The Impact Of Online Dating Essay Example

This research looks into an area where there is a lack of information. New technologies have created more ways than ever to meet potential dating partners. Just as easily as couples are getting together they are breaking up. Dating sites and applications have allowed for total strangers to come together and form both casual, short term connections and serious, long term relationships that may otherwise never have happened, nevertheless it is unclear if methods for ending and terminating these relationships have changed. While research done by Kressel notes that there can are four different characteristic styles to terminating a relationship this research will focus on two: (1) the direct conflict, featuring open conflict, direct communication, and discussion of the termination, and (2) the indirect or disengaged conflict, in which there is limited conversation and conflict because the two have decided not to interact (Kressal et. al, 1980). A survey will be conducted in which participants will be asked to recall their past relationship dissociation that occurred in the last six months and analyze characteristics that may or may not have been applicable during their dissociation. This questionnaire will contain a variety of possible breakup techniques found by Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Abrahams (2010). Through the methodology provided, this paper will look to attempt to explain if those couples who met in online settings versus offline settings use different termination styles.

The internet has provided a way for people to meet new friends and romantic partners (Baker, 2005; & Cooper, Mansson, Daneback, Tikkanen, & Ross, 2003). The majority of research done on online relational development has been on the quality of those relationships (Whitty, M., & Gavin, J. (2001), even though the odds that the relationship last, no matter how they meet, are pretty low. There are increasingly more couples that are meeting online than ever before. The idea behind online dating came from the fact that you could get just about any product or service on the internet, so why not would you also be able to find a potential partner. Technological advances has allowed for the development of new dating sites and applications. This means that traditional methods of meeting significant others, such as through friends, classes, work, or hobbies are slowly being replaced by methods that don’t involve face to face meetings or interactions. Searching for partners online has allowed anyone with internet access to find a partner, and has been notably beneficial for those with limited resources to meet people, including gays, lesbians, and middle-aged heterosexuals (Rosenfeld & Thomas, 2012). Due to social implications it has made it hard for these groups to meet others in traditional environments. Some of the stigmas surrounding them discourage traditional dating methods. Some studies have found that the majority respondents had met online (Cacioppo et. al, 2013, & Paul, 2014). Specifically, Cacioppo et. al (2013) were surprised to see that this was the case for one third of their respondents. This implies that methods of meeting potential partners are constantly changing due to technological advances. What this research will attempt to look at it is if people are meeting potential partners differently, does this impact how partners are then disassociation (i.e. breaking up).

Review of Literature

Regardless of the accelerated rate that people are meeting online, couples are still meeting face to face. In his research, Rabby (2007) defines those who have met face to face (FTF), as Real Worlders. These are people you have met offline and continue their relationship in an offline capacity. These people have the choice as to whether they want to use computer-mediated communication (CMC) or continue carrying out FTF maintenance. Couples potentially have to choose between how they mediate their relationships. Couples physical distance can change depending on whether they enter into a new stage of their relationship. This can either be bringing them closer or farther apart. For those entering into a long distance relationship this transition from FTF to CMC could potentially occur. Those that were in long distance relationships preferred communication of oral channels (i.e. FTF or telephone) rather than the use of written communication channels (e.i. internet or letters) (Dainton & Ayler, 2002). This means that couples preferred to see each in person rather than deciphering and making assumptions of their messages meanings. This relates to other research that has found that participants in Sprecher, Zimmerman, and Abrahams (2010) preferred to be broken up with in a FTF setting. Here there is a relationship with FTF communication between development of relationship and the disassociation. This still does not clarify if the one who is doing the disassociation is still using the FTF interaction or, regardless of preference, if they are using another breakup style.

Across studies there is a lack of clarification as whether couples who have met online are more or less satisfied in their relationships than those who met in offline settings. Cacioppo and colleagues found that those who met online were more satisfied in their relationship (Cacioppo, Cacioppo, Gonzaga, Ogburn, & VanderWeele, 2013). On the other side of things, Lefebvre (2017) has found those who met online have higher breakup and divorce rates. These studies contradict one another in their findings which makes it hard to decipher which one is more accurate. This also makes it difficult to understand of these two groups who is breaking up at a higher rate. The nature of this study implies that you are no longer in a relationship and therefore at least one party was not satisfied in the relationship. Regardless it is necessary to look at how relationship development occurs in order to understand if the dissociation process is being affected.

