When Do Online Daters Delete the App?

New research explores why online dating can be tough to quit.

Posted Jul 10, 2020

Viktar Dzindzikav/Shutterstock
Source: Viktar Dzindzikav/Shutterstock

Much is known about the circumstances that lead people to start online dating. Some may face thin dating markets that make it difficult to meet people through more traditional approaches, while others might be looking to expand the number of options in their dating pool. Less clear, however, is why they decide to stop. With so many potential partners to choose from, how do people make decisions about when to quit dating online and commit to just one person?

To begin to answer this question, we conducted a study to better understand the mechanisms of commitment in online dating and the decision to terminate an account. We found that more intense online dating users desired commitment, but were reluctant to consider abandoning the service. Online dating services may contribute to this desire to remain active through emails and push notifications designed to retain users and encourage people to return to the platform.

We also observed that the effect of intense online dating use on the intention to terminate an account could be explained by investments. It will come as no surprise to many that online dating can be hard work. People often invest a significant amount of time, effort, and even money into the process, only to find that many of their relationships never make it off the platform. This suggests that there may be a sunk-cost effect causing people to continue dating online after they’ve identified a suitable match.

Even if people intend to eventually terminate their online dating use, there is also the matter of when. This led us to ask about the point in the relationship when people planned to delete their online dating account(s). One thing that was striking was the lack of consensus in their responses, with some indicating that they’d delete their account right away or after just a few dates, while others wanted to wait until they were more sure of their partner and the future of the relationship. For instance, online dating users said that that they would discontinue:

  • “If I realize that I don’t need to search for someone else.”
  •  “Once it is official. The relationship has been defined and titles have been given.”
  •  “If he asks me to delete it.”

There were also those who reported that they would wait until much later in the relationship or who mentioned workarounds to deletion, such as hiding their profile or temporarily suspending their account:

  • “If the relationship went as far as engagement, I would remove my account entirely.”
  • “I would immediately delete the app off of my phone. Obviously, I could redownload it if at any point things went south.”

Based on these responses, we suspect that some online daters may find the process of terminating an account difficult to navigate, especially if both partners have different expectations for when it’s time to stop searching and commit to the current relationship. 

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

References

Anderson, M., Vogels, E. A., & Turner, E. (2020). The Virtues and Downsides of Online Dating. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/02/06/the-virtues-and-downsides-of-online-dating/ 

Coleman, M. D. (2009). Sunk cost and commitment to dates arranged online. Current Psychology, 28, 45-54. doi:10.1007/s12144-009-9042-5 

Rosenfeld, M. J., & Thomas, R. J. (2012). Searching for a mate: The rise of the Internet as a social intermediary. American Sociological Review, 77, 523-547. doi: 10.1177/0003122412448050

Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172–186. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(80)90007-4

Sharabi, L. L., & Timmermans, E. (2020). Why settle when there are plenty of fish in the sea? Rusbult’s investment model applied to online dating. New Media & Society. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/1461444820937660