Dr Andrew Thatcher from WITS UniversityThis interview was the very first interview when I started my research into Online Dating in South Africa…

RT:What kinds of people do Online Dating?

AT: There are two sets of people that are going to be using online dating:

  1. The people that are doing it purely out of fun, for something to do and
  2. The people that want to get something out of it.

RT: What is the typical profile of a person who tries Online Dating?

AT: In terms of age the profile most likely is that: When a younger person does not take dating that seriously; there are more options available; trying different things and there are a lot more opportunities to explore other relationships.

As you get older, metaphorically and physically the clock starts to tick. There is a lot more pressure, in a social sense pressure from parents to get married, to have children and to make them grandparents and a biological sense as you get older, chances of complications during childbirth increases as well as genetic conditions that might arise- this is in terms of breeding. When older one has less life left. We will not live forever. As you get older there is less time to spend with the love of your life, the sooner you meet the love of your life the longer you are able to spend with them. Social, biological and psychological pressures are not necessarily distinct from one another; they can be related to one another. As people get older they start to take dating more seriously, as a result they will take online dating more seriously. They will try several things at the same time, from anecdotal evidence friends that have tried online dating at the same time tried speed dating using social networks, religious activities, social activities, cruising (going on cruises) tried a number of different things.

RT: What kind of stigma do you think is attached to Online Dating?

AT: Online is not seen in the same light, we evolved over 300 000 years in social structures of social contact, tribal, brotherhood and racial affinities. Human beings have evolved; online dating is one of them. Contact such as body language, face-to-face interaction and eye contact is important, that is why we are struggling with the digital age. One part of the issue is communication bandwidth; when online, there is less communication bandwidth than face-to-face interaction. You have physical contact, verbal, face to face and tone contact and a broader span of immediate feedback. The online environment uses one communication medium of text photo graphics – sending 1-3 messages a month and it takes five minutes to type out a message.

RT: How does Love at first sight fit in?

AT: Research in general has shown love at first sight happens to very few people. Most lasting relationships share something in common. Hosting a profile means sharing a profile; you are looking for someone to connect with. When online you meet people through common ground, for example educational institutions, sharing a common faith means you share that with them. The thing about love at first sight is that it is purely physical, they may look drop dead gorgeous but when you actually speak to them they have a squeaky voice which is not what you are looking for.

RT: What are the benefits of Online Dating over traditional dating?

AT: Online dating allows you to meet people in a safe environment; you cannot catch STDs or HIV/AIDS through sending a message. Sending an email does not necessarily mean that you are jumping into bed with a person. From that perspective you can sound somebody out in a relatively sober environment. There is no risk of outright rejection. You can send 2-3 messages at the same time to different people and they will not know you are flirting with someone else, you tend to be more honest, and there is no point in lying because you will be matched up with the wrong person. Opposites do not really attract, you cannot be matched with an opposite. We are approaching a more mature side of online dating; we are taking it more seriously.

RT: Does online dating make you do things quicker and faster?

AT: Within two months you will have a date, but how many of them will lead to a more meaningful relationship? There is a danger in assuming that we do things quicker and faster. It all purely depends on your technical sophistication. Online dating allows us to do it outside of normal times, you can get online at three o’clock in the morning, and it widens your scope. If you want to carry on a meaningful relationship you must make time for it. Our environment it seems has accelerated. We have to ask ourselves is the lifestyle we are living conducive to have a meaningful relationship?

RT: What is the risk of people being harassed?

AT: The main danger is the situation of minors, if you are an adult there are certain rules you should follow but not everyone does. People can manipulate the situation particularly with vulnerable groups (people with low self esteem or unstable people). Online is safer because the majority of rapes are perpetrated by people we know. Whatever message you send is electronically recorded so if you divulge personal information it is on record for people to go back to. In an online environment, you are more likely to be sober not only not taking drugs and alcohol as you might if you were at a party but also psychologically as well.

RT: Do you think the experience of online dating allows you to get to know yourself better?

AT: There is a lot of different ways in which we get to know ourselves better, being honest with ourselves, having therapy and being spiritual is some ways. As we get older we have to look at ourselves, if you do not look at yourself retrospectively it will not help us know ourselves better. If you get positive feedback it might encourage you to be more open.

Dr Andrew Thatcher is Assistant Professor of Psychology at in the School of Human and Community Development at the University of the Witwatersrand, JohannesburgRamon Thomas recommends DatingBuzz or YesNoMayb