From first email to first date: Strategies for initiating relationships in online dating

Liesel L. Sharabi, Tiffany A. Dykstra-DeVette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The present study explores the relationship initiation process in online dating using participants’ (N = 105) naturally occurring email messages to a prospective romantic partner. Data were collected online at time one, and participants were recontacted at time two (after meeting their partner offline) to assess the likelihood of continued interaction. A qualitative content analysis uncovered 7 broad categories and 18 subcategories of strategies for initiating relationships in online dating. The analysis indicated that participants’ relationships followed a trajectory that often began with the use of pickup lines to initiate contact and culminated with the transition offline. Along the way, they alternated between strategies for attracting and selecting a partner, constructing an authentic self-presentation, creating a shared context for interaction, revealing and seeking information, and adapting to the online dating environment. Additional quantitative analyses revealed differences in strategy use related to gender and the outcome of the first date. That is, men were generally more direct than women (e.g., by sending the first message), and those who discussed their mate preferences tended to report a higher likelihood of a second date than other participants. The results have implications for the hyperpersonal model, as well as for illuminating the evolution of online dating relationships from the first contact with a partner to meeting offline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3389-3407
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Content analysis
  • first dates
  • gender differences
  • online dating
  • relationship initiation
  • romantic relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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