I’m an online dater. You can find my face, height, interests, and a quick summation of my irresistible wit on no less than five sites. But just last week I deleted those dating apps from my phone. It’s not the first time I’ve done that. If I’m honest with myself, I bring those apps back when I’m lonely, I need some affirmation, or if I’m just plain bored. But I don’t plan on bringing them back this time.
I don’t really believe I’ll find someone I could fall in love with online, and that’s probably a good chunk of the reason why I haven’t.
I think online dating turns me into a bad person. It brings out something especially judgmental in me. I make quick judgments based on appearance. I make hasty decisions when I learn things that it might take me weeks to learn about someone organically. In the first moments of discovering a profile, things that aren’t dealbreakers for me in “real life” suddenly become grave issues. Online, I have the opportunity to make a judgment call based on grammar or an affinity for anime or one unlucky gym selfie.
Online, as in life, you want to give off the best first impression. For me, that looks like holding back a little bit on my interests (they don’t need to know just how crazy I am about A Song of Ice and Fire before our first date). It means carefully selecting current photos in which I only have one chin. And often, I’m ashamed to admit, it means being honest that I have faith but being intentionally scant on the details, because I’d rather explain myself in person.
I don’t say the words out loud that “God can’t work through the Internet,” but if you want to get technical, that’s kind of exactly what I’m saying when I differentiate between online dating and “real life.” And for someone who works for an Internet ministry, well, that’s sort of obnoxious. Of course God can work through the Internet. I see Him do it everyday!
And besides that, online dating has worked before! Three of my friends and coworkers are now married or in serious relationships thanks to the online dating scene. It just hasn’t come through for me.
But have I really allowed God to work through the Internet in my life? Have I truly given Him permission to show up in my profile and in my messages? Have I been gracious with the men I meet, trusting in God, open about my faith and desires and expectations? Not so much. If I don’t know what I want, how can I expect these men to know?
In my personal experience of online dating, most people are either looking for sex quickly, or they’re looking to build a strong emotional connection fast. And to be honest, I’m not really looking for either of those things. I like slow. I like the pursuit. I like the uncertainty and the flirtation and the social aspect of dating. Sure it’s flattering to discover all my matches or to receive messages, but what am I actually doing with those interactions?
In “real life,” it feels more serendipitous when I meet someone or get asked on a date. Online, it feels more like I'm in control… and that’s usually a bad thing. It’s easier for me to let God direct me when I’m not swiping left or right and wondering whether I’ve rejected or chosen the wrong guy, when I’m not the one moving the mouse.
I’m not sure there’s a right way, or even a wrong way, to date as a Christian. Courtship won’t work for everyone. Traditional dating won’t work for everyone. Dating apps won’t work for everyone. As I’ve learned, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it doesn’t matter how many matches you acquire, or how many dates you go on, or even whether the people you go out with share your exact beliefs. Or, more importantly, none of this matters if you’re not ready to surrender the situation to God. There are many roads to a good relationship; just like every person is unique, every relationship will be also, as two people learn how to walk together.
The way I see it, I have a responsibility to be honest about what I want and need and about what I am capable of. This is not a realization that came to me quickly! I know I am not the best version of myself online, but I find it easy and a joy to show who I really am and get to know others in person. I am more forgiving when things don’t go exactly how I’d like, I’m more trusting, and I’m more willing to give credit and glory to God, too.
I’m finally having an honest conversation with myself about dating, and I’m ready to invite God to be a bigger part of the conversation. I’m kissing online dating goodbye so I can pursue love and life, using the gifts God has given me (and stop being such a jerk).
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