8 Stages of Online Dating

Online dating has become increasingly popular over the past decade. In 2019, approximately 30.4 million people in the U.S. were using online dating platforms, according to Statista (Clement, 2020). And it’s easy to see why this trend is increasing when dating is as easy as installing an app, making a profile, and finding dates with people in your area. With more and more people turning to the internet to find love, here is a useful guide to the 8 stages of online dating:

1: Joining

The first stage of online dating is choosing which dating app or site to use. Some of the most popular dating apps are: Match, Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid, and eHarmony (Mateo, 2020). While every dating app guides you through the process of creating a profile and presents you with potential partners, each app works slightly differently and is designed for specific purposes. For example, Tinder is infamously used to find hookups while SingleParentMeet is designed for, well, single parents (Mateo, 2020).

2: Creating a Profile

In order to start using online dating apps, you must first make a profile. A basic profile includes a few photos of you and a short bio with some of your interests or beliefs. But different dating apps have unique approaches to profiles. For example, many people on Tinder choose to just put pictures of themselves in their profile and skip the bio altogether. Apps like eHarmony, OkCupid, and Hinge focus more heavily on bios and compatibility by asking you a series of personality questions when you sign up for the app (Mateo, 2020).

3: Searching/Swiping

After creating a profile, the next stage is selecting people you’re interested in. Tinder was the first app to use right and left swiping to sort through people’s profiles (Stampler, 2014). A left swipe equals a rejection while a right swipe equals interest in that person. Other popular dating apps, such as Bumble and Plenty of Fish, have since added swiping to their platforms (Mateo, 2020). Some dating apps try to find you matches based on the things you listed in your profile. For example, Coffee Meets Bagel gives you your daily matches at noon every day based on your profile and location (Apple, Inc., n.d.).

4: Matching

When you match with someone, it means you both like each other. Some apps find matches for you automatically based on an algorithm while others leave it up to two users to swipe right on each other (Mateo, 2020). Each app has different free and premium features, but you usually can’t message someone until you’ve matched with them. If neither you nor your match works up the courage to message first, online dating with them will end in the match stage.

5: Messaging

After you match with someone, the messaging begins. On most dating apps, either person can message first. But on Bumble, women in heterosexual relationships have to message first and only have 24 hours to do so before they lose their match (Apple Inc., n.d.). This strategy tries to limit the number of unsolicited messages sent to women and ensure that both people really want to message each other and didn’t just swipe right by mistake. In addition to messaging in the app, some people choose to contact their matches on other on other social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook.

6: Meeting in Person

After messaging, the next stage of online dating is usually meeting in person. This is because most dating apps have location settings that keep potential matches in your area, and most people want to get off apps and transition to an in-person relationship. However, some people may start out in a long-distance relationship if their dating app allows them to expand their radius worldwide.

One of the better-known examples of this is Tinder’s passport and global features. Global allows you to see and match with people worldwide for free, while passport allows premium users to search for a city and see Tinder users in that location (Carman, 2020). If distance or health concerns prevent you from going on an in-person date, you may opt for a virtual first date instead. If you do meet in person, it’s always best to meet in a public area and let someone know where you’re going.

7: Follow-up Dates

If the first date goes well, the next stage of online dating is going on more dates! This stage overlaps with traditional in-person dating. On these dates, you and your match will get to know each other better and explore each other’s beliefs to see if you would make a good couple. Many relationships start online and end in this stage after people find they are not compatible and return to their familiar dating apps to find more potential partners.

8: Making it Official

The final stage of online dating is getting into an official relationship with your match. This is many people’s ultimate goal when they sign up for online dating. Most people delete their dating apps at this stage unless they’re in an open or polyamorous relationship.

Online dating can be an easy way to find potential partners because everyone is looking for some type of relationship. But it can also be complicated because some people aren’t looking for a long-term relationship, even on dating apps. It can also be easier to ghost people you’ve never met in person, so it can sometimes feel like you never truly made a genuine connection with anyone after that first date (Mateo, 2020). But understanding the different stages of online dating can help you put your relationships in perspective and decide which ones you’d like to try to make work offline.


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