Phase 3: The Interaction Phase
Similar to off-line, the next phase in the online dating courting process involves interaction. This of course takes place online. It might initially take place through: an exchange of e-mails via the site; a site’s instant messaging program; personal e-mail accounts; or an instant messaging program found off the site. It might then move on to phone (usually mobile phone) or SMS texting. As with courting off-line, this stage can also be very flirtatious. Although the traditional physical off-line cues are not present, substitutes can be found for these non-verbal cues (Whitty, 2003; 2004). One can describe in more detail how they look or the types of physical actions they would like to enact. Individuals also flirt by using emoticons, such as smiley faces and winks, and acronyms (e. g., LNK which represents love and kisses or QT which represents cutie).
As Whitty (2003; 2004) has found, individuals can indeed flirt online, despite the absence of traditional cues. Moreover, sometimes they can feel freer to flirt and express their sexuality than they might in face-to-face encounters. Similarly, Alapack, Blichfeldt, and Elden (2005) state that online the “living flesh is being transformed into a ‘legible’ body” (p. 52). They also state that a special online flirting language has evolved. In line with previous work (e. g., Whitty, 2003; Ben – Ze’ve, 2004) they also state that cyber-flirting can trigger physical and sexual reactions.
Empirical research has found that not only do individuals flirt online, but they do so in gender – defined ways (Whitty, 2004). Her survey of 5,697 participants found that women were more likely than men to flirt by using online substitutes for non-verbal cues. For example, they admitted to using more emoticons and acronyms to flirt online and described themselves as physically attractive. Men, in contrast, were more likely to initiate contact.
Typically this third phase is relatively short. While, some flirtation and self-disclosure takes place for online daters during the interaction, this phase is more about verifying information and setting up the face-to-face meeting (or one or both of the pair decide to drop out of the process). Given that profiles already provide a curriculum vitae about the individual, additional information about the person does not need to be disclosed. Hence, during this phase if the pair feels comfortable enough they move to setting up a face-to-face date. Conducting a face-to-face date rather than spending more time conversing and getting to know one another is preferable, as most online daters would agree that one cannot test out real ‘chemistry’ in an online environment. Spending too much time conversing without agreeing to a date is frowned upon by many—as such a person is often deemed a tease or insincere.