- Researchers examined whether people's dating preferences change as they age.
- Male daters of all ages gave more value to sexual attraction compared to female daters.
- Online daters approaching 60 still had a preference for sexual attraction.
Exactly what are people looking for from a long-term online dating partner? We know that gender differences play a part: Generally, sexual attraction tends to be a more relevant factor in men’s consideration of partner choice compared to women's, whereas women desire traits such as thoughtfulness and kindness in a partner more than men do (Buss, Shackleford, Kirkpatrick & Larsen, 2011).
Furthermore, for younger daters, a major factor influencing the choice of a romantic partner is sexual attraction. But do our preferences change as we age, and do the gender differences outlined above still apply, or does companionship become the most relevant factor we seek in a long-term partner?
By looking at questionnaire data collected from 5,829 new users to e-Harmony aged between 20 and 95, Josephine Menkin and colleagues set out to examine exactly what online daters at various ages are really seeking in a relationship partner (Menkin, Robies, Wiley, & Gonzaga, 2015). The questionnaire measured three major factors, which were:
- Sexual attraction — a partner’s sex appeal and sexual compatibility
- Interpersonal communication — characteristics such as being able to talk easily about issues with a partner
- Individual companionate characteristics — various attributes of a potential partner’s personality
Overall, the researchers found that the respondents in their study placed more value on relationship communication features in a partner, in addition to kindness and consideration, than sexual attraction.
In terms of age, although the researchers predicted that older daters, in comparison to younger daters, would rate companionship over sexual attraction, this was not always found to be the case. Even though daters approaching 60 placed less value on sexual attraction compared to younger daters, they nevertheless still had a preference for it.
Overall, the study found that daters of all ages reported seeking companionship compared to seeking sexual attraction, and this was especially the case in older adults. Nevertheless, daters of all ages also sought sexual attraction, and this did not decrease in importance until daters reached the age of 80.
In terms of gender, the researchers found that female daters gave greater emphasis to companionship across all ages compared to men. Furthermore, for all ages, male daters gave more value to sexual attraction compared to female daters. In terms of interpersonal communication, there were no observable gender differences across all age spans apart from females in the 20 to 29 age group attaching more importance to this.
The researchers point out that online daters possibly exhibit different characteristics and needs and may not necessarily be representative of the population of single people overall. For example, younger users of online dating could be motivated more towards seeking a marriage partner compared to non-users of online dating, who may be content with casual dating.
Nevertheless, this study is important as it provides information regarding the relationship goals of the increasing number of older adults seeking a relationship through online dating. Regardless of what may traditionally be thought, it appears that older adults still report valuing and seeking sexual attraction as a dating requirement. In addition, this research on the relationship goals of older adults is important in furthering our understanding of the requirements of those who start a new relationship later in life.
Buss, D. M., Shackelford, T. K., Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Larsen, R. J. (2001). A half century of mate preferences: The cultural evolution of values. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 491–503.
Menkin, J. A., Robies, T. F., Wiley, J. F. & Gonzaga, G. C. (2015) ‘Online dating across the life span: Users' relationship goals’ Psychology and Aging, 30, (4), 987–993.