Online Dating in the Gay and Lesbian Community
Online Dating, or OL Dating, which for the purpose of this paper includes meeting people and forming relationships online with the intention of meeting face to face, is beginning to receive substantial attention because of its recent surge in popularity in the U.S., and its potential social implications. In August 2003, 40 million people visited online dating websites according to U.S. News and World Report. That is roughly half of all single adults in the U.S. Despite this new found popularity, little is known of the types of individuals using these sites and the intention with which they are using them. Researchers predict that the internet will increase the number of international, intercultural, and inter-religious marriages, ultimately modifying global social norms. Online dating will play a large role in these happenings.
The literature review examined existing reports on the current state of online dating, its popularity, its shortcomings, and potential impact on society. Something that was unpopular and considered only for desperate or shy individuals just a decade ago is now the most popular form of matchmaking. This way of meeting potential mates has many advantages over conventional techniques, but it is difficult to say if they outweigh the disadvantages. The acceptance has grown so quickly that there is very little written about it and still many areas that call for further research.
The case study was restricted to a small group of 40 gay and lesbian profiles on the Matchmaker.com website. This case study examined the types of people using this particular site, their possible reasons, and lastly how much time and effort they had invested in creating a profile.
The researches conducted a content analysis of one of the most well known dating websites, Matchmaker.com. This allowed for the best possible sampling across different groups. Some smaller websites cater to smaller groups and would skew the results. Using only the users profiles, the researchers were able to determine what types of people were using the website, how much time they had invested on creating their profile, and possible intentions of these users.
Researchers sought to discover differences and similarities in groups of people engaged or potentially engaged in OL dating. One goal was to determine the seriousness or intent of the person posting the profile, i.e., did the potential OL dater wish to meet someone for a long term romance or just for a fun fling? Another goal was to find whether or not it was possible to determine if the approach to writing a profile and picture choices differed or was the same across groups. If the approaches seemed different, researchers would then try to determine what the differences might indicate in dating intentions. Researchers also sought to discover whether introversion or extroversion in the personalities could be shown in the profile or pictures, and if there were significant differences across groups in rates of extroversion or introversion.
Impact of the Literature Review
The literature review covered many aspects of online dating. The case study had to focus on a specific aspect in order to be performed within certain constraints. With nearly half of all single people engaging in online dating, the content analysis focused on the who, and why. After further review it was narrowed even further to focus on just the gay and lesbian community of San Diego, CA.
In particular, the literature review focused on how OL dating could help those who would typically be too shy to reveal enough about themselves to attract a mate. Shyness overcome could mean a potential OL dater would have a much wider pool of daters from which to choose. In initial review of OL dating information, researchers decided to delve deeply into this issue by focusing on the gay and lesbian community. The comparison of a wider pool of potential dates possibly available to a shy person through OL dating and a wider pool of potential dates available to a homosexual in this same medium became a driver for choice of the study population.
The literature suggests that researchers from many disciplines are just now beginning to discover the opportunities and advantages for data collection available to them in online profiles. The reasons as Groom & Peenebaker (2005) state online profiles provide such a rich resource include access to individuals, such as homosexuals, who may be less inclined to come into a lab; the way that online personals direct individuals to self identify and self label; the access to a larger sample; and the complexity of the language samples made available.
The biggest limitation is the topic itself. It is far too large to conduct a case study on unless it is narrowed down. A second constraint is the stigma that online dating still carries. For this reason there was not a large enough group available to survey. Also, because of the stigma, the participants may not have been truthful in their answers. These constraints led to the content review. The time constraints forced us to examine users from only one website and then only a small population. Fortunately, since the data was anonymous and already publicly available, it was free, easy to obtain, and it was not necessary to obtain consent from the “participants” of the study.
Another limitation is one more directly related to the site from which the personals were gathered, MatchMaker.com. From its home page, it is evident that MatchMaker.com celebrates the successes of the heterosexuals who find long-lasting relationships as a result of using its site to the exclusion of its homosexual clientele. Might this mean that a more closeted or straight-acting homosexual would feel more comfortable advertising on this site, which would skew the results? Groom & Pennebaker (2005) cited similar concerns in their study of Match.com
Methodology: participants, instruments, data collection and analysis
The sections that follow depict the team’s process/procedures for selecting subjects, collecting and interpreting data. Research design: qualitative case study coupled with content analysis (Frankel & Wallen, 2005). Leedy, 2005 defines content analysis as a detailed and systematic examination of the contents of a particular body of material for the purpose of identifying patterns and themes. Specifically, content analysis consists of researchers identifying which body of material they will study, the characteristics and qualities of that body of material they will examine, the breaking down of complex or lengthy items, and finally, scrutiny of the instances of each quality or characteristic discovered.
For this study, researchers selected profiles of hopeful potential matches based on predefined age, gender, and sexual preference. The focus in the research was online dating in the gay and lesbian community, so only profiles indicating homosexual preference were used for the study. Information gathered was anonymous and already existed in an online forum, so researchers felt confident no one’s privacy was violated as a result of conducting research.
40 Matchmaker.com profiles were reviewed for this study. All were from the Southern California region. 20 profiles were from lesbian females, 10 were age 26-35, and 10 were age 56-65. 20 profiles were from gay males, 10 were age 26-35, and 10 were age 56-65.
Refining the collection focus to include only Southern California profiles was necessitated when it became apparent there were significant differences in the profiles seemingly due to region alone. Photographs of subjects from other regions frequently appeared to be more formal, i.e., subject was wearing a suit, photograph was actually a portrait instead of a snapshot, and/or there was some sort of meaningful setting for the photo, while Southern California photos in general were casual snapshots of subjects.