Conventional notions of romantic relationship initiation hinged upon an individual’s chance encounters with other single adults in his/her geographic proximity (e.g., meeting someone at work, a social engagement, or grocery store), or introductions made by members of his/her social network (e.g., being set up by a friend or a family member). Online dating sites break free from these conventions by providing individuals with “increased information about a wider pool of potential partners than usually available in face-to-face encounters” ( Heino, Ellison, & Gibbs, 2010, p. 428). As a result, online dating sites are a convenient way for single adults to strategically locate other individuals who are seeking a romantic relationship.
Finkel and colleagues ( 2012) summarize that online dating sites provide users with three key services: 1) unprecedented access to potential dating partners, 2) the ability to communicate using mediated channels before determining to meet FtF, and 3) the option of being matched using romantic compatibility algorithms. Sites differ in the specific process through which they seek to facilitate these services. Sites such as Match and PlentyOfFish, on the other hand, allow members to search through an entire database of user profiles without the constraints of compatibility algorithms. Regardless of the exact matching process, the sites typically require members to construct a profile by providing textual and photographic indicators that convey personal information (e.g., height, body type, age, occupation, etc.), and identify the qualities they desire in a potential partner. The profile serves as an important first impression for daters who are hoping to catch the attention of potential partners ( Heino et al., 2010). As a result, most online dating research has focused on understanding issues of self-presentation and misrepresentation during the creation and interpretation of profiles ( Ellison et al., 2011; Toma & Hancock, 2011).
The hyperpersonal perspective ( Walther, 1996) is frequently employed to examine self-presentation and impression formation in mediated communication contexts. The perspective suggests that online communicators are able to utilize the asynchronous and anonymonous nature of mediated communication to craft messages that represent selective, and often overly positive, self-presentation ( Walther, 2007). As a result, communicators are prone to developing hyperpersonal relationships that reflect increased intimacy relative to FtF communicators. Although not developed with this context in mind, the perspective provides potentially important clues regarding the role of self-presentation and self-disclosure in online dating. For example, existing research indicates the perceived anonymity of online dating can lead daters to display an accelerated rate of self-disclosure relative to FtF couples ( Wang & Chang, 2010; Wang & Lu, 2007). Online daters often utilize profile names or first names only, which provides a sense of disconnection (and security) from their offline identity. This sense of anonymity might provoke users to share more information than they would if interacting in the offline world.
In addition to disclosing more personal information, online daters often portray idealized versions of their selves by revealing socially desirable aspects of their identity, while strategically omitting their less favorable characteristics ( Hancock & Toma, 2009). Self-presentation always involves a degree of perceptual subjectivity because individuals perceive things in ways that reflect their unique experiences and motivations ( Leary & Kowalski, 1990). That said, Regina local singles hookup app online dating sites enable even greater levels of perceptual ambiguity because individuals must utilize text and photo-based communication to describe aspects of their identity that would be readily apparent in the offline world ( Ellison et al., 2011). As a result, daters often indicate their identities are somewhat malleable; they can pick and choose which aspects of their past, present, or ideal future selves to display on their profile. Participants in Ellison et al.’s ( 2011) study reasoned it was acceptable to omit or exaggerate details “as long as the discrepancy was not too significant and the future self was within the realm of possibility” (p. 52). Indeed, the authors concluded that the profiles serve as a promise, meaning that daters operate under good faith that FtF encounters will not reveal significant differences from a person’s profile.