Online dating app Tinder icon on a phone screen. Photo: Ivan Radic


Online dating, the search for a partner through the internet, is now one of the most common ways to find a life partner. In her doctoral dissertation, Anne Holappa, an M.A., investigated the cultural knowledge associated with online dating.

Anne Holappa conducted her research in the field of digital culture, focusing on the cultural knowledge related to online dating.

The study utilized data collected from the Finnish dating service in 2012. The data was limited to the category of "Looking for a Serious Relationship," where individuals sought either a man or a woman, with the additional criterion of being Finnish.

"The researcher finds it easier to understand the meanings in text that is also their own native language. In the 'Looking for a Serious Relationship' category, the idea is to find a committed romantic relationship, which differs from other categories in the service," explains Holappa.

The central concept in the doctoral dissertation is the cultural model, which refers to the ways in which members of the same culture both produce and understand things in a similar manner. Growing up in a particular culture involves internalizing ideas that later seem self-evident and unquestionable. These include notions of how masculinity or femininity are portrayed. Similarly, there are culturally accepted model narratives for romantic relationships.

Holappa identified four cultural models in her research that shape how online dating is experienced or approached. According to the researcher, these models represent culturally shared knowledge.

"The romantic model emphasizes a romantic imagery where intense emotions are not muted. This model directly relates to the romantic narratives prevalent in Western culture, which are familiar to everyone through popular culture," says Holappa.

In contrast, the realistic model emphasizes everyday aspects: normality, authenticity, and reasonableness were valued traits. The realistic model is based on a cultural script associated with a normative life story, where one studies and establishes a career after childhood and adolescence, followed by seeking a partner and starting a family. The realistic model represents an egalitarian partnership based on love.

In the concept-driven model, the key aspect is how the author of a profile text reproduces content they believe belongs to the context. For example, they may create lists because they assume they are expected in profile descriptions.

The concept was also challenged. In this model, the conventional script was not followed, but it relied on recognizing conventions.

"In the model that challenges the concept, it is essential that the conventions of online dating are familiar because only then can they be challenged," explains Holappa.

One notable finding from the research is that the imaginative projection of a shared future in a romantic relationship is not genetically determined but rather a historically formed way of presenting things to oneself and others in a culturally accepted manner.