What's the best way to date online?

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What's the best way to date online?

Oct 17, 2012 |Candice Watters
Question

I am a 27-year-old single woman actively pursuing marriage. I have always been one to give any guy a chance that works up the nerve to ask me out. I believe that he steps out in faith by asking, and I step out in faith by accepting, even if there is no initial spark. Unfortunately where I am in life, I don't get asked out on dates. The single guys in my church are either in relationships, or not asking, and my job as an elementary school teacher doesn't offer many opportunities to meet others. When I got to the point that I had exhausted all my resources, I finally turned to online dating to meet someone.

Now I find myself completely overwhelmed with opportunities, and it is exhausting just to keep up. Every day I am matched with five to seven seemingly great Christian guys, and I feel like I should give everyone a chance that expresses interest to communicate with me. There is no feasible way that I can keep up.

I have currently turned off my matching so no one else is sent to me, giving me time to communicate with those I do have, but it would take me going out on a date nightly for over a month just to meet everyone face-to-face. I am trying to determine what is the best way to date online as a wise and discerning Christian while not being too carefree or picky. It's exciting to finally have options and know that there are great Christian guys out there, but I have no idea how to best manage all of the possibilities.

Answer

The online dating question is coming up a lot lately, which isn't surprising given the increasing number of couples who met online. This is all the more reason to think carefully about how to approach matching services. We must think carefully as women, needing to be discerning for reasons of propriety and safety, but also as Christians, needing to be biblical and godly.

I never had the opportunity, or difficulty, of using an Internet matching site because I met Steve before the start of eHarmony, Match.com and all that followed. That doesn't disqualify me from answering your question — biblical wisdom for conducting opposite-sex relationships transcends time and technology — but it does make sense to get some input from someone with experience. I asked one of my good friends who started dating after eHarmony's launch to weigh in, knowing she is well acquainted with online dating sites, sometimes happily, other times with much angst.

One of the benefits of an online service is that if you're in a small town or a small circle within a larger city, it can provide more introductions in a shorter time than you'd normally have. The volume may be a benefit: greater probability that you'll meet a good match. But as you've discovered, it has a considerable downside: more men than you could possibly consider in any reasonable time. As Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice, helpfully pointed out, not having enough choices leaves people feeling like they don't have freedom, but having too many choices can be paralyzing.

My friend suggested that you look through the local matches first. Find men who live where you live, and read their profiles carefully. They are the first choice for the obvious reason that you may actually be able to meet one of them! (This, too, carries potential risks and must be walked out with the protection of people who love you and have your best interest at heart.) If none of the matches are local, then broaden your search to your state. "As for men in other states (or other countries)," she says, "I would wait until they contact you. Then, if they seem high quality, you can communicate with them and see where it goes."

I would interpret "high quality" to mean men of strong Christian conviction and solid church involvement who are willing to give references and have observably high character. This is a tall order, but you're talking about a potential husband. The standard a Christian husband is charged with is tall (see Ephesians 5). What shouldn't matter as much are your appearance preferences and other externals. Ironically, Schwartz found that where there are too many choices, as with an online dating service, we can choose based on something other than what's essential. He said, "When you meet a lot of people you end up choosing on the basis of the easiest to assess criteria, which is physical attractiveness, which you know is not what you care most about."

I agree it's a good idea to think locally, and I appreciate what she said next: "Continue to keep your eyes open at church and continue to communicate to the mentor-type people in your circles that you desire marriage. Just because you are looking online doesn't mean that the right man is online." That's wisdom. Even though you're not presently being asked out by men you know, that may change.

While I've seen some good matches begin online, the more common path I've observed among my single friends hoping for strong, Christ-centered marriage is that a relationship once begun was carried out with the help, encouragement and accountability of members of the church. If you are a member of a solid, Bible-believing church and begin dating a man who is similarly active at the same church, you have more natural and more frequent opportunities to get to know one another in settings that reveal character. Plus you have the benefit of being surrounded by observant brothers and sisters in Christ who can help you discern if it's a good match, rejoice with you if it leads to marriage, and stand with you on the other side of the altar. This is a far better setting for a fledgling relationship than is the isolating and anonymous Internet.

Finally, a word about reaching out to all these matches popping up in your inbox: It's one thing to explore your options, but you must guard against taking the lead. As my friend advised, "Be careful just how much you're the one reaching out, because you still want guys to pursue you in the end." Why? Well, in part because we're wired to desire it. Women want to be won. They're not made to take the lead (Proverbs 18:22, Genesis 2:18). Nor are men made to be pursued. When either of us, male or female, go against our grain, there are long-term consequences. This is a small thing at the start, but it tends to be formative for the rest of the relationship, with big implications.

The most sensible and beneficial approach to the surge of potential mates is to wait and see who pursues you. That group will undoubtedly be smaller and more easily focused on. I realize that's not the way these sites are designed to work, but remember, these sites are tools. Wield them with wisdom, and they may prove useful.

I pray God will guide you.

Every blessing,
CANDICE WATTERS


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Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

If you have a question you'd like us to consider for this column, please send it to editor@boundless.org. Please note that all questions we select for this column may be edited for clarity and privacy and become the property of Focus on the Family.

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