THE FIVE PHASES OF ONLINE DATING
Theorists have devised models to explain formal matchmaking services, such as personal ads, video dating and computer matchmaking. Ahuvia and Adelman (1992), for example, have devised the SMI model (searching, matching, and interacting model). They parallel matchmaking services with basic market functions. For instance, in the market place initially ‘searching’ is required, that is, gaining information essential for exchange (in regards to matchmaking this means searching for information about a potential other). Second, ‘matching ’ is required to bring together compatible exchange partners (in regards to matchmaking this would mean bringing together two singles that seem well matched). Ahuvia and Adelman swap the term ‘transacting’ for ‘interacting’. They do so because transacting requires a negation of implementing an exchange and to do so with matchmaking an interaction needs to take place.
Internet dating does seem to include the three phases highlighted byAbuvia andAdelman. However, these phases do not necessarily neatly fit into the sequential order they propose. Matching, for instance can happen at two points. First, the site might suggest matches from a specific formula devised to ‘scientifically’ match individuals and then the client might search through the site’s choices to decide who they believe is an appropriate match. Alternatively, the client might begin by searching through the sea of profiles until they find profiles that are suitable matches. Next, contact is made on the site initially to indicate interest in another and the other has to reciprocate mutual interest. From there the two potentials begin to interact and decide whether they wish to progress the relationship further.
There is some utility in drawing from Abuvia and Adelman’s model to explain the process of online dating; however, I argue here for a more sophisticated model that also draws from Givens model of the traditional off-line courting process. As outlined below, these phases include ‘the attention phase’, ‘the recognition phase’, ‘the interaction phase ’, ‘the face-to-face meeting’, and finally ‘resolution’. These phases have been derived from previous empirical work I have conducted on online dating (see Whitty, in press; 2007; Whitty & Carr, 2006). As is explained below, the phases do involve many ofthe processes Givens refers to; however, the phases are not necessarily ordered in the same way and each phase arguably requires additional skills.