Some time ago, when I first started my blog, I mentioned that I was going to try on-line dating to try and meet a special someone. It’s now over a year and a half later. Did I give it a go, and how did it turn out?
The short answers are “yes” – and that I have been very fortunate, meeting a lovely person.
In this post I would like to talk about a few of the things I noticed while using on-line dating. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means: I only used one dating website, and was lucky enough to meet my special person within a fairly short time. Also, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. Many people who try on-line dating have mixed, negative (or even very-negative) experiences. However, with those caveats in mind, I think it is a subject worth me writing about. In the course of trying it I came across things I had not thought about before. Given that on-line dating is not something that most Christians I know (and many other people too!) have direct experience of, I think what I’ve learned may be of interest and worth passing on.
Dating sites exist on a spectrum
“On-line dating” is a bit of a catch-all term. There are a lot of dating websites / Apps, but they share a common idea. First, register with the site/App. Second, “meet” other people online. Third, having found someone you get on with, meet them in person “in the real world”. However, there is a whole spectrum of variety in how the “meeting other people online” bit is done.
- At one end of the spectrum are sites/Apps where initially all you see are photos of other people and make snap like/dislike decisions based on what you see. If you both “like” each other, you can then start to communicate.
- At the other end of the spectrum are sites/Apps where you fill in a detailed profile and the computer suggests possible matches for you who seem compatible based on the data you enter.
An example of a well-known dating tool towards the first end of the spectrum would be Tinder, and sites like Match.com and eHarmony are more towards the other end. The site I chose to use was Christian Connection, which lies somewhere in the middle. You fill in a profile, which can be as detailed or sparse as you want (and which you can edit whenever you wish) and submit pictures. You can then view other people’s profiles and pictures. However, beyond setting some simple filters like target sex and age range, the computer doesn’t do any matching for you.
As the name suggests, the site I chose was one that caters specifically for a Christian audience. It isn’t the only Christian dating site / App, and sites for other specific groups also exist – though I don’t know much about them.
Supermarkets are weird. Good, but weird.
I decided to give on-line dating a go because meeting anyone any other way looked unlikely. There are two factors that feed into this. First, in a lot of UK churches, the number of single Christians in my age bracket (I’m mid-30s) is small – maybe only 2 or 3 people in total – so the local “dating pool” is tiny to start with. Second, I found that whenever I did meet new people, it was never for long enough to actually get to know them.
Coming from this background (a decade out of university, total dates a head-spinning zero), joining up to the dating site and starting to look at other people’s profiles was weird. Good, but weird.
It felt weird because it dawned on me that I was browsing like in a shop… but for someone I might spend the rest of my life with.
However, I quickly realised that there is a lot of sense to online dating. On a dating site, you know that everyone there is there because they want to meet someone. So, you know in advance that saying hello and starting a conversation is (absolutely terrifying but) ok. In the offline “real” world, unless you know someone really well, you never know how asking them out is going to be received. It takes a lot of the awkwardness out of it.
The safety bit and the Wild West bit
One concern with on-line dating is safety: if you go to meet someone you met over the internet, what do you actually know about them? Are they who they say they are, and is what they say about themselves true? There are risks, and they do need to be taken seriously. I’m not an expert on on-line dating, so I won’t offer safety advice. But there is plenty of advice out there. For example, here is a safety page from the dating site I used: Date Safe with Christian Connection.
I’ve called this part of the post “the safety bit and the Wild West bit” because, although the “meeting in person” risks in the previous paragraph are the most obvious concerns, my experience of the “meeting online” part of on-line dating is that it is rather like the Wild West. You see people’s profiles. They see yours. Communication happens. But there are very few rules.
Like a city-slicker in a Western heading out for the first time, when I finished my profile and got off the stagecoach in Dodge, it wasn’t long before I realised that this was a social environment with dynamics of its own that I was not prepared for. And other people on the site would be in the same boat. Put lots of people from different backgrounds in an unfamiliar, emotionally-charged social environment and, even if everyone if everyone starts off with the best of intentions, communication mistakes are likely to happen and there is the risk of getting hurt emotionally.
That is a bit abstract, so to be more concrete:
- You see a profile that appeals to you, and eventually summon up the courage to send the person a friendly introductory greeting. Fantastic! And now you wait for a reply.
- But… how long do you wait? You don’t know if the other person is sat at the keyboard hoping for a message from someone just like you at that very moment. Or will check their account tomorrow. Or are on holiday for a week. Or, even if they have seen your message, that they will ever reply!
- You don’t hear back after a couple of days… So, after what is essentially an arbitrary length of time, you decide to send someone else a message. Are you now communicating with one person, or two?
- Meanwhile, other people can see your profile. You find that a couple of people have sent you messages. How nice! One of them does not appear at all suitable. But, keeping an open mind, the other person sounds like someone you would be happy to talk to. How many people are you now talking to?
- At what point do you switch from communicating with lots of people, to just one person with whom you think you have a chance of forming a successful relationship? How do you end conversations with everyone else gracefully?
In the off-line world, talking to more than one woman at a time to gauge whether they like you, and whether a romantic relationship between you could work, would be… odd. However, given the structure of the dating site it was essentially inevitable. I found this really confusing. What were the social rules of this space?
I searched the help forum for advice, as I wanted to communicate well and not hurt people accidentally. There was a mixture of sensible general advice, and other users offering views on what was good conduct. This was helpful and gave me some guidelines, but really that is what they were, only guidelines. My overall impression was that this part of the on-line dating process is rather lacking in social conventions. I can’t help but wonder whether a lot of negative experiences with on-line dating (whether on the site I used or elsewhere) have this issue somewhere at their root.
Covering the miles
Another thing I found was that on-line dating involves the need to travel.
Using on-line dating massively widens the local dating pool. However, even on-line, the Christian dating pool in a large town like the one I live in is still quite small. Compare that to a big city like London, which is an hour or so away: for every person in the local dating pool, there are a hundred in London. I came to the conclusion that to meet someone on-line that I really clicked with, I would likely need to travel, at least as far as London.
As it happens, the person I met lives a *little* further away than that…
Thinking about it, of the Christian couples I know that met on-line, the majority lived at least a few hours journey apart before they met. I don’t know if this is generally true, or just reflects the people I happen to know. It would be interesting to see some statistics on this subject. If you happen to know of some, please do leave a comment below.
I had better stop writing this post at some point. I keep thinking of extra things to say! One question is whether on-line dating is something I’d recommend, and I’ll close with a few thoughts on that.
For me, I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience. However, in this I have been very fortunate and a lot of other people will have so-so (even if ultimately successful) experiences or negative ones. In this post I’ve tried to adopt a balanced tone, talking about both the advantages and possible downsides I’ve come across in as neutral a way as possible.
For me, thinking in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits of going on-line – meeting someone special – outweighed the risks. One thing that I think often isn’t appreciated, particularly by people in older generations, is that the risks aren’t entirely on the meeting-online side. For me, meeting a Christian partner any other way was unlikely. On the one hand, yes, there are the risks associated with the internet; but on the other hand is the risk of not meeting a partner and missing out on that side of life. This isn’t to say