A final problem worthy of note is that online dating has been found to be a stigmatized activity (Wil – dermuth, 2004). Peris et al. (2002), for instance, have argued that “it is generally assumed that people who enter cyberspace to form interpersonal relationships generally show greater difficulties in social face-to-face situations” (p. 44). Donn and Sherman (2002) found that undergraduate students were more likely than postgraduate students to believe that people who form relationships online were desperate. Wildermuth (cited in Wildermuth, 2004) found that even friends and family members of online daters expressed strong disapproval of their online activities. Not surprisingly, their views negatively impacted online daters’ perceptions of the self. In the interviews carried out by Whitty (see Whitty & Carr, 2006; Whitty, 2007; in press), this stigmatization was also reported by online daters. To deal with this stigma, the online daters made friends on the dating site and created what they called a community. This community helped normalize their online dating activities.
This stigmatization also seems to be evident across some cultures. Malchow-M0ller (2003), for instance, found that the French men she interviewed in a focus group stated that online dating is akin to personal ads and so like people who use personal ads, online daters must be desperate. She argues that Danes, in contrast, are more likely to perceive online daters as ordinary people. The problem with this study, however, is that the researcher only included two focus groups in her study and it would not be valid to assume that one focus group could represent Danes and the other French, so further research is essential to test these claims. What does seem evident is that in the main, participants talked about online daters as a separate social group (even if some perceive them to be ‘normal’ people).
A stigmatized person’s social identity is devalued in a particular social context (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998). Goffman (1963) contended that a stigma discredits a person and reduces them “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.” Online dating is obviously not the typical way individuals find a mate, but then not all atypical behaviors are stigmatized. So what researchers need to consider is why has online dating been perceived as a stigma? Why are these individuals, akin to those who write personal ads (Ahuvia & Adelman, 1992), perceived by many as desperate? I suggest here that it is not because online dating is a fairly new activity (especially given its similarity with personal ads which have been around for decades) but rather because of the process—as demonstrated in the online dating model proposed in this chapter the courting process follows different steps to the model of dating that individuals are more accustomed to.
To conclude, by drawing upon Givens’ model of the traditional courtship process, this chapter was able to develop a model to explain the online dating process. This model argued for five phases including: ‘the attention phase’, ‘the recognition phase’, ‘the interaction phase’, ‘the face-to-face meeting’ and finally ‘resolution’. Here it was noted that flirting is not as natural or ambiguous as it can be in other types of courtship (both online and off-line). Moreover, unlike face-to-face attraction, physical chemistry is not determined until much later down the line. The differences in the courtship process provide users of these sites with certain advantages and disadvantages. It is suggested here that online dating companies might want to re-dress some of the problems with the design and usage of their sites in order to enhance their clients’ online dating experience.