Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Stephanie Tom Tong


Relationship initiation is a moment typically characterized by high uncertainty, and online dating platforms have the potential to heighten uncertainty and thus deeply affect relationship formation dynamics. While previous research has focused on other-uncertainty and on its reduction through information-seeking, this qualitative study adopts Babrow’s (2001) problematic integration (PI) theory to expand our understanding of uncertainty in online dating beyond other-focused uncertainty, by exploring the meanings and sources of uncertainty in online dating, how uncertainty is appraised, and what strategies daters adopt to cope with it.

Data obtained from 13 semi-structured interviews with active online daters was analyzed using thematic analysis. The analysis uncovered multiple sources of uncertainty related to the self, the other, and the relationship, and multiple epistemological and ontological meanings daters ascribed to uncertainty that validated PI’s perspective. Daters often appraised uncertainty as undesirable, but they also appeared willing to tolerate unsolved uncertainty they deemed acceptable; furthermore, uncertainty was not always salient in their interactions, suggesting the need for further investigation into the biopsychological aspects of the appraisal process.

Daters’ varied coping strategies revealed that uncertainty reduction was often forgone when it conflicted with communication goals, and the reliance on decision-making heuristics reflected the recognition that uncertainty could rarely be solved in full, especially in a context characterized by an emphasis on mate selection and abundance of choice. The analysis also revealed that the online dating process has the potential to increase the negative effects of uncertainty by delaying interpersonal communication and thus problematizing the most significant coping strategy available to daters.