One of the most seminal sociological investiga­tions of e-dating resulted in the book, “Double click: Romance and commitment among online couples” byAndrea Baker (2005). The uniqueness of this publication is that it is not just empirical (based on a scientifically designed survey of 89 couples that met online) but also predictive. The major goal of this research was to use survey and interview data to discover the keys for success in e-dating. Based on this research, the author outlined the POST model, a four factor model that purports to predict success in e-dating. The four factors include:

1. Place (where the e-daters met on – and off­line): This research defined quite a number of different “places” for e-daters to meet. The findings indicated that the more specifically related to relationship building the meeting place was (such as a chat room dedicated to a topic that is of interest to both parties or an e-dating service) the more successful the relationship that resulted from meeting there was likely to be.

2. Obstacles (the number and types of obstacles that the e-daters faced and had to overcome): The researcher defined two types of ob­stacles. Those that resulted from pre-existing relationships (marriage, cohabitation of one or more ofthe parties) and those that resulted from geographical distance. The findings indicated that more such obstacles existed at the beginning of the relationship the less likely was the relationship to be stable and long-term.

3. Self-presentation (self disclosure versus secrecy, deception versus truth, and appear­ances versus truth): The findings from the above research indicated that self-disclosure, honesty and appearance that was congruent with the other party’s expectations were associated with the relationship’s positive outcome. Holding back information about one’s self, particularly once the online re­lationship moves on the face-to-face stage, pretending to be someone other than who one really is and providing information about one’s appearance that proved to be untrue once the e-daters met face-to-face were all predictors of failure of the e-dating relationship.

4. Timing: The findings from this research were that the longer the e-daters waited to meet each other face-to-face and the longer they waited to initiate a sexual relationship, the more likely they were to establish a suc­cessful relationship. Indeed, cybersex was one of the best predictors of an e-dating relationship’s failure. These authors interpret this finding to suggest that starting a sexual relationship too early on – or off-line hinders the development of other areas of shared interest and could potentially subdue other areas of potential conflict a couple encoun­ters, resulting in the couple not knowing if they are truly compatible with each other.

The above study has a number of direct impli­cations to our research. First, it confirms the fact that daters engage in different types of behavior throughout their e-dating career. It proposes the idea that some e-dating strategies are more suc­cessful than others and that successful male and female e-daters tend to use different strategies. This research also suggests through its in-depth interviewing with e-daters that strategies are not constant—they may change throughout the e-dating career, as e-daters become more aware of the constraints of the e-dating environment.

The strength of the Baker (2005) study is that unlike most of its predecessors, it was based on primary sources—the reports of e-daters in response to an open-ended questionnaire admin­istered to them. However, as noted by the author, this methodology also had its weaknesses. E-daters who participated in this study reported on events that happened weeks and sometimes months be­fore the survey was administered to them. This introspective methodology could have introduced distortions into the data that a more “real-time” approach, like the one employed in our study, does not have. Also, because the e-daters reports were made after the fact, it was difficult to use the data to describe the actual developmental process of e-dating, which is the main focus of our research.

TOWARD A THEORY OF E-DATING DEVELOPMENT

As indicated in the previous sections and based on the literature that we reviewed, our theory of e-dating development is based on the following premises:

1. The typical e-dating career consists of six stages or steps: (a) Construction of a pro­file; (b) Searching for appropriate matches;

(c) Sending winks, e-mail messages, text messages, and so forth; (d) Responding to winks, e-mail messages, text messages, and so forth; (e) Setting up face-to-face dates;

(f) Conducting face-to-face dates; and (g) Concluding the process by either starting a new cycle ofthe e-dating process, establish­ing a relationship with one date, or quitting the process all together without finding a desirable match.

2. Because of primarily cultural reasons, even though the steps in the e-dating process are identical for males and females, the sequence of these stages and the amount of time and energy that each gender spends on some of the stages differs. Thus, because males are expected to be the initiators in the dating game, they tend to start “searching” activities earlier and spend more time and energy on these activities than females do. Similarly, males also tend to engage in contact initiation activities (sending winks and e-mails) earlier in the e-dating process and they invest more time and energy in these activities throughout their e-dating career than females do.

