The Trouble With Tinder: Emerging Adults With Disabilities Dating Online

The Trouble With Tinder: Emerging Adults With Disabilities Dating Online

Elizabeth Mazur (Penn State Greater Allegheny, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1063-6.ch006
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Although research indicates that almost all emerging adults in the U.S. use the internet, little is known about the online dating experiences of persons with disabilities. Particularly in developed countries, online dating currently accounts for a substantial proportion of the initiation of romantic relationships and promises numerous advantages for persons with disabilities. Online dating includes a way to escape disability stigma, at least initially, access to a wide network of potential partners, and a convenient, private, and efficient method of meeting them. Online daters can be strategic in how they present both themselves and their disabilities, the manner in which they communicate with potential partners, and whether they join a large, popular dating site or a specialized disability-oriented one. The chapter discusses how the nine-step process of online dating might differ for or challenge emerging adults with various types of disabilities, sharing relevant research and media examples when available. The implications of popular mobile dating apps are also considered.
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Being upfront about my disability on Tinder and other dating sites has liberated me (Ladau, 2017).

According to the Census Bureau, in 2014 approximately 14.4% of Americans ages 18 to 24 had some type of disability and about 7.7% had a severe disability (Taylor, 2018). Although dating during emerging adulthood is an important part of building long-term relationships (Holmes, Brown, Shafer, & Stoddard, 2017), research suggests that emerging adults with disabilities may have more difficulty dating and finding romantic and sexual partners than do their peers without disabilities (Miller, Chen, Glover-Graf, & Kranz, 2009; Wiegerink, Roebroeck, Donkervoort, Stam, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2006).

This is distressing and unfortunately ironic because the quality of close relationships strongly contributes to physical health and longevity (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017; Pietromonaco & Collins, 2017). College students in committed romantic relationships also experience fewer mental health problems (Braithwaite, Delevi, & Fincham, 2010). Similarly, for a community sample of racially diverse sexual minority youth, initially ages 16 to 20, being in a romantic relationship promoted mental health for many participants over a five year period, especially those who were Black and/or gay (Whitton, Dyar, Newcomb, & Mustanski, 2018). Furthermore, emerging adults report spending more time with romantic partners than with friends, and they are significantly more likely than adolescents to consider their partner a source of influence and reference (Giordano, Longmore, Schroeder, & Seffrin, 2008).

The challenges forming longterm romantic relationship are demonstrated by low marriage rates among people with disabilities (PWDs). Overall, just 41% of U.S. adults with disabilities are married as compared to 52% of adults without disabilities. For persons between ages 18 and 34, the percent never married among those with disabilities is 74% as compared to 65% for their peers without disabilities (Schur, Kruse, & Blanck, 2013). The marriage rate for PWDs over the life span is lower as well. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, just 41% of U.S. adults ages 18 and older with disabilities are married as compared to 52% of U.S. adults without disabilities (Schur et al., 2013). Data over the last two decades indicate that this disparity in U.S. marriage rates by disability status has been increasing (Tumin, 2016).

Not all types of disabilities have a similar influence on people’s chances of getting married. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, MacInnes (2011) found that among individuals between the ages of 24 and 32 in the U.S., 43% of individuals with learning disabilities, 37% of those with mental disabilities, and 21% of those with multiple disabilities reported having experienced a first marriage as compared to 53% of their peers with physical disabilities and 50% of those without disabilities. In the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, marriage rates eight years after high school graduation ranged from 1% for U.S. emerging adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or multiple disabilities to 11% for those with mental retardation, emotional disturbances, hearing impairment, or traumatic brain injury, 13% for those with speech/language impairment, and 15% for those with other health impairments and with learning disabilities (Newman et al., 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Stigma: An attribute or identity that is perceived by others to have a broadly negative quality within a culture or situation.

Self-Presentation: Behaviors that are designed to convey an image about ones’ self to other people.

Self-Disclosure: Confiding intimate aspects of oneself to others.

Disabilities: An umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.

Online Dating: The use of commercial or nonprofit internet sites that provide dating services to users seeking romantic relationships.

Mutual Mediated Communication: Ways of communicating through and around dating sites, such as by email-like messages and instant messaging on the dating site, personal email, text messaging, webcam conversations, or speaking on the phone.

Profile: An online user’s description and summary of themselves typically including basic demographic information, behaviors and interests, description of the traits sought in a potential partner, and one or more photos of oneself.

Self-Esteem: Individuals’ feelings of high or low self-worth.

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