Another study found similar negative sentiments and distancing in the general population, especially among people who have had fewer personal experience with cancer [ 30 ]. However, attitudes about cancer may have improved more recently, due to media presentations of people treated for cancer as being courageous [ 32 , 33 ].
We embedded cancer information in a subtle way into these vignettes rather than directly asking people about their interest in dating cancer survivors to account for social desirability. Interest in dating a cancer survivor may also differ by gender. Although men place relatively more value on physical attractiveness and women on social status [ 34 , 35 ], they both value health, dependability, stability, education and intelligence in a long-term mate [ 36 , 37 ]. However, women are usually the more choosy sex, meaning that they are less open for romantic contact than men and more critical when they search for a partner.
From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, women have evolved to be the more choosier sex, where they look for traits in a partner that increase the chance of protection, provision and investment in potential children. This is a result of women having much higher parental investment being pregnant, nursing.
Thus, a mistake in mate choice, and consequently having a child with a wrong mate, is costlier in all aspects for women than it is for men.
Studies show how women, all around the world, value dependability, stability, education and intelligence in a long- term mate more than men do [ 37 ]. Also, men are more willing to compromise on the traits they ideally desire in a potential partner than women, meaning that men would accept mates that do not meet all of their requirements more than women would, for example regarding health [ 39 ].
We hypothesize that 1 single people will be less interested in dating a cancer survivor than a similar partner without a cancer history. We further hypothesize that women will be less interested in romantic contacts than men, and 2 that this difference will be more pronounced if the potential partner is a cancer survivor. To test our hypotheses, we conducted three experimental vignette studies among members of a national Dutch dating website experiment 1 and university students experiment 2 and 3 , using fictive profiles of a potential dating partner.
Many singles look for a potential date or partner online ever since dating websites became available [ 40 ]. To study reactions to a cancer survivor among single people who are actively looking for a date or partner, we chose to recruit participants who were members of a dating website. Participants were presented with a written profile of either a cancer survivor or someone without a cancer history while other aspects were kept identical. Members of a dating website have different relationship histories, ranging from never-married, to divorced, or widowed.
It has been found that a change from being married to unmarried either divorced or widowed is related to lower well-being, as compared to those who were never married [ 2 , 43 , 44 ]. It might be that people who have experienced the loss of a partner are less interested in making contact with a cancer survivor, as cancer invokes ideas about death and potentially losing a partner again [ 26 ]. Therefore we hypothesize 3 that people who are divorced or widowed will show less interest in dating a cancer survivor than single people who did not experience divorce or death of a spouse.
An invitation to participate in a study evaluating dating profiles was advertised by three Dutch dating websites, indicating the study was done by the University of Groningen. One website advertised the link to the online survey in their bi-weekly email newsletter sent to members, the other two posted the ad on their blog or website. The online survey started with informing participants about the voluntary and anonymous character of this study done by the University of Groningen. They were asked to indicate their consent by ticking a box and could then proceed to the questionnaire not ticking the box would let them exit the questionnaire.
Basic demographic questions about gender, education level, marital status single, divorced, widowed, in a relationship , sexual orientation, and geographic region were asked. Respondents were then randomly assigned to the experimental vignettes. The dating profile was introduced as following: How people present themselves in their profile can have a big impact on the number of responses they get.
Next , we will show you a transcript of a profile text , without a picture due to privacy reasons. The person in the profile is selected by the computer: The description entailed work teacher , hobbies playing tennis and mountain biking , and personality characteristics social, spontaneous, active, funny and sometimes stubborn.
This description was the same for the two conditions. In the middle of the profile, the manipulation was presented. The Ethical Committee of the psychology department of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, approved this study ppo After reading the vignette, respondents indicated on a visual analog scale of 0—10 i.
We report scores for each of these characteristics separately. A univariate general linear model with interest in a date as dependent variable and condition healthy vs. In the healthy condition, interest did not differ by relationship status S1 Fig and Table 2. Mean Standard Deviation , all scales ranged from 0—10;.
