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Four Possible Explanations for Online Dating Rejection

Understanding rejection in online dating.

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"I'm looking for someone a little older."

"I was trying to find someone who lives closer to me."

Attempting to date someone using a mainstream online dating site can be frustrating if you continue receiving replies similar to these—or no reply at all. Whatever type of response you get, it's important not to take things too personally, even though it may be a little tough to get over what might feel like constant rejection. This post examines some of the reasons why online rejection happens.

1. Dating Sites Are a Different Environment

In a face-to-face environment, we generally look for some verbal or nonverbal signals or indications of interest from someone before approaching them. In an online dating environment, such indicators are absent; all we have is maybe a couple of photos and some basic facts about the person we intend to approach. There is no way to assess whether potential dates are interested other than to message them. Therefore, initial messaging in online dating serves a different function: It's a test of interest. The consequence is that because messaging is the only way to test interest, more messages are sent — and ignored — and being constantly rejected may become disheartening.

2. Disinhibition

People behave in a far less inhibited way online than in face-to-face environments (Suler, 2004). This is known as the online disinhibition effect, and one reason it might occur is the feeling of relative anonymity online. Indeed the effect may be more prevalent in an online dating environment, where people have not met the person with whom they are communicating, compared to social media, where it is likely that people are already known to each other.

Further, the asynchronous (non-real time) nature of the communication may foster a feeling of distance between people online. One consequence of this feeling of distance is a lack of empathy between people, perhaps resulting perhaps in a lack of concern for others, which may lead to total disregard when someone replies to a message.

3. Online Etiquette

Ghosting, or breaking off communication with another person without notice, warning, or reason, is increasingly seen as quite normal. Following a brief exchange in online dating, a person may choose to just not reply to a message. While such behavior may initially appear rude or disrespectful, it now seems commonplace in online communication. There is good evidence that ghosting has become extremely common: A survey from the Plenty of Fish dating site (Maclean, 2016) found that 80 percent of users between the ages of 18 and 33 had experienced ghosting, with many of those who reported having been ghosted likely having ghosted others themselves. Some possible reasons for ghosting may include the relative anonymity of people on dating sites and the fleeting, short-term nature of the hook-up culture, which ultimately results in a lack of empathy or concern for others.

4. Decision-Making Differences

In terms of mate choice, error management theory (Haselton & Buss, 2000) suggests that the inherent long-term consequences to females of making an error in mate choice is greater than the cost of making an error to a male. Consequently, females have evolved a tendency to perceive male interest cautiously (an under-perception bias), while males have evolved a tendency to perceive female interest as greater than is actually the case (a sexual over-perception bias). So there are gender differences in what males and females interpret as being sexual interest. Applying this to online dating, the theory predicts that male users of dating sites should show far more sexual interest in females than females will show in males, resulting in more rejection for males than for females.

The research certainly supports this in terms of which gender is more likely to make contact with another through online dating sites. Hitsch, Hortacsu, and Ariely (2010) found that males viewed more three times as many dating profiles as females did; males were more likely to make contact with a female after viewing a profile; and males sent over three times more messages than females. In terms of responding to messages, Fiore, Taylor, Zhong, Mendelsohn, and Cheshire (2010) found that males replied to more first-contact messages than females (26 percent compared to 16 percent).

We are not suggesting that everyone shows a lack of regard when replying to a message from another via online dating, but if you perceive a reply in such a way, the above may explain why. The important thing is not to give up too easily. Don’t take rejection online in the same way as you may take it in a face-to-face context. Online dating is different, and has different rules.

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Fiore, A. T., Taylor, L. S., Zhong, X., Mendelsohn, G. A., & Cheshire, C. (2010). Who’s right and who writes: People, profiles, contacts,and replies in online dating. Retrieved from

Haselton, M. G. & Buss, D. M. (2000). ‘Error management theory: A new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (1), 81-91.

Hitsch, G. J., Hortaçsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). What makes you click? Mate preferences in online dating. Quantitative Marketing and Economics, 8, 393–427.

Maclean, K. (2016). ‘POF survey reveals 80% of Millennials have been Ghosted’ Retrieved from June 2017.

Suler, J. (2004). ‘The Online Disinhibition Effect’ Cyberpsychology and Behaviour, 7 (3), 321-326.