This article clarifies issues surrounding the phenomenon of Internet dating. These issues will be examined in a review of present literature referencing Internet dating. Sociological issues that potentially impact Internet dating include social capital and social support. These two sociological concepts will be discussed. A conclusion will be offered that details implications for further research.
Keywords Identity; Internet Dating; Social Capital; Social Support; Symbolic Interactionist Perspective
From a historical perspective, "Internet dating" can be tracked back to the mid-1960s when early computers were used to match individuals by comparing data derived from questionnaires. The technology of using a computer to bring humans together was promoted as "scientific" and the use of the computer for this purpose rapidly gained popularity in the United States and Germany (Hardey, 2002, p571). The rapid expansion of single person households, especially among professional classes who are most likely to have Internet access in their homes, provides a context for this phenomenon. Internet dating itself can be characterized by a "seamless movement between reading descriptions, writing responses, and exchanging messages. Compared to the effort, awkwardness, risks, and physical embarrassments often associated with 'real world' dating, the Internet can provide some advantages" (Hardey, 2002, p572).
Moreover, Internet dating can be viewed as a potential advancement of the use of new technologies in the postmodern world. Marked by constant change, postmodern society now "infiltrates every sphere of social life" (Morgado, 1996, p44). One such developing interest to researchers is the way humans create and re-create their personal identities. An individual's identity can be defined as the "cognitive and affective understanding of who and what we are" (Schouten, 1991, p413). According to the symbolic interactionist perspective, one part of the understanding of who or what we are is based on "reflexive evaluation" (Solomon, 1983, p321), which can be defined as the way "we believe that others see us" (Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p735).
Since humanity's inception, it can be argued that individuals have modified their behavior to construct and re-construct their identities in numerous settings. Some of these behavioral contexts include,
• Cosmetic surgery (Schouten, 1991),
• Skydiving (Celsi, Rose, & Leigh, 1993),
• River rafting (Arnould & Price, 1993),
• Participation in fantasy-based activities (Kozinets, 2002), and
• Natural health food (Thompson & Troester, 2002) consumption communities (cited in Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p736).
Additionally, individuals also use their behavior in online contexts to modify their identities. Research conducted by Schau and Gilly (2003) demonstrated that consumers utilize personal website postings to learn about themselves and communicate aspects of their identities to others. Moreover, "if identity is truly a social phenomenon as intimated by the symbolic interactionist perspective (Blumer, 1969; Cooley, 1902; Mead, 1934), then feedback from others would be an important part of the identity creation and re-creation process"(Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p736). Within the realm of Internet dating additional research should be conducted on ways individuals choose to re-frame their identities in light of the potentially artificial environment that dating anonymously might elicit.
Previously conducted research has suggested that virtual reality is enveloped within physical reality. This research subsequently pointed out that an individual's online experience influences their offline identity" (Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p736). Particularly on Internet dating sites, individuals create profiles of themselves that contain information about their physical appearance, demographics, and personality characteristics. The use of these profiles theoretically allows individuals to explore and re-create their personal identities. The high level of anonymity that the Internet allows as compared to face-to-face encounters offers individuals the opportunity to showcase elements of their personalities or self-perceptions they may not ordinarily present in person (Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005). Furthermore, the anonymity that Internet dating offers may enable individuals to effectively lie about themselves, and exaggerate specific characteristics they would like to possess or may have the potential to possess in the future (Mantovani, 1995; Riva & Galimberti, 1997) (Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005).
In order to better understand human perception and Internet dating, it might also be necessary to understand the components of identity, because each of these components factor into how individuals present themselves. Self-conception can be potentially divided into categories. The first category can be described as "now selves." Now selves "describe the self as it is presently is perceived by the individual." Another potential category is "possible selves." Possible selves are "images of the self that have not yet been realized but that are hoped for or feared (Markus & Nurius, 1986, p957, cited in Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p737). Markus and Nurius (1986) demonstrated that possible selves play an important role in the identity re-creation process. The notion of possible selves can be used to better understand ways that "cognitive bridges between the present and the future, specifying how individuals may change from how they are now to what they will become" (p961, cited in Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p737). Moreover, Wurf and Markus (1991) predicted that the re-construction of identity "involves a multi-step process of development, validation, and redevelopment" (cited in Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p738).
