Aaron R. Breuer
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Abstract This study focused on turning points in online relationships and the way in which those who engaged in online dating reduced uncertainty regarding self-reported important topics. The results of this study found that there were a wide variety of self-reported turning points and important topics to discuss with a potential partner as well as a general time frame for both partners to agree to a physical meeting, overall honesty in self-representation and ways to reduce uncertainty. The most common turning points described by interviewees were: first contact, first contact outside of the dating site, first physical meeting, and first contact following the first meeting. The most important topics of discussion listed by interviewees were: common interests and hobbies, compatible lifestyle and a mutually agreed upon direction and expectations for the relationship. The most common time frame for both parties to agree to a meeting was one to two weeks, after a series of direct questions to reduce the uncertainty on important topics. This study also found that a majority of people who engage in online dating present a highly accurate amount of self-representation and seek a higher degree of honesty from potential partners in comparison to traditional relationships.
The Exploration of Turning Points in Online Dating
Online dating use has grown with the availability of the internet. With people’s lives becoming increasingly busy, they may turn toward the internet and online dating. In fact, according to Broussard (2011) of Match.com, 40 million people use an online dating service, which equates to about 40% of the total United States single population. Likewise, according to the New York Daily News, one-third of married couples met online (2013). Online dating is also present in the lives of busy college students who split their time between jobs, class, homework, sleep, and a social life. Online dating allows students to meet and make contact in short durations and at their convenience. The asynchronous communication format allows students to pursue dating at their leisure. The asynchronous communication of online dating is defined by Huang and Hsiao (2012) as “online communication [that] does not require the real-time participation of [those involved]" (p. 15). The number of dating sites has also increased, and some of the more popular sites include Match.com, Plenty of Fish, and OKCupid. The online format has replaced the old fashioned print personals with advertisements via online classifieds such as Craigslist or Backpage and advertising sites such as Match.com and eHarmony on television.
The rise of internet dating has even spawned several books regarding the Do’s and Don’ts of online dating. Kingston (2009) is one example with her book The Dating Game- Internet Style. Dating sites allow users to find others who share a wide variety of unique interests, presenting a whole medium for romantic communication. However, online dating also comes with many questions and uncertainties, including possible deception of online users. Along with uncertainty comes important firsts with this format, such as deciding when or if to meet people face to face. The first meeting is an event that in relational research is known as a turning point. According to Baxter (2001) in reference to Bolton (1961), “A ‘turning point’ refers to a transformative event that alters the relationship in some way” (p. 4). In online dating, the first turning point will determine the nature of the next or the decision to continue the relationship or to terminate it. While any number of factors may play a role in relationship decisions, the purpose of this study is the turning point of the first physical meeting and the results that follow.
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