Ramirez and Wang ( 2008) revealed that modality switches can provide information that violates a person’s expectations regarding their partner and their potential relationship; however, this effect was also contingent upon the timing of the modality switch
Despite the potential for dishonesty and strategic misrepresentation, most online daters possess the goal of establishing a meaningful offline romantic relationship. Because they anticipate FtF interaction, daters realize that their online “image should be flattering and positive, such that it attracts potential mates, but also realistic, such that it makes it possible to develop and sustain relationships” ( Toma & Hancock, 2011, p. 49). Indeed, 81% of Toma and Hancock’s sample misrepresented profile aspects such as their height, weight, and age; however, these misrepresentations were of a very small nature. Similar conclusions were reported by Whitty ( 2008), who found that approximately 50% of daters admit to exaggerating or enhancing their qualities in order to appear attractive, yet most discouraged the use of blatant and malicious lies that would generate completely false expectations.
In sum, it appears that online daters might engage in strategic misrepresentation to cultivate positive yet realistic impressions that will not provoke distrust if they were to meet a partner in person ( Ellison et al., 2006; Toma & Hancock, 2011). Despite this growing body of research, considerably little work has attempted to understand the dynamics of online dating once partners shift toward offline interaction. Most daters would be unwilling to engage in a committed romantic relationship without having met their partner FtF ( Whitty & Carr, 2006), so the lack of research regarding offline interactions between daters is noteworthy. In Whitty’s ( 2008) study, approximately 68% of online daters indicated that the first FtF meeting functions as a “screening out process” that determines whether a relationship is worth pursuing (p. 1719). Whereas initial online communication helps daters verify basic information and coordinate an offline encounter, the first FtF meeting provides important cues that enable them to establish the veracity and attractiveness of each other’s physical world identity. Questions remain, however, regarding which factors affect dater’s experience of relational communication upon meeting FtF.
Modality Switching and Online Dating
One of the most unique affordances of online dating is the ability to determine compatibility levels with potential partners through online interaction before ). One must consider, then, how this type of meeting might alter the outcomes of online dating relationships. One applicable approach for examining the online dating process is through the occurrence of MS. Gibbs and colleagues ( 2006) point out that daters often “engage in ‘modality switching’ from online to offline communication as they form relationships” (p. 153). Existing literature suggests that this process significantly affects the manner in which partners evaluate their relationships ( Ramirez & Wang, 2008; Ramirez & Zhang, 2007). Ramirez and Zhang ( 2007) investigated whether the timing of a switch influences relational outcomes such as intimacy, task-social orientation, and social attraction. Drawing upon the hyperpersonal perspective ( Walther, 1996) and online partners’ tendency to engage in selective self-presentation, the authors speculated that switches would be most beneficial when they occur before partners have had time to form idealized impressions. Overall, the findings showed that FtF meetings between previously online-only partners can either enhance or dampen relational outcomes depending upon the timing of the switch. Switching from mediated to FtF early (after 3 weeks) in an association appeared to provide cues that enhanced relational outcomes. Conversely, switching from mediated to FtF late (after 6 weeks) provided cues that contradicted existing impressions and dampened relational outcomes.
MS has also been examined using an expectancy violations theory ( Burgoon, 1993) framework to investigate how social information gleaned (i.e., expectedness, valence, and importance) during switches impact social judgments and relational outcomes. Specifically, individuals in short-term associations evaluated violations as positive and uncertainty reducing. However, participants in long-term associations reported violations as negative and uncertainty provoking. Although these results pertain to dyads with the goal of task completion rather than romantic involvement, similar trends might emerge for online daters who switch to a FtF modality.