Four Possible Explanations for Online Dating Rejection


“Thank you but 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 even no reply at all. Whatever type of response you get, it’s important not to take things too personally, even though it may sometimes be a little tough to get over what might feel like being constantly rejected in online dating. This article does not focus on how to get over experiencing rejection in online dating, but examines some of the reasons as to why rejection happens.

1. Dating Sites are a Different Environment

It may sound obvious, but it is important to keep in mind that using online dating to meet people is very different to meeting people in a face-to-face 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 of interest are absent and all we have is maybe a couple of profile pictures and some other facts or information about the person we intend to approach. There is no way of assessing whether or not potential dates are interested other than to message them, and therefore initial messaging in online dating serves a different function, serving as a test of interest. The consequence is that because messaging is the only way to test interest, then more messages are sent, and if we are constantly rejected may begin to feel disheartening.

2. Disinhibition

People behave in a far less inhibited way online than they do in a face-to-face environment (Suler, 2004). This is known as the online disinhibition effect and one of the reasons why this may occur is because of 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 for example, where it is likely that people are already known to each other.

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

3. Online Etiquette

Increasingly it is seen as quite normal for someone to break off communication with another person without notice, warning or reason, known as ghosting. This means that following a brief exchange in online dating, a person may choose to just not reply to a message. While such behaviour may initially appear rude or disrespectful, it now seems to be common place through online communication. Furthermore, there is good evidence that ghosting is extremely common. Indeed, the findings of a survey from the Plenty of Fish dating site (Maclean, 2016) found that 800 users between the ages of 18 and 33 equating to 80 percent of singles had experienced ghosting, with many of those reporting having been ghosted likely having ghosted others themselves. Some possible reasons for ghosting are perhaps 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 for a male. Consequently, females have evolved a tendency to perceive male interest cautiously (an under-perception bias), whereas males have evolved a tendency to perceive female interest as greater than is actually the case (a sexual over-perception bias). What this means is that there are gender differences in what males and females interpret as being sexual interest. Applying this to online dating, the theory predicts that male uses 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 likely to make contact with another in online dating. Hitsch, Hortacsu and Ariely (2010) found that males viewed over three times more dating profiles compared to females, males were more likely to make contact with a female after viewing their profile, compared to females making contact with males after viewing male profiles, 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).

Finally, we are not suggesting here 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, then the above may explain why. The important thing is to not 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, so just keep trying.



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