Barriers in Women's Romantic Partner Search in the Digital Age

Barriers in Women's Romantic Partner Search in the Digital Age

Sarah Adeyinka-Skold (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3187-7.ch007

Abstract

What are women's experiences of searching for and making romantic connections in the digital age? Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 111 Asian, White, Black, and Latina, heterosexual, college-educated women between the ages of 25 and 33, the author finds that, regardless of race, women searching for romantic partners encounter cyberaggression and men who are intimidated by their educational background and/or career achievements. Women of color also experience cultural sexual racism, and Black women additionally contend with being excluded as potential romantic partners by Black and non-Black men. She argues that these experiences constitute barriers to relationship formation in the digital age. Furthermore, this research contributes to scholarship that explores the intersection of race, gender, and technology and its impact on individuals' lived experiences.
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Introduction

Digital technology has become an important part of daily life. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as blogs, online support groups, and gaming platforms, permeate individuals’ lived experiences. We also find love, romance, and sex online. Pursuant to this rise in use, psychologists, sociologists, and media scholars examine how individuals’ experiences in the digital space collide with and inform their offline experiences. This research historically focused on abuse and harassment (such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, revenge porn, and videos shared without consent) among adolescents (Bossler, Holt, & May, 2012). However, researchers now also explore these experiences among adult users of digital technology (Powell & Henry, 2017; Thompson, 2016; Jane 2017; Mantilla, 2013; Nussbaum, 2010). Much of this research shows that while abuse and harassment are part of the digital experience for everyone, women and people of color—especially black women—are more likely to be targets of technology-facilitated abuse and harassment (Amnesty International, 2018). While this research is important to our understanding of how participation in digital life is gendered and racialized, more work is needed to demonstrate the consequences this gendered and racialized digital experience has for other aspects of daily life such as relationship formation.

This chapter examines the experience of searching for romantic partners for heterosexual, college-educated women of varying ethno-racial backgrounds in the digital age, how they cope with adverse experiences, and how these experiences may contribute to racial/ethnic variation in relationship and marital formation in this population. Drawing on interviews with 111 college-educated women who self-identified as Asian, black, Latina, or white, I find that women’s experiences of dating in the digital age share similarities but also vary in significant ways. Regardless of ethno-racial background, respondents encountered men who were intimidated by their educational and/or career accomplishments and cyberaggression. Women of color, however, also experienced sexual racism (Orne, 2917). Black women additionally faced exclusion as potential romantic partners by black and non-black men. Lastly, respondents used various strategies to overcome the barriers to relationship formation these experiences created.

These findings are important for three reasons. First, given that dating technology1 is now the most common method of finding a romantic partner (Rosenfeld, Thomas, & Hausen, 2019), it is important to understand individuals’ experiences of dating technology, how those experiences differ, and what those varying experiences tell us about inequality in the social world, both on- and offline. Second, relationship formation trends among college-educated heterosexuals have long been ignored in relationship and family formation literature. Despite evidence that black college-educated women are the least likely to be married compared to their non-black counterparts, (Clarke, 2011) this variation is overlooked. Lastly, given that being single or unromantically linked is increasingly a significant part of the relationship landscape, how do women’s experiences of online and app dating contribute to decisions to remain single?

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