3. Because males are more numerous on e-dat­ing services than females are (and possibly because females are less inclined to initiate contact with males), the males’ attempts to

establish contact with females are less likely to be successful than the females’ attempts to establish contact with males.

4. This reality, results in males increasing their investment of time and effort in initiating contact over time more than females do. Thus, while the two genders might start the e-dating process with similar behaviors and expectations, as the process unfolds and as a result of input from the environment (lack of response from females), males increase their contact initiation activities, while females decrease their engagement in such activities.

5. The end result from this process is that males are less successful (and possibly less satis­fied) with their e-dating experiences relative to females.

Table 1 shows the typical e-dating development stages for each gender. Please note that the six stages can conclude after one “round” or repeat for a longer period of time, with new rounds initiated repeatedly. Also, the theory assumes that while some males might behave initially “like females” (initiating few contacts with females and expecting females to contact them) and some females might initially behave “like males” (initiating contact with males), as the e-dating process unfolds and because of the different input from the environ­ment that males and females get, both genders “converge” into the “typical” sequence proposed by our theory.

Table 1. The typical female and male e-dating career

Females

Males

A. Constructing or revising a profile

A. Constructing or revising a profile

B. Searching for appropriate matches

B. Searching for appropriate matches

D. Receiving winks, e-mail messages or instant messages

C. Sending (and eventually receiving) winks, e-mail messages, or instant messaging

E. Setting up face-to-face dates (usually by telephone)

E. Setting up face-to-face dates (usually by telephone)

F. Conducting dates

F. Conducting dates

G. Concluding the process by either starting a new cycle, estab­lishing a committed relationship or quitting all together

G. Concluding the process by either starting a new cycle, estab­lishing a committed relationship or quitting all together

Figure 1. Type of activity engaged in by gender.

Males (n – 10)

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5

Constructing or

Conducting a

Conducting a

Initiating contact

Respond ng to contact

revising a profile (704)

search for matches (504)

search for matches (504)

with matches (574)

from others (574)

Conducting a

Constructing or

Conducting a

search for matches (204!

revising a profile and

search for matches (284)

initiating contact

Responding to contact

with matches (104)

from others (404)

Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11

initiating contact

Responding to contact

initiating contact

initiating contact

Setting up dates (1004)

Respond ngto contact

with matches (434)

from others (334)

with matches (334)

with matches (334)

from others (1004)

Responding to contact

initiating contact with matches (334)

Meeting dates (254)

Setting up a dates (334)

from others (434)

Setting up dates (334)

Meeting dates (254)

Setting up dates (334)

Females (n – 12)

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5

Constructing or

Constructing or

Constructing or

Conducting a

Respond ngto contact

revising a profile (1004)

revising a profile (504)

revising a profile (504)

search for matches (454) Responding to contact

from others (824)

Responding to contact

from others (254)

from others (364)

Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11

Conducting a

Responding to contact

Responding to contact

Responding to contact

Responding to contact

Setting up dates (504)

search for matches (364)

from others (804)

from others (634)

from others (674)

from others (604)

Meeting dates (254)

Responding to contact

Conducting a

Conducting a

Setting up dates (164)

Setting up dates (204)

Respond ngto contact

from others (274)

search for matches (204)

search for matches (254)

Meeting dates (164)

Meeting dates (204)

from others (254)

SociologyBased on the above assumptions, we have outlined below a number of research questions that we explored empirically. For our initial in­vestigation, we decided to restrict our research to the very first three assumptions in the model, namely, (1) the e-dating process consists of stages and that these differ for males and females; (2) the behavior of males and females throughout the e-dating process is different, and (3) the input that male and female e-daters receive from the environment (namely, from other e-daters) is dif­ferent. (Figure 1)