Up to Date

Communication and Technology in Romantic Relationships

by Stephanie Tom Tong (Author) Brandon Van Der Heide (Author)
©2022 Textbook XIV, 254 Pages
Series: Language as Social Action, Volume 24


In Up to Date, Tong and Van Der Heide explore the spicy, unsettling—and sometimes just exhausting—universe of online romance. As dating platforms like Bumble, Tinder, and Grindr proliferate, scholars have had to stretch their understandings of how courtship works, often arriving at fascinatingly counterintuitive theories about how twenty-first century daters shape online identities, select mates, mediate conflict, and maintain or terminate romantic relationships. This book guides readers through an increasingly complex and extensive literature, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches, while establishing new avenues for the future. Written for both students and seasoned experts alike, the book also addresses the largely invisible underpinnings of what has become a multibillion-dollar industry, including proprietary algorithms and perverse economic incentives. Up to Date is a provocative and rigorous must-read for anyone who seeks to understand or conduct research regarding the social science of online romance.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1 An Introduction to Up to Date
  • 2 A Brief History of Online and Mobile Dating: The Role of Technology in the Contemporary Romantic Imagination
  • 3 Good, Old-Fashioned Love: The Stage Model Approach to Understanding Romantic Relationships
  • 4 What is an Online Dating Platform? Defining, Describing, and Understanding Popular Dating Technologies
  • 5 Self-Presentation & Impression Formation in Online and Mobile Dating
  • 6 “To the Left, To the Left”: Mate Selection in Online and Mobile Dating
  • 7 Navigating the Great Modality Shift: From Tinder to Text to Snapchat to Starbucks
  • 8 Intragroup and Intergroup Interaction Patterns: Online Dating across Age, Race, and Gender
  • 9 Maintaining Romantic Relationships through Mediated Technologies
  • 10 Conflict and CMC in Interpersonal Relationships
  • 11 The Dark Side of Online Dating and Romantic Relationships
  • 12 The Unbearable Lightness of Dating: Online and Mobile Dating Fatigue
  • 13 Strange Bedfellows: Data Collection, Data Use, and Personal Privacy in Online and Mobile Dating
  • 14 Concluding Thoughts, New Ideas
  • Index
  • Series Index

←xii | xiii→


We want to thank the many researchers whose work on computer-mediated communication, romantic relationships, social media, mobile and Internet technology we have cited. Several of these researchers are people we are lucky enough to call friends and colleagues.

First, we wish to thank our editor Howie Giles who has proven to be among the most encouraging, thoughtful, and (above all) patient humans on the planet.

We thank David DeAndrea and Caleb Carr for providing encouragement, challenges, camaraderie, and intellectual stimulation for the better part of the past two decades. Special thanks to our students who have been such important contributors in our research teams and labs for many years: David Beyea, William Cooper, Elena Corriero, Nancy Dai, Kelsey Earle, Allison Elam, Sean Kolhoff, Ben Lennemann, Adam Mason, Robert Matheny, Benjamin Prchal, Rachelle Prince, Annisa Rochadiat, Soo Yun Shin, Kunto Wibowo, and Chad Van De Wiele.

Finally, both of us thank Dr. Joseph B. Walther for his ongoing mentorship, friendship, and support. Without Joe, this project would never have happened; his habit of helping us organize our research has taught us: (1) to look to theory and proceed from what we know, (2) to “listen to the data,” and (3) to pursue compelling and counterintuitive ideas. His teaching has forever shaped the way we understand computer-mediated communication and relational research.


An Introduction to Up to Date

When we sat down together to write the beginnings of what would become the outline of this book, we noted the considerable challenges associated with choosing an audience to whom we would write, a body of literature we would summarize, and a perspective from which to write. Depending on these decisions, we thought, we could end up with about five or six good—but each very different—books. Given this realization, we saw several options. We could write one book that was about as long as six books, we could cram six books into a single book, or—and this is the option we landed on—we could write one of the possible six books but make it the best book possible. To us, this seemed like the option that (a) you would be most likely to want to read and (b) would spare us the most gray hairs writing. Because of this choice, we feel it important, at the outset, to acknowledge our decisions about audience, scope, and perspective because we hope that understanding what we have chosen also helps you to understand this work just a little bit better.←1 | 2→

Audience, Scope, and Perspective

Audience. We set out to write this book for curious graduate and undergraduate students and experienced researchers alike. We both believe that, in its purest form, social science is a collaborative invitation. This invitation seeks to draw the reader into active participation in the conversation with and between scholars.

