaint

Clark became the subject of an internal affairs investigation after another officer, William Cooper, wrote a memorandum to his sergeant explaining that on Nov. 12, while responding to an unruly juvenile call at a West Pennsylvania Avenue home, Clark exhibited highly unprofessional behavior.

The officer alleged that hours after the call Clark shared details of his personal relationship, making inappropriate comments, and showing explicit images, the report states.

Millan said Cooper filed the complaint because he believed Clark had taken advantage of a domestic violence victim.

'I gave her the shoulder to cry on …'

On Nov. 12, Clark directed Cooper and Officer Michael Merhib to the home but when they got there, the husband refused to talk to them and said he wanted to speak to Clark, the report said.

Cooper left but Merhib stayed at the home. Clark arrived at the home and handled the unruly teen situation, and after three hours returned to the police department. Although his body camera did not record his interaction with the woman's husband, he said what the meeting was about, the report shows.

Cooper said Clark had a smile on his face when he returned to the police station telling the officers "Sorry, I was up there so long guys, I literally just saved my career I think."

In the interview with the investigator, Cooper said Clark went on to say that he met the victim six months prior to Nov. 12 during a domestic violence incident where her husband was taken to jail. Clark said he was involved in a physical and intimate relationship with her and that somehow her husband got a hold of the text messages between Clark and his wife. Clark said that was the reason the husband had requested to speak with him, the report detailed.

The internal affairs report stated that Clark said he gave the victim a shoulder to cry on whenever she needed someone. Clark told the officers that the reason the husband did not file a complaint with the police department was because the woman lied about their relationship, even though he was "smashing her," according to details of the report.

"I was there, I gave her the shoulder to cry on whenever she needed someone at a time of need," Clark said, according to the report.

Officer Mehrib told the internal affairs investigator that the husband did confront Clark questioning the corporal about the relationship with his wife, the report showed.

The husband asked Clark if he was trying to steal his wife, and "Come on man, that was (expletive) up," Merhib said the husband told Clark.

Mehrib said after the encounter he told Clark "I don't know what's going on with that, but like you should probably keep that to yourself or be careful with whatever you're doing," the internal affairs document noted.

Cooper also told the investigator that Clark also showed him a nude and explicit photo of a woman's lower body saying it was the domestic violence victim, the report said.

'Flirtatious and romantic'

When questioned by the internal affairs investigator, Clark denied anything physical occurred with the woman. Clark explained that he met the family two years ago after the juvenile was taken into protective custody, and that he kept in touch with the woman to see how they were doing, the report states.

Clark admitted that after the unruly juvenile call at the West Pennsylvania Avenue home, just after he turned off his body camera, the husband confronted him that he was aware of the relationship Clark was having with his wife. Clark said he started the relationship with the woman while her husband was in jail, the report highlighted.

Clark denied having anything physical with the woman but said it was more texting and emotional support, the report stated.

Clark said the woman's husband cautioned him to ensure the situation with his wife did not repeat itself, the report states.

"Corporal Clark explained that the relationship with (the domestic violence victim) at the time was mostly flirtatious, romantic in nature, but was all done through texting," Millan wrote in his report.

Clark said that he got several photos of the woman as part of their two-to-three-month relationship, which he kept on his cellphone.

The corporal denied showing an officer a nude and explicit photo of the victim's lower body, and said he might have accidentally flipped through another album while searching for the domestic violence victim's photos. He also denied saying he had saved his career, the report stated.

Millan wrote in his report that the woman in the photo could not be identified because it did not show the person's face.

Comments about underage girls

Clark was also investigated for allegedly making inappropriate comments about high school girls during a DeLand High School football game on Nov. 10, the report revealed.

Clark commented about how the high school girls looked and said that's why he wouldn't be able to work at the high school, the report said.

Clark also made comments like "That's nice," "Yes ma'am," and "Um-hummm" while looking at the high school girls, but Clark said his comments were taken out of context, the report stated.

Clark admitted to making the comments about the underage girls but said he did it as a parent, who has a daughter, and that he was pointing out that the parents didn't really care about how their daughters, who are developing much faster these days, dressed.

"While Corporal Clark's comments could be interpreted as inappropriate by some, they are also ambiguous, and open to interpretation, but Corporal Clark provided a logical explanation difficult to refute," Millan wrote in his report.

Of eight department policies, Millan said Clark violated two, that of conduct unbecoming of a member of the police department or employee, and the policy that asks members to "conduct themselves in a manner that will not bring discredit to themselves, the department, or the city."

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Valerie Bertinelli Is ‘In Love’ With a Man She Met Online After Divorce: ‘Feels Incredibly Right’

Valerie Bertinelli Dishes on New Romance With Man From Online After Divorce- ‘I’m in Love’

Valerie Bertinelli has fallen head over heels for a new man she met online.

“I’m in love,” Bertinelli, 63, told People magazine in an interview published on Monday, April 1. “It’s a seesaw of emotions because I was adamant I was never falling in love again.”

The former Food Network host, who didn’t reveal her new man’s identity, joked that she was “supposed to die with my six cats and my dog  and very happily live the rest of my years alone — I’m good alone.”