Some research categorizes break-ups as an event rather a process. CMC advancements have changed how people communicate and develop relationships (Pauley, & Emmers-Sommer, 2007). For couples who are meeting online their commitment can fluctuate (Baxter & Bullis, 1986) and these couples can even use the internet to support that fluctuating commitment. This might be due to the fact they could possibly be jumping from CMC’s to FCF at a more frequent rate. This could relate to the findings above that those who are in a time of fluctuating commitment might prefer maintenance in FTF settings rather than jumping between the two. Even though their development occurred online. This fluctuation might result in termination which would support Lefebvre’s research stated earlier. In contrast, Walther (1996) has found that those engaging in CMC rather than FTF communication have become more intimate with one another, quickly sharing intimate details that may otherwise have not been shared in person, and are meant to replace some of the functions that happen in the more traditional sense of FTF communications and meetings (Ramirez & Wang, 2008). These findings then might suggest the other side of the research in which, couples meet online are more satisfied in their relationships. This intimacy sharing could result in couples who meet online to stay together more frequently. This differing findings, again, make it hard to understand which might be true for couples who are meeting online.

One of the issues with trying to understand breakups and divorce is that they are hard to predict and end up not being easily regulated. Those that view the termination as a process find it to be long and ambiguous (Rollie & Duck, 2006). Kressel’s research has distinguished some of the possible routes that the breakups can take. He notes that there can be four types of dissolution, however, this research will focus on two: (1) the direct conflict, which features open conflict, direct communication, and discussion of the termination, and (2) the indirect or disengaged conflict, in which there is limited conversation and conflict because the two have decided not to interact (Kressal et. al, 1980). It has been found that those who terminated the relationship before marriage, such as in the case of college students, the relationship ended quite casually (Hill, et. al, 1976), with the blame was put on external sources as the reason for the termination. The more casual breakups then might have fallen under the classification of indirect as they chose to blame external sources rather than discuss the inter-relational issues. Seeing these studies come from a time when social media was not present puts into question if this termination process would then change based on the development of the relationship.

An ethnographic exploration found that one of the primary reasons for the usage of the specific dating app Tinder, was that it allowed people to look and gaze at potential dates without any judgement (Braziel, 2015). This can be applied to other forms of online dating as well. Online sites allow for people to browse and judge in privacy without anyone, including the other in the online profile, having knowledge of this scrutiny. This creates what Braziel (2015) calls the “tourist gaze” where individuals can consume others and their presentations of themselves. Because of this, online daters can be as meticulous or as open as they feel. The profiles provide participants to present however they find fit. One may choose to present themselves as disclosing, or share truthful information about themselves. Again, this creates a sense of the relationship working and staying partners staying together. Conversely, a causal analysis has found that the amount of online interaction affected the level of involvement between the two parties, which then affected the amount and number of misrepresentations (Cornwell, & Lundgren, (2001). This leads to the other form of representation otherwise described as online dating deception. McCornack and Levine (1990) define deception as “the deliberate falsification or omission of information by a communicator, with the intent being to mislead the conversational partner” (p. 120). Generally, people respond negatively to online deception (Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, (2008). This study produced a scale of 1=deception is completely unacceptable, 5=deception is completely acceptable. Providing a mean of 2.12 suggests that deception on online profiles is not acceptable.

With an increase of online deception showing that self-deception was intentional, although for minor discrepancies, could possibly have led to larger phenomenon’s (Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, (2008). This online deception phenomenon has created new terms and behaviors such as “catfishing”. Kottemann (2015) writes that catfishing has been established as the intentional deception of an alternate identity of online profile. This can lead to the development of many different relationships, including romantic, that are then terminated due to the unveiling of their true identity. The television series “Catfishing” has produced many examples of this phenomenon occurring. Online deception has led to the production of a new practice that potentially ends with relationship dissociation. This shows that the results of earlier studies (i.e. Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, 2008) have proven to be true. Online deception was not treated as an acceptable practice. It is still unclear through these practices as to how the disassociation is occurring and whether they are using direct or indirect strategies.

Catfishing is not the only phenomenon to appear since the acceleration of online dating. Of the many different styles and ways of carry out relationship dissociation, one that has become more apparent with an increase in online dating is the case of “ghosting”. LeFebvre (2017) accounts that “...ghosting, relies on technology driven advancement in online and mobile dating applications”, where the lack of response comes from one person ceasing communication with another by not responding to repeated attempts to reach them over social cyberspace platforms. This absence, or irregularity, of communication patterns can lead to an abrupt end that causes partner to decipher that their relationship is over. A break up that includes the use of technology and lack of communication from one of the parties, might be considered under the category of avoidance and be perceived as indirect (Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Abrahams, 2010). The example of ghosting clearly fits under the definition of an indirect breakup style but, it is still unclear as to who may be using this style more frequently. This another example of how online dating is slowly producing more functions to relationship disassociations.