Imagine you arrive at a cocktail party, and you walk into a room where a lively conversation is happening. In this lively conversation you notice several people you like and admire—although they probably do not know you. You saunter over and join their circle. The first thing you might do is listen. After all, you probably want to make a favorable impression on these people you admire and forcing yourself headlong into their conversation might not yield the best results. Instead, what you are likely to do is listen carefully, thoughtfully about what is being said. Probably one of the things you would be most concerned about as a new party to this conversation is that you might say the same things one of the people in your group said just a few minutes before you arrived. Or, perhaps you adopt a point that, although relevant to the conversation, has already been refuted. You are probably concerned that this would reflect poorly on you in front of these people you hope to impress.

These are, we suspect, also the concerns of new scholars seeking to dip their toes into topics for which they have curiosity in abundance but confidence and experience in short supply. We have both been there, and between you and us (if we are being completely honest) we still both feel that way from time to time. We imagine that one of the biggest barriers to entry for budding scholars (of any age or academic rank) is the concern that their contributions to the scholarly conversation may not be novel or smart enough to get them a seat at the cool kids’ table. At best, this represents time lost to worry or fear, and at worst, a reputation tarnished. In the high-pressure world of the 21st century, the scholar can afford neither of these things.

With that said, we believe that more voices representing a diverse range of thought benefit social scientific productivity and progress. To summarize, we understand why you might be reticent to join the conversation; nevertheless, we are writing this book to invite you to join researchers in our public conversations about online and mobile romance in all its forms. The ongoing conversations about these topics have become much more complex in recent years, primarily because online and mobile dating holds such an important place in the contemporary relational landscape. Online and mobile dating platforms are now the most common way adults find new romantic connections in the United States ←2 | 3→(Rosenfeld, Thomas, & Hausen, 2019); these technologies also play a key role in our ability to develop new relationships, maintain existing bonds, and even manage unwanted relationships. We begin by first bringing you up to date on where the public conversation currently stands with regard to online romance; we also introduce you to the different scholarly approaches to the study of romance, and finally offer our suggestions about where we might go from here.

To be completely transparent, we have also observed many of our scholarly peers who, after their time in graduate school, began to migrate into the study of computer-mediated communication (CMC), social media, and the effects on communicative functions like relating, persuading, and informing. We suspect they, too, even as experienced researchers find that there are barriers to entry into the study of technology’s effects on human communication. If you are interested in romantic relationships and the ways that they are mediated, morphed, or molded by technology, no matter what your own perceived level—novice student to seasoned researcher—this book was written to invite you to participate in these ongoing conversations.

Scope. We confess that some of the most significant authorial decisions we made were those regarding the scope of this project. These decisions could have been made differently and thus resulted in very different final products, none of which would be inherently less valuable than the current work. For example, we could have written a book solely about partner selection processes in online and mobile dating—how do we decide when to swipe right? Or, we could have focused solely on apps and websites that compete for a piece of the lucrative online dating industry. These might have been very interesting books (maybe even books that should be written) but they were not what we elected to do.

Instead, we envisioned the scope of this book as scholars of interpersonal and relational communication. Although we will touch on technologies, individual and cultural differences, societal factors, and demographics, we focus primarily on the ways each of these things does or does not affect communication in romantic relationships. With that said, the study of human communication and technology is, and has always been, an intensely interdisciplinary project. Computer scientists, sociologists, linguists, psychologists, communication scholars, scholars of information science, and anthropologists (to name but a few) have meaningfully shaped the dominant social scientific understanding of online behavior. Our work certainly borrows from and addresses these areas, but we integrate such scholarship through the lens of interpersonal communication. Because of this, it probably comes as no surprise to our readers that rather than structuring the book according to technological affordances, online platforms, ←3 | 4→psychological theories, or sociological demographics, we chose to structure this work according to how technology has the capacity to influence different stages of the modern romantic relationship. As a result, you will find that we rely heavily on multiple disciplines and cite scholars from all different areas—but ultimately, we will always come back to interpersonal communication and romantic relationships as the foundation for our thinking about online and mobile dating.


XIV, 254
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
online dating mobile dating social media computer-mediated communication interpersonal communication romantic relationships romance courtship Stephanie Tom Tong Brandon Van Der Heide Up to Date
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XIV, 254 pp., 3 b/w ill., 12 color ill., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Stephanie Tom Tong (Author) Brandon Van Der Heide (Author)

Stephanie Tom Tong (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an associate professor of communication at Wayne State University. Her work—situated at the intersection of social media and interpersonal communication—examines how family, friends, and romantic partners use technology to initiate, maintain, and dissolve close relationships. Brandon Van Der Heide (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an associate professor of communication at Michigan State University. Brandon studies how people learn to trust one another and how this trust affects communication processes, relationships, and outcomes on the Internet.


Title: Up to Date