March 5, 2006

Online Dating

Part 5. Beyond Dating Websites

Three out of four online Americans who are single and looking for romantic partners have used the internet for at least one dating-related activity.

The act of using dating websites is just one online avenue that can lead to a romantic connection. The internet facilitates a wide array of other dating- or romance-related activities. A myriad of places and tools, from search engines to email and instant messaging, are marshaled by internet users who are trying to connect with a romantic partner—that includes  everything from information seeking to virtual flirting. Among all internet users who are single and looking, 74% have engaged in at least one dating-related activity.

Most of them have done three or fewer of these activities, but one-quarter have done between four and ten online activities related to dating. Just 2% of all single and looking internet users have done all ten of the dating activities that we asked about (see full list in table on the following page).

Flirting online ranks highly among those who are searching for someone.

Whether you meet someone offline or online, email and other forms of online communication now play host to some of the most crucial interactions in the early stages of a relationship. Indeed, a substantial segment of single and looking internet users, 40%, say they flirt online, and 28% have used the internet or email to ask someone out on a date. As one might expect, online daters are considerably more experienced with online courtship; fully 60% of online daters say they have flirted online.

A smaller segment (21%) of single and looking internet users say that people they know have tried to play online matchmaker for them, introducing them to potential dates via email or instant messaging.

The single and looking segment of the online population uses the internet both as a roadmap for the offline world and as a destination to meet people. While 27% have used the internet to find a place offline, like a nightclub or singles event, where they might meet someone, 19% have participated in an online group where they hoped to meet people to date.

Beyond facilitating that initial connection, the internet can help make or break a couple. While 18% of single and looking internet users have maintained a long-distance romantic relationship with someone online, 9% report breaking up with someone using the internet or email.

Dating-related activities online

One in three online daters has used the internet to search for someone they dated in the past.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the dating scene in the digital age is the newfound ability for singles to “Google” each other or search online for information relating to a potential date before they meet or even agree to meet. While pre-internet perusing might have involved talking with a potential date’s acquaintances, or sifting through a yearbook to find pictures from that person’s past, internet-era searching can instantly reveal a wide array of details about the person’s work experiences, education, and personal life, photos, blog postings, etc. Of those internet users who are single and looking, 17% have searched for information about someone they were currently dating or were about to meet for a first date.

Another form of personal “Googling” involves seeking information about someone with whom you were involved in the past.  Similar in size to the pre-date Googling crowd, 18% of internet users who are single and looking say they have searched for information about someone they have dated in the past, compared with 32% of online daters who say they have done this.

Looking at the larger population of all internet users and beyond dating-specific searches, 28% of all internet users say they have searched for information online about someone they know or might meet.15

  1. Pew Internet Project Tracking Survey, September 2005.