Finding love again, Bertinelli said, “was not supposed to happen.” She became friendly with her new flame years prior after meeting via Instagram. “It was strictly platonic,” she explained, “but there was something about him that I connected with that felt familiar.”

Selena Florence Stars Who Have Had Their Own Cooking Shows Over Years

Related: Selena! Florence! Stars Who Have Had Their Own Cooking Shows Over the Years

The twosome began speaking on the phone earlier this year, which is when things took a romantic turn. “It’s crazy the comfort level,” she gushed. “It feels incredibly right. … I found joy first, and then a man entered my life.”

Bertinelli was previously married to Tom Vitale from 2011 to 2022. Two years before her divorce, her first husband, Eddie Van Halen , died at age 65 . The former couple were married from 1981 to 2007 and shared son Wolfgang, 33.

While grieving both her marriage to Vitale and the loss of Van Halen, Bertinelli took “a long time” to focus on herself. “I got more intentional about my healing,” she told People . “That meant a lot of walks with [my dog] Luna, a lot of therapy sessions, a lot of learning that I deserve to feel good.”

Valerie Bertinelli Dishes on New Romance With Man From Online After Divorce- ‘I’m in Love’

Bertinelli’s new cookbook, Indulge, was partly inspired by her self-work. “The cookbook was an offshoot of the emotional and mental healing I‘ve been doing,” she explained. “First came the work. Why I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved. Why I was using food to numb my feelings. All the drama and trauma I hadn’t dealt with — with Ed and my last marriage.”

The project became even more valuable than Bertinelli expected. ”I know we’re talking about a cookbook, but this cookbook got me through all of it,” she said.

Most Shocking Celebrity Splits

Related: Most Shocking Celebrity Splits

Last month, Bertinelli hinted at getting back into dating post-divorce, revealing to USA Today that she’s found someone “very special.”

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“It’s unlike any relationship that I’ve ever experienced with a man,” the One Day at a Time star shared. “I don’t want to say too much, but I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have met him, because I wasn’t expecting it!”

Bertinelli noted that she wasn’t optimistic about falling in love again after her divorce from her husband of nearly 11 years. “I was going to die with my six cats and my dog and be incredibly happy doing it,” she said. “So this came out of left field, and I’m grateful it did.”

Reflecting on the work she’s done on herself, she confessed, “This would not have happened three years ago, four years ago, last year ― it wouldn’t have. And I feel incredibly lucky to have met him and made a connection with him.”

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  16. PDF How Far Will We Go for (Online) Love?

    I interviewed 87 individuals who have dated online, 65 of whom have engaged in long distance relationships as a result. This will illustrate how trends in online dating can have an impact on the wider world. My interview subjects consist of several individuals who I know personally quite well who have engaged in online dating, a large number of

  17. PDF Relational Maintenance in Long-distance Dating Relationships: Staying

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  18. Self-Disclosure and Self-Efficacy in Online Dating

    Typically, self-disclosure in online dating is more direct and is initiated from the. beginning through conversations on a deeper level. Duck and McMahan (2009) discussed the relationship filtering model (Duck, 1988, 1999) as a way of understanding how individuals form an impression of another.

  19. "Three Theories of Love: Analysis of Online Dating" by Amanda Han

    Abstract. Online dating has drastically changed how people meet their significant others and how people form connections. More and more relationships are starting online, and I wanted to see if Match.com and eharmony were utilizing pre-existing love theories to drive their match-making processes. Match.com and eharmony are the most successful ...

  20. The Influence of Online Dating on Emerging Adults' Levels of Empathy

    Bloom, Zachary, "The Influence of Online Dating on Emerging Adults' Levels of Empathy, Objectification of Others, and Quality of Romantic Relationships" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 4960. The purpose of this research study was to investigate the directional relationship between emerging adults' intensity of online dating and ...

  21. Eastern Washington University EWU Digital Commons

    This thesis seeks to examine how the Uses and Gratifications theory can be applied to online. dating. This is to understand why 1) the Uses and Gratifications theory is a common theme, and. 2) the representation differences amongst genders on online dating. For this purposes an online.

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    Gottlich, Carla, "Online Dating and Relationships On Campus: Gender, Religion, and Parental Marital Status Influencing Expectations and Experiences" (2015). Honors Theses. 315. Past research of college campus relationships and dating has found that gender, religion, and parental marital status may each play a role in determining expectations ...

  23. Relationships and Online Dating

    Relationships and Online Dating Essay. Table of Contents. The rising popularity of online communication changes the way people socialize. Friends and relatives can stay in touch and feel as though they are close to each other, even if they are at opposite corners of the world. Moreover, now people can find friendship and love online.

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    Relationships Parents: This work has no parents. In Collection: Graduate Theses and Dissertations (GTD) Items. Thumbnail Title Date Uploaded Visibility Actions; Bonds_Across_Divides_LM.pdf: 2024-03-31: Public: Press to Select an action Download; Scholars Archive is a service of Oregon State University Libraries & Press.

  25. Opinion

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  28. Florida officer admitted romantic relationship with domestic violence

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  30. 'Lose weight quick' online schemes don't work. Dr. Mike ...

    Many products promise a quick path to weight loss, but few work. Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, better known as Dr. Mike, offers tips about food, weight and misinformation.