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Nancy Cheever: Study of Cyber Dating Reveals New Battle of the Sexes



Photo by Joanie Harmon

Nancy Cheever: Study of Cyber Dating Reveals New Battle of the Sexes

Nancy Cheever (Class of ’94, B.A., Communications/Journalism), assistant professor of communications, presented her findings on “Matchmaking in Cyberspace: Single Women’s Use of Online Dating Services,” at the 2006 Convention of the Western Psychological Association in Palm Springs on April 28. Her examination of attitudes toward online dating revealed that, despite the mainstream popularity of online dating, most women relied on traditional dating methods.

“While people are turning to online dating services because their lives are so busy, the majority of women, in the end, prefer traditional dating,” she says. “Online dating is a new way to meet people, so they’re curious about it, and they want to try it. While 75 percent say they had a positive experience using the services after a few dates, ultimately, they revert back to the traditional techniques.”

Cheever attributes the preference of traditional dating to “the lack of verbal cues” when meeting people online.

“When you send e-mails back and forth, you’re not always exactly sure of the person’s intention, or what they are trying to say, without being able to match a voice or personality to the words,” she notes. “In traditional dating, you usually know immediately whether you are interested in pursuing a relationship with someone, or at least another date. With online dating, you can go for months ‘talking’ with someone over the Internet, then once you meet them, there might not be any chemistry.”

Cheever’s research was based on four questions posed to 399 single women and 398 single men. Those surveyed were asked what drew them to online dating; their criteria in finding a potential mate; how the expectations of single men and women differ in online dating situations; and how online dating experiences compare to traditional dating experiences among men and women. Among the evidence revealed was the difference in expectations among men and women in regard to the lifespan of a relationship formed online.

For single women, about 50 percent were interested in marriage or an exclusive relationship, and about 50 percent wanted friendship,” she notes. “Very few wanted one-night stands or a hookup. But for single men, 30 percent were looking for marriage or relationships, 34 percent wanted friends and 34 percent were interested in a short fling.”

Other appreciable differences that Cheever found between the sexes showed that for women, getting to know someone before meeting them was important, as well as meeting people with shared interests. For men, the concept of online dating as fun and different was an attraction. And while both single women and men named age and geographic area as their top two criteria, the vote was split at the third and fourth factors with, respectively, ethnicity and smoking habits for women, and weight and body type for men.

While women overall preferred the traditional face-to-face methods of meeting, Cheever found that more than 58 percent of the sexes combined preferred online dating.

“With some of the more sophisticated sites, like e-Harmony, where they pair you up with people who are more serious about meeting someone, it can be a really interesting and positive experience,” she says. “It’s not stigmatized like it used to be. People used to not want to tell their friends that they met someone online. But now it’s so common, it doesn’t have that desperate stigma attached to it anymore, where people used to think of it as a last resort.”

- Joanie Harmon


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Last updated Tuesday, May 30, 2006, 1:35 p.m., by Joanie Harmon