Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How Important Is Trust in Online Dating?

What really determines the move from online to offline dating?

Key points

  • Modality switching from online to offline dating requires a level of trust.
  • Age may also determine the motivation to switch from online to offline dating.
  • Online dating may be is a preferred method of finding a partner for older daters.
Man and woman holding hands

The transition from online to offline dating is known as modality switching. However, with some 30 percent of online daters never having moved their online dating to an offline context (Smith & Anderson, 2016), it is intriguing to speculate as to what determines such modality switching.

Feasibly modality switching requires a level of trust, and the uncertainty regarding a person’s knowledge of their online date makes trust a salient factor. Online dating is also an environment often associated with possible risks. Back in 2011, researchers assessed the association between online dating use and individual trust levels, finding that those who were more likely to use online dating were also those who were generally trusting of others (Kang & Hoffman, 2011).

In addition to trust, it is possible that a person’s age may also determine their motivation to switch from online to offline dating. This is possibly because, as people grow older, they become more aware of their age, confront their own mortality, and realise that they don’t want to spend their life alone. Therefore, they are more motivated to want to switch from online to an offline interaction a lot sooner.

In their study, Lara Hallam and colleagues investigated precisely which factors might predict the reasons for daters choosing to move their online dating to an offline modality (Hallam, De Backer, & Walrave, 2019).

The researchers used items from the General Trust Scale to measure trust. They also measured online trust with the Website Trust Mode, consisting of four components, which were perceived credibility, perceived ease of use, perceived risk, and online trust attitude.

Modality switching by respondents in their study was measured along four levels of the progression of a relationship:

For online dating use, the researchers found that it was only age that determined the use of online dating platforms, whereas general trust, perceived credibility, perceived ease of use, perceived risk, and online trust attitude, did not influence use of online dating. Regardless of the necessity of online trust in online transactions, it appears unimportant in online dating, despite the use of the marketing metaphor referring to online dating as "relationshopping."

The researchers also found that it was only age that determined the modality switch to offline dating, with general trust and online trust, again, being unrelated to this.

Similarly, sex and age were the only factors that determined starting an offline sexual experience. Neither general trust nor online trust were connected to using online dating for this.

Finally, it was, again, only age that predicted respondents’ offline romantic relationships, with general and online trust having no connection to this.

Overall, this study confirmed that even though general trust is important in face-to-face interaction, and similarly online trust is important in domains such as online shopping, trust appeared unrelated to individuals’ motivations to engage in online dating, whereas it was only age that appeared to determine modality switching.

Older single people are often divorced, perhaps have children, and have busy careers. Online dating, therefore, is a preferred method of finding a partner. Due to this, the findings here may possibly be interpreted in terms of online dating being an effective method to meet a partner.

Whilst this study tells us much about peoples’ motivations to switch from online to offline dating, future work could include an assessment of the length of online communication prior to the face-to-face meeting and whether this would determine individuals’ motivations, also. Furthermore, this study was carried out in Belgium, and it may be the case that cross-cultural differences exist. In the study by Kang and Hoffman (2011), it was found that American participants who were less trusting were more likely to use online dating in comparison to more trusting individuals.


Hallam L, De Backer, C. J. S., & Walrave, M (2019). Taking it to the next level: The negligible role of trust when online dating goes offline. Computers in Human Behaviour, 90, 259–264.

Kang, T., & Hoffman, L. H. (2011). Why would you decide to use an online dating site? Factors that lead to online dating. Communication Research Reports, 28 (3), 205–213.

Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2016). 5 facts about online dating. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center.

More from Martin Graff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today