Reasons For Online Dating Vary Widely

→ More recent article: Online dating psychology

People going in search of love online have found that their high hopes for online romance have been hit by some unexpected behaviour. Emails are routinely ignored and many people seem loathe to meet in the dangerous offline world. Are internet daters simply floundering in a new medium with unclear rules or is there a more fundamental problem? Research into people’s motivations is beginning to uncover some answers.

James, 29, has only just started internet dating and is having a few teething troubles:

“I’m finding it really frustrating at the moment, I’ve been sending out a few messages to women whose profiles I like and I haven’t been getting much response. Sometimes they will email you a few times then go quiet. Or when you offer to meet up in real life, they suddenly turn out to be extremely busy. Frankly, I wonder why a lot of the women are on there.”


Becky, 31, is having similar problems with the men she has contacted:

“We’ll be getting along well,” she explains. “But they are sometimes very slow to want to actually have a face-to-face meeting. It’s as though they’re scared to step outside the safe cocoon that email and messaging provide and take a chance. Perhaps the men on there really are just scared to meet a real life woman. That’s why they’ve got to rely on internet dating.”


As in real life, there are a huge variety of people all looking for different things on internet dating sites. Your task, as a fresh-faced adventurer, is to work out who wants what, and whether anyone wants the same thing as you.

Research carried out in 2001 provides some interesting clues to the motivations of internet daters. While this research was carried out fairly early on in the life of online dating it does provide some useful pointers. Overall, the survey presents a confusing picture, which is not surprising as people’s motivations are not always straightforward.

I Just Put it There for a Laugh

Of most interest to James and Becky is the statistic that about 40% of both sexes (men: 39%, women: 45%) put their profile on internet dating sites, “Out of curiosity or fun with no intention of making any kind of contact.” This fact provides a clear lesson for those disappointed to receive no reply to their carefully crafted emails. Some people are never going to reply whatever you write or whatever your photo looks like. That’s a fact you need to be aware of straight away otherwise you’ll be easily disheartened.

Time Wasters

While many internet daters are not prepared to make any contact whatsoever, these might be considered a reasonable bunch compared to the next category. According to this survey 40% of women and 30% of men often using internet dating sites, “For casual online chatting or flirting and nothing more.” This means that these people are not intending to ever meet up in the real world – an attitude many people would consider wasting other people’s time.

Finally. A Real Live Person. I Think.

The good news is that almost 80% of both men and women do often use internet dating sites, “To find someone you’d like to meet.” That’s encouraging, but confusing, as this category must overlap with those who responded positively to the two previous categories. This gives the first clue as to people’s confusion about why they are using these internet dating sites.

Sex and/or marriage

Around 50% of men and 20% of women claim to be using online dating to obtain a sexual relationship. On the other hand around 60% of both men and women claim to be also using the sites to obtain a long-term partner and around 37% of both sexes are looking for a marriage partner online.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

If you assume people’s motivations are always pure and simple then some aspects of this research seem directly contradictory and confusing. How can 80% of people want to meet someone online, while 40% don’t want to? If, however, you see people’s motivations as more complex and inherently contradictory, then perhaps the research is providing some very clear messages.

I’m In Two, No, Four Minds About This

There are always going to be some people at the extreme ends of the spectrum who are using internet dating just as a way of obtaining sex, and there are going to be those who are just interested in marriage. What this research is telling us is that most people lie somewhere in between. It’s quite normal for people to be thinking that it would be nice to have sex, but then again it would be nice to have a long-term relationship. These two motivations are not mutually exclusive, although some might disagree!

The moral of the story

When you start out as an internet dating newbie, it seems only reasonable to assume that the majority of other people are going onto internet dating sites for the same reasons that you are. The most usual reason being meeting someone you get on with on the site, then in the flesh, and then hopefully going on to have a long-term relationship with them.

What this research does is point to some fairly common alternative motivations for being on an internet dating site as well as highlighting people’s confusion about their own reasons. And as you negotiate the online dating jungle, you need to be aware that not everyone’s motivations are as pure (or as debased) as your own.

*This research was carried out in 2001, since when people’s online attitudes and behaviours have certainly changed somewhat. Just how much, is a question for future research.

→ More recent article: Internet dating: 10 psychological insights

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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.