Therefore, after looking at how people can now have the option to meet online or offline, and combining this with research done on types of dissolution (breaking up), the following research question can be proposed:

RQ: During the termination of a relationship does the usage of style, direct versus indirect, differ in those who met online versus offline?


Participants will be asked to voluntarily fill out a survey that ask questions regarding their past relationship, how that relationship developed, and the termination style (or styles) that were present. The goal is to get a substantial number of respondents so that the testing can be more accurate. The objective will be to recruit participants by sending the survey out to as many different outlets and platforms as possible. This will include sending it out to various platforms where a large age range has the potential of responding. For example, sharing it on Facebook might gain a wider range of ages rather than posting it on just a college site. The survey will ask that participants think back to their most recent relationship (the most previous one that was terminated). This will provide a control for the impact of other relationships and terminations that they might have occurred. This will also control for the fact that some may currently be in relationships and have not ultimately gone through the dissociation process yet. I will ask that participants only recall a termination that occurred in the last six months. This will control for some of the implications that might come from having to remember back farther and not remembering as clearly. This survey will need to have enough participants so that there will be a significant distribution of participants where the partners have met online and offline. This again will provide accuracy to the results.

The survey will begin by asking them basic questions of their demographics that will be easy to answer. This section will be short and primarily consist of questions such as: age, gender, and online dating experience/knowledge. The survey will start this way because the objective will be to prime them to think that the questions will continue to be easy to answer. By being presented with questions about themselves they should be likely to continue. They will then be presented with questions that will give background information on the type of relationship is being analyzed. This will contain questions such as: Was this breakup within the last six months? By asking this question early on it will allow me to then eliminate those whose termination was farther back than six months. How long did this relationship last? How did you meet your partner (online vs. offline)? This will be the question that will provide our independent variable that will be used later when calculating results. Did you primarily communicate in face to face communication or computer-mediated communication? What type of relationship would you have considered it (i.e. casually dating, seriously dating, engaged, divorce, or other)? Have you used online dating sites or apps previously? This will give information as to what kind of knowledge/experience they have with online dating apps and sites.

They will then be shown a series of breakup strategies in a questionnaire that was developed by Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Abrahams (2010). Each strategy will be assigned as either being direct or indirect (these will be assigned a 0 and 1 when put into the analysis). This will also be based off the definitions that were provided earlier by Kressel. The participants will be asked to conduct a Likert-style approach (1 = not at all characteristic of my breakup and 7 = very much a characteristic of my breakup) to indicate how applicable this strategy was to their breakup. This will identify which methods were used more by those who met their partner online versus other methods. Due to how many are on this list they will be broken up in sections to split up some of the work. The study broke the strategies down into six different categories, including: PT = positive tone, OC = open confrontation, AW = avoidance/withdrawal, M = manipulatory, ADC = avoidance via distant communication, UC = unclassified. These strategies will be listed together on the questionnaire based off the category they were assigned. By putting them into the six categories it will allow for a t-test to be ran for each of the six categories. In which whether a couple has met online versus off will be our independent variable and the categories will be our dependent variables. This t-test should then result in either significance or not as to which break up style was used more frequently.

Limitations & Discussion

This research should highlight a shift in dating culture that is taking place in many different stages of life. Most relationship end at some point or another and can occur at different stages of the relationship. This is why there are questions that involve labeling what type of relationship this was. Because online dating has changed the way we develop our relationships this should explain if it also changes our disassociation. Besides analyzing between just those who met online versus offline it might be interesting for further research to also involve the different age groups. The thought process was to see if under 40 or over 40 are using different break up styles and what might be the reason if there is significant difference.

There may be limitations within the demographics of the information including the participant’s sex, age, and length of time of relationship and as well as time spent communicating with partner. This could also occur in a lack of equity of those who have met online versus offline. There is still less people meeting online and therefore there may not be as many respondents in that category. Another limitation will be that with a relationship there are two people involved, this might lead to both remembering two different versions of what happened. One could have put a higher importance on a different breakup style then the other would have classified it. Even though the survey will be limited to only the breakups in the last six months, it still may be possible that individuals do not remember the situation with much clarity. It will also be hard asking them, if they were the ones who were broken up with, to remember back to that time with clarity and without bias. This study is not limited, nor does it ask, who did the terminating of the relationship. If the potential participant is not over the breakup they might finish the duration of the questionnaire. The purpose of this work will be just to see if those who met online versus offline differ in their usage of breakup strategies.

One of the other limitations that might be a barrier is that there are quite a few break up style examples that are listed. Some may see this and not want to finish the survey or some might get through some of them and decide that this survey is taking too long. As mentioned above, in order to try to make this less of a problem the examples will be broken up into their categories and they will be asked to only answer a few at a time.


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