Qualitative studies indicated that cancer survivors may be worried about finding a partner in the future, but whether this concern is warranted is unknown. Correlations were used to investigate relationships between interest in a date and assessment of traits. However, widowed respondents were much less interested in a date with a cancer survivor, and women showed less interest in a cancer survivor during active follow-up relative to survivors beyond follow-up. Cancer survivors do not have to expect any more problems in finding a date than people without a cancer history, and can wait a few dates before disclosing.
Survivors dating widowed people and survivors in active follow-up could expect more hesitant reactions and should disclose earlier. Finding a romantic partner is a central goal in life for most people and essential for well-being [ 1 , 2 ]. Especially when dealing with a stressful life event as cancer, having a partner can be advantageous: Partnered people on active cancer treatment adapt better both physically and psychologically as compared to those without a partner [ 3 — 13 ].
However, knowledge about establishing a new relationship following cancer is lacking. In addition, several studies showed that cancer survivors are less often married or partnered as compared to healthy peers [ 15 — 17 ]. As a result, there is a growing population of single cancer survivors who will be faced with finding a new partner after they completed their treatment.
Qualitative studies revealed several issues that cancer survivors experience when they are looking for a partner. For example, survivors reported feeling insecure and different [ 18 ], feeling negative about their bodies [ 19 ] or less sexually desirable, while they can also worry about late effects like infertility, and whether this could be a deal breaker for future partners [ 18 , 20 ].
Survivors specifically worry about negative reactions from potential partners toward their appearance and fear rejections, making the disclosure of their cancer history more difficult [ 21 — 24 ]. However, dating and initiating a relationship depends on two people. Investigating the attitude of healthy individuals towards cancer survivors as potential romantic partners is essential in order to understand how relationship formation might be affected by cancer.
How individuals think about starting a relationship with someone who has had cancer is unknown, but we do know that people have a tendency to react negatively to others who are ill or disabled. Many people are distressed by thinking or actually meeting a cancer patient, and as a result avoid contact, leaving patients feeling socially isolated [ 25 — 28 ].
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.
Do single people want to date a cancer survivor? A vignette study
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.
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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.
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.
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. 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.
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. It also appeared that in the beyond follow-up condition, women showed more interest in a date than men, which was contradictory to our hypothesis Table 2. General linear model with condition and gender as fixed factors and the traits as dependent variables showed that survivors in the active follow-up condition were seen as more independent, less insecure, more friendly, less healthy, more experienced, and stronger than survivors in the beyond follow-up condition Table 4.
Men did not assess these traits differently between conditions. All traits correlated with interest in a date, which varied between conditions Table 3. In the beyond follow-up condition, participants were more interested in a date when they assessed the person as being more insecure and needy, whereas this was not the case in the active follow-up condition nor in the other conditions of experiment 2.
Interest of participants in the active follow-up condition was positively related to their assessment of the person as independent, experienced, and strong, whereas this was not the case in the other condition. Best time to disclose: Preferences regarding the best time to disclose were somewhat different from the second experiment.
When students were presented with a cancer survivor as a potential dating partner, responses differed by disease trajectory i. It seems that a more recent health issue and for example dealing with more rigorous surveillance and uncertainty about relapses does result in some hesitation to go on a date with potential partners with a cancer history. In contrast to the first two experiments, where we found only few of our hypotheses were supported, this experiment showed some support.
Similar to experiment 2, initial interest in the presented person was the strongest factor in being interested in a date. However, this is striking given that women assessed survivors in active follow-up as more positive e. Thus, even though single women saw them as having more desirable traits, they were less interested in a date.
Online Dating Sites for Cancer Patients And Survivors
It has to be noted though that when comparing men and women in the survivor beyond follow-up condition, women were more interested in a date than men, which was unexpected. We can only speculate about underlying factors of this finding, but we did see some differences in traits that uniquely correlated with interest between conditions. Interest of students in someone who was having regular check-ups active follow-up was related to more positive traits like independent, healthy, experienced and strong which is a more expected finding an active student, going on with life despite health insecurities.
In contrast to all other conditions in the first experiments, women had a higher interest than men to date someone beyond follow-up. It might also be an artifact due to the rather small sample of male participants in this experiment. Unfortunately, due to the small number of men, correlations between conditions could not be purposefully explored by gender as well. In addition, and different from the second experiment, most respondents wanted to learn about the cancer history at the first date as opposed to hearing about it after a couple of dates. However, for both experiments, the more serious health condition no vs.
Early disclosure seems more warranted when survivors are closer to diagnosis. In sum, these three experiments showed that ever-single and divorced people are as likely to be interested in a date with a cancer survivor as with someone without a cancer history, unless they are still in active follow-up. Survivors were also judged as more positively than other people e. Nevertheless, these positive traits did not make them more attractive as a potential partner. It might be that people are afraid of possible relapses, other long-term side effects, and the foresight of regular hospital visits. This is emphasized by the finding that widowed single people hardly showed any interest in a date with a cancer survivor.
They probably did not want a chance to experience losing a loved one again. The advantages of our online experiments were in the design. Vignette studies are especially useful when it is difficult to experimentally manipulate sensitive topics [ 54 ]. In the dating-setting, people tend to uphold their own dating standards and preferences more so at a distance than face-to-face.
Any critical attitudes or socially undesirable thoughts would have had more room in our design because the people who were judged were not physically present. This is supported by a study on ideal partner preferences which showed that these preferences are mostly upheld in an abstract context, such as reading about a potential partner online, and are less important when there is face-to-face contact [ 45 ].
However, more studies should focus on previously partnered and middle-aged people. This could shed more light on their motivation to date or not to date someone who has had cancer. Additionally, our student sample just started medical school and they may be more understanding and less anxious when meeting people who were or are facing a serious illness.
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Do single people want to date a cancer survivor? A vignette study
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