The healthy trait was positively, albeit weakly to moderately correlated with the likelihood to date this person in both conditions, meaning that the more healthy they assessed the presented person, the more interested they were in dating them Table 3. Overall, the traits correlated in a similar way and strength with interest in a date between the healthy and the cancer condition, except for athletic.
Among members of a dating website, interest in dating a cancer survivor was lower than interest in a comparable person without a cancer history. Although this finding supported our first hypothesis, this difference was negligible in effect size. Women were found to be less interested in a date than men supporting our second hypothesis , but this gender difference did not depend on whether the potential partner had cancer or not. Our third hypothesis, that divorced and widowed people would be less interested in dating a cancer survivor was only supported for widowed people.
We expected to find the same difference for divorced people, but that was not the case. It may be that specifically losing a partner to death makes widowed people reluctant to dating someone who has had cancer and might die. They may have also lost their previous partner to cancer and may want to avoid going through such an experience again. Therefore, it can be expected that having had cancer is relevant for older survivors looking for a new partner, as they are more likely to encounter someone who is widowed. Although this experiment was done in a highly relevant context i. We noticed that respondents were not very likely to see themselves dating the presented person i.
We speculate that a missing picture may be a vital reason for this overall low interest. Looks are an extremely important first trigger of interest [ 45 ].
In order to improve upon this potential pitfall, we decided to include a profile picture in our second experiment. Because members of a dating website are a diverse population when it comes to age and previous relationship status, we aimed to test our hypotheses in a more homogeneous group of young adult single people.
In early adulthood, other reasons for dating may prevail in comparison to older adulthood. While older adults might aim for marriage, young adults tend to aim for short-term partners and less relationship involvement, and desire someone who is similar to them [ 46 ]. During this phase in life, it could be that a cancer history implies that the other person is less similar at a young age, few people have been confronted with such a serious life event , resulting in less interest.
A previous experiment in a student sample showed that respondents saw themselves as less similar to someone with cancer, than a patient with a sprained ankle [ 47 ]. Also, at a young age, physical appearance and sexual traits such as passion and sexual responsiveness are considered more important in a sexual or romantic partner than at an older age [ 48 , 49 ]. To account for this, we first assessed interest in the person before learning about the cancer history to examine whether the disclosure of a cancer history would decrease this initial interest.
We then asked participants when they would like to learn about a cancer history from a dating partner. Qualitative studies reported that young adult cancer survivors sometimes struggle with when and how to tell a potential new partner about their cancer history [ 22 , 50 ], but study findings from healthy partners perspectives are missing.
Students did not receive credits for their participation, but were informed that this study was part of their colloquium and that they would be informed about the results in an upcoming lecture. This resulted in a remaining sample of respondents see Table 1 , column experiment 2. The voluntary and anonymous character of the study was explained online and participants were informed that by proceeding with the questionnaire, they indicated their consent with participation. Participants were asked to indicate basic demographic information before they were randomized to the healthy or cancer condition see Table 1 , column experiment 2.
Back in the game: Dating after cancer - First Descents
They were presented with a description and picture of a fictive fellow student. Gender of the fictive student was matched by sexual orientation and pictures showed a close-up with a happy facial expression used from the Radboud Faces Database [ 51 ]. The male and female pictures were selected based on age comparable to the age of first year students and attractive looks. After answering several questions, respondents were presented with part 2 of the profile, presenting either a story for the healthy condition lost best friend to cancer three years ago vs. The Ethical Committee of the psychology department of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, approved of this study ppo After reading the first part of the scenario, respondents rated on a visual analog scale no 1 —yes 10 whether they would be interested in a date with this person initial interest.
After being randomized, they again rated interest in a date, followed by ratings of the presented person on 10 traits i. Finally, all participants including those in the healthy condition were asked when they would like to learn about a cancer history of a potential romantic partner i. Univariate general linear model with condition healthy vs. General linear models with condition and gender as fixed factors and the traits as dependent variable showed differences in three of the seven traits. No significant effects were found for gender or the interaction of condition and gender.
Correlations between the assessment of traits and interest in a date varied somewhat between conditions Table 3. In both conditions, respondents were more interested in a date when they assessed the person as being more interesting, independent, healthy, funny, and strong. However, interest of respondents in the healthy condition was also related to them seeing the person as more brave, whereas this was not the case in the cancer condition.