The context of Internet dating offers individuals opportunities to explore their possible selves online and offline and at the same time; Internet dating allows individuals to use a combination of online and offline behavior and feedback to re-create their identities. In fact, several dating services encourage participants to "'update' their profiles to reflect personal changes that have occurred since they first posted their profiles" (Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCable, 2005, p739). Starling (2000) reported: "It's easy to make up an identity in cyberspace. People can send you phony pictures and conjure fascinating lives." One woman she interviewed indicated, "You have people out there pretending to be one thing when they are something else" (p50). Before embarking on the Internet dating field, additional research again should be considered into potential dates and their backgrounds.
Hollander (2004) suggested: 'Nagging questions remain, in particular, why such fine human beings must invest so much time and energy in the search for suitable partners? Are these self presentations largely wishful fantasies, or exaggerations of traits possessed" (p75). Further, Hollander (2004) indicated that "implausible self-presentations are attention getting efforts, overselling oneself is a response to keen competition for partners not easy to locate" (p75). More dramatically, Hollander (2004) indicated that the human need to oversell "reflects the pressures of a competitive culture and a competitive market place of personal relationships…especially [among] older women who are even more often without partners" (p75).
Advantages of Internet Dating
Studies indicate that Internet dating seems to be the new approach to dating for multiple reasons: "According to a New York Times report (Style Section, November 24, 2002) 16.6 million people visited matchmaking Web sites in September  alone … a figure [that] has made Internet dating seem almost stigma-free…." (Hollander, 2002, p. 69). The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported in October 2013 that 23% of online daters have met a spouse or long term partner through dating websites.
In addition to matchmaking through the internet with specific sites geared toward "dating," there are also computer dating services and "personals" which are published in printed publications that offer new ways to initiate relationships, include extramarital relationships and affairs.
Arguably, the online dating phenomenon is relatively unexplored with accompanying social and personal ramifications that are largely unknown and not understood by social science (Hollander, 2002). Starling (2000) indicated that despite the unknown factors, on-line dating, with all its joys and dangers, has become a popular way for many groups including African-American singles to connect through sites specifically geared to meet the needs of specific social groups and individuals… From on-line personals to chat rooms and message boards, professionals are using the Internet to meet new people and find love" (p46).
According to Starling (2000) the Internet is giving romance a different perspective. "Instead of hooking up in nightclubs and gyms, Black singles also can meet interesting prospects without leaving home. On the Internet, the world becomes your meeting ground" (p48). Individuals can connect through on-line personals, or they can find their soul mate by chatting in topic rooms about the Harlem Renaissance or urban renewal. Moreover, some prospective dates choose to send "virtual flowers and electronic greeting cards" (p48). One 41-year-old mother of two girls stated: "I wouldn't give out my identity or my phone number right away. Take it slowly and chat with them for a while and get a sense of their personality and their true self" (p50). Several individuals indicated the use of reasonable caution as a means of self-protection.
Hardey (2002) indicated that one of the most important aspects of Internet dating is the wide variety of ways that needs are met. Dating sites dedicated to individuals with disabilities, members of ethnic communities, individuals seeking casual relationships, individuals with unusual sexual interests, and sites dedicated to religious preferences and diet offer a deviation from typical sites operating within the heterosexual market often advertising their services in terms of "finding a "soul mate" either leading to marriage or cohabitation. Internet dating itself operates in stark contrast to traditional approaches to love and marriage" (p574).
According to Bataille (1962), intimacy associated with the kind of relationship associated with Internet dating “involves the maintenance of clear personal boundaries, rather than an absorption into the other” (Hardy, 2000, p574). The consequent vision of this modern intimacy is "based on talk rather than passion,...
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