How Do People Perceive Online Daters?

3 min read
Cottonbro Studios courtesy Pexels

Cottonbro Studios courtesy Pexels

Online dating has become enormously popular in the last decade. A nationally representative survey by Pew Research found that 30% of U..S adults say they have used a dating site or app at some point. This number rises to 53% among those in the 18-29 demographic who are most likely to have been single in the online dating era. Of those under 30 who were currently in a relationship, 20% met their partners online.

However, early research on how people perceive online daters found that negative stereotypes were common. Despite evidence that these negative stereotypes are false, those who meet partners online are assumed to be unattractive, deceitful, and deviant. But much of this research is nearly a decade old. As dating has become more common, has the stigma faded, especially among those who have tried online dating themselves? And are online daters really viewed more negatively than people who meet potential mates offline in a variety of venues (e.g., through friends, at bars)? New research by Trenton Johanis and colleagues just published in Personal Relationships explores these questions.

To examine people’s perceptions of online vs. offline daters, the researchers surveyed 214 participants about their attitudes toward the average user of eight different methods for meeting a romantic partner online or offline:

  • Online dating websites or apps using algorithm-based matching (e.g., eharmony)
  • Online dating websites or apps using profile browsing (e.g., Match)
  • Meeting via social media websites (e.g., Facebook)
  • Meeting through work
  • Meeting through luck or chance encounters
  • Meeting through family or friends
  • Meeting through groups (e.g., hobby group, religious group).

For each method, participants rated the average user of that method on a series of attributes, including attractive, desirable, smart, romantic, creepy, and desperate. Participants were also asked which of those methods they had personally used to meet partners.

The results showed that overall, those who used online dating methods were perceived more negatively than those who used offline methods. In addition, meeting partners via social media was viewed especially negatively. This is likely because while dating sites are designed for people to reach out to strangers, social media sites are not, and thus contacting strangers on social media to pursue relationships may be seen as particularly inappropriate. Of the different offline methods for meeting partners, meeting at bars was viewed the most negatively.

Not surprisingly, those who had used online dating themselves tended to perceive online daters more positively than those who did not have experience online dating. However, even those who used dating sites tended to view online daters more negatively than those who meet partners offline. Perhaps this is due to the fact that negative experiences are common in online dating.

Despite the prevalence of online dating, and many studies showing that online daters are on average no different than offline daters, negative stereotypes that online daters are unattractive and undesirable persist.

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