Interest of respondents in the cancer condition was related to their assessment of the other person as being friendly and experienced, whereas this was not the case in the healthy condition. Best time for disclosure: Young adult single students were as interested in dating another student who was treated for cancer a few years earlier than someone without such an illness history.
Their initial interest in the presented person was the strongest factor associated with their final interest in a date, not the illness history. This suggests that interest in dating a person does not change once someone hears about a cancer history as also indicated by their strong correlation. In addition, these students also attributed positive traits to the cancer survivor such as being brave and strong, while not assessing the survivor as less healthy which was the case with dating website members. These results indicate that some of the worries young cancer survivors have expressed in qualitative studies with respect to dating are unwarranted.
It may be that the effect of media coverage of having cancer is shifting from something to be feared [ 52 ] to something that can be conquered and beaten [ 32 , 53 ]. These students, on average 19 years old, have probably seen many campaigns and posters providing them with success stories of survivors, while their real-life experience with cancer may be more limited.
Back in the game: Dating after cancer
When young adult survivors start dating a new romantic partner, they can expect that others would prefer them to disclose this early on, specifically after a few dates. This second experiment was designed more rigorously than the first one, as we added information on initial interest in a date, to account for basic liking of the person without knowing their illness history.
Also, we added a profile picture of a person with a similar age to the description. However, both experiments presented a survivor who was beyond the treatment phase. Thus, interest in dating might be different if individuals are faced with potentially dating a cancer patient who is closer to diagnosis and still being regularly checked by their medical providers. Therefore, we built upon experiment 2 and designed experiment 3 which we presented to students in the next academic year, and varied conditions based upon illness statuses: In the years following end of active treatment, people treated for cancer remain in follow-up.
This means they are regularly checked for their health, and for possible tumor activity to detect metastases or relapse. Some survivors use medication to lower the chance of recurrence.
Do single people want to date a cancer survivor? A vignette study
It is possible that fear or distancing from a serious illness is larger when confronted with someone who is still having regular check-ups at the hospital, and therefore may be seen as not yet fully cured. Also, the illness still plays a role in daily life shortly after treatment completion. Therefore, we hypothesized that students would be less interested in dating someone who has had cancer and is still under close medical monitoring as compared to a survivor who no longer regularly visits the hospital for check-ups related to the treatment of cancer.
The method and procedure was similar to experiment 2, only the vignettes were adapted to differentiate between two phases of cancer survivorship.
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The online survey was presented to first year medicine students in the year following experiment 2. This resulted in a sample of respondents, of which ten left the survey before randomization see Table 1 , column experiment 3. Participants in the beyond follow-up condition were on average Univariate general linear model with condition beyond follow-up vs. We entered initial interest as measured in part 1, before illness disclosure as covariate.
The social pressures of bars, clubs and blind dates disappear when singles are able to make connections first through the web before diving into a relationship. One of the common benefits online daters reference is that they can avoid the often-awkward small talk that comes with first encounters and instead focus on finding potential partners who share their backgrounds, interests or experiences.
It is already hard for you the way it is. Premium membership allows for more profile options and user interactions. The process of making new connections, and maybe even love interests, can be both exciting and a self-confidence booster, which especially holds true for cancer patients. Isolation is a common byproduct of cancer, but online dating combats that trend.
The same holds true for people rebounding from cancer. In the immediate aftermath of the diagnosis, my single status fell to the backburner as I tried to navigate the complex cancer web of surgeons, tests, and treatment plans.
But as I settled into the 7-month treatment process fertility preservation, chemo, and two surgeries , I started to consider my options when it came to dating. Having met my last boyfriend online, I decided to reactivate my online dating profile about two months into the process. Armed with a lot of free time and a damn good wig, I figured I had nothing to lose by putting myself out there. It was actually easier than I had anticipated. It was actually a great screening mechanism. I was pleasantly surprised at how many guys wanted to talk despite my cancer, or at least sent me good wishes for a quick recovery.
I ended up meeting some nice people, and while I also had a few truly awful dates, those were more about being a bad fit personally than the fact that I had cancer.