What do you need to know if you're planning to use (or already a member of) a web-based matchmaking service?
In February I was at my friend Katy's bridal shower. Even though it was the dead of winter, the sun made it look, and almost feel, like spring — perfect weather for celebrating with the bride-to-be.
"How did they meet?" I overheard one guest ask another. "She found him on eBay!" was her enthusiastic reply. eBay?
Oops. It's an honest mistake; a slip I've made myself. I must be on to something. The newspaper described a new reality series about online dating similarly saying, "more than 40 million people are looking for love on the Internet, and finding Mr. or Ms. Right can be as easy as buying a vase on eBay."
But is it that easy? Is it even a good idea?
I remember when I first heard about using the Internet to search for a mate. It was 1996, and the web had only recently gone public. Still single and hoping for marriage, I was intrigued. I asked my mentor, Mary Morken, what she thought about the idea. "Why not?" she said in her usual upbeat lilt. "The technology can bring you in contact with a lot more eligible men than you'll meet where you are. It's harder to find mates these days. This may solve that problem."
Mary was well known among my friends as the marriage advocate. She was also brutally honest about the hurdles we as young Christian women faced on our way to the altar. It was she who encouraged me to get creative and "pull a ruth." To her, online dating was one more way to be creatively pro-marriage in an anti-marriage culture.
And to their credit, some of the Christian dating sites are clear that they exist with one goal in mind: marriage.
If you're single and hoping for marriage but without prospects, it's hard to resist the claims that these services will help you find: "your soul mate," "the perfect love you were born to meet," "satisfying marriage" and more. And sometimes they do. I know from my friend Katy's engagement, and now marriage, that these services can deliver on their promises.
The Internet does some things well. For starters, it's accessible. That means people from anywhere can use it, making themselves available for you to meet. There are 6 billion people in the world, and thanks to Internet dating services, you can take your best shot at meeting the single ones. Certainly more of them than you'd meet in your singles group at church.
The sheer volume of potential matches is one of the draws. Feel like a big fish in a too-small pond? Come swim in the ocean of Internet matchmaking.
My friend Julie did. "It's great to see there are so many guys out there," she said. "They've seen my picture and read my profile, and they're interested in me. If men are initiating contact with you every day or at least every week and you haven't dated for a while, that's a great feeling."
The web is convenient and quick, helping you find what you're looking for — when you have time to look. Like search engines, matchmaking services are programmed to provide results fast. Some within minutes, based on nothing more than your sex and zip code.
It's affordable. You can join most for a modest fee — a month's worth of matches for the price of a good pedicure or video game. The speed, accessibility and affordability of the web can help you find a mate.
So what's not to love about it?
Online dating services are a tool — better at some things than others. It's important to figure out what they're good for and not ask more of them than they're designed to provide. So what are their limitations?
- Efficient, but not effective. You might rejoice over 1,000 potential matches. But that's just the beginning. Now comes the hard work of sorting, weeding and discerning. My friend Katy described it this way, "It was like the neighbor fixing you up with someone. They know you a little, they know him a little and the rest is up to you to figure out. The one big difference is you have no character references, and you need to discern that for yourself."
- A steady stream of matches. This can be a distraction, especially for males. Jerry Seinfeld said, "Guys don't want to see what's on television — they want to see what else is on television." With millions of potential matches, how can you possibly know when you've found the one? Maybe the village matchmaker wasn't such a bad idea after all.
- Premature intimacy. Because you're initially communicating in writing, it's tempting to ask deep questions and initiate conversations that might take weeks or months to occur if you were dating face-to-face. "Your heart can get too far ahead of your head," Katy said. "You have to keep your heart in check and be cautious, even if things seem to be going well."
- Pesky long distance. There's the obvious difficulty of spending time together when you pursue a match living in a different city. But there's also the disruption. Paul proposed to a match in a far away town. Sadly the engagement fell apart only after his "soul mate" had quit her job and relocated halfway across the country to live in his apartment (he moved back in with his parents) while they planned the wedding. That's a lot of uprooting only to be told "you're not the one after all." Despite all the newfangled technology and compatibility testing, she got heartache the old fashioned way.
- Lowering barriers that should remain. Julie confided that she was planning to meet someone she'd been matched with recently. He sounded like a great Christian guy except for one minor detail: He was divorced. And he had a 2-year-old daughter. "When he told me he'd only been divorced a couple of months, I didn't want to go out with him, but I didn't want to tell him that. I hoped we'd meet and just not be attracted. I can't believe how backward that thinking was." After I encouraged her to reconsider she decided against meeting him saying she likely wouldn't have made a date with the very same guy if she had met him at church or somewhere else locally.
- Overselling what's good and hiding what's not.The reality show "Hooking Up" has a frenetic pace that reinforces what it describes as the "frantic world of Internet dating." Tightly edited, the show intensifies the speed with which women meet, greet and cheat the men they meet online. When they realize how different the guys they've chosen are from their online descriptions, they're understandably disappointed.
- Overplaying your soul mate. The dangerous implication is that by doing the hard work up front — of finding someone perfectly compatible with you, your soul mate — you'll avoid any pain, heartache or even difficulty once you're married. But lifelong marriages don't just grow out of compatibility. They happen for one primary reason: commitment.
Not the Only Way
If all you read is the online services' promotional material, you might believe romance, love and marriage just can't happen anymore without their help. But lots of people do still fall in love and marry without them.
Though John had friends offer to buy him free memberships, he decided against it. Why? "I don't like anonymity," he said. "It seems impersonal. I believe that as you go about in community and in life, God brings someone beside you."
He's presently in a serious relationship and talking marriage. They met the old fashioned way — his sister fixed him up with one of her friends. And it turns out they have a lot in common. But that's not all. They know a lot of the same people. All those connections — the shared context — are hard to get when you meet someone for the first time online. It's possible to build that with a total stranger, but it takes time and trust. Personal introductions with the help of a relative or friend often give you a head start on the trust building because they come with character references you can verify yourself, from people you already trust.
If you're going to use these sites, keep in mind what they can and can't do. And don't forget a few basics:
Use a Christian site. You don't have to sacrifice quality of service — some Christian sites are among the best services available — and you're more likely to find a match with whom you can be "equally yoked."
Trust, but verify. A long online profile is a fine place to start getting to know someone's character, but the best source is their friends and family. Get the input of the people who know your match well.
Don't rush it. Some counselors recommend spending at least a year living in the same city as someone you've met online. It takes time to get to know someone — in their environment — well enough to know if they're capable of a life-long commitment.
God designed us for marriage. Despite all the roadblocks our culture puts between us and the altar, He's still in the business of "setting the lonely in families" (Psalm 68:6). The ultimate creative spirit, God's not limited in how He does it. Sometimes He works through a matchmaking service, sometimes He uses a relative or friend to play matchmaker.
Though you won't find any Bible verses about online dating, you will find principles for doing relationships in a way that honors Him. Seek to honor God in your pursuit of marriage, and He'll direct your steps.
Interested in giving online dating a chance? To receive an extra four days to your free trial from ChristianCafe.com, use the promo code "Boundless." Learn more at ChristianCafe.com.
Copyright 2005 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.