Swipe right, what next?: Relationship progression among Chinese online daters in Vancouver


Manlin Cai, University of British Columbia

Online dating has become an increasingly popular way for singles to meet potential partners, which particularly can offer niche dating markets to racial minorities. Prior research has mainly examined mate preferences and sorting patterns in online dating, while little is understood about the dating processes. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 44 Chinese heterosexual online daters in Vancouver, we take a close look at their online dating experiences, with a special focus on whether and how their relationships progress from online to offline. We find that after screening candidates by their pre-existing preferences (e.g., appearance, age, geographic location, race/ethnicity), online daters search for cultural similarities in lifestyles and values through profiles and online interactions. Such cultural similarities are the key to decisions about whether to first meet someone offline, go on multiple dates, and eventually establish a romantic relationship. Despite the same mechanism of cultural matching, a fine distinction is drawn by the nativity line: Canadian-born Chinese deem someone “whitewashed” to be compatible, whereas foreign-born Chinese address the preservation of Chinese culture. Overall, it is extremely hard for two daters to get along and feel motivated to bring a relationship offline, let alone officially partnering. The prevalence of online self-misrepresentation kills many first dates. Different expectations about the pace of relationship progression noticeably hinder the dating prospect, which reinforces the cultural divide by race/ethnicity and nativity. Moreover, a gendered pattern is especially salient as men mostly take the initiative to start online exchanges and ask to meet in person. Our findings inform the mechanisms of who partners with whom and further illuminate the implications of dating technologies for social boundaries. We also reveal the complexity and difficulty in navigating romantic lives faced by racial minorities, especially by racialized immigrant men.

This paper will be presented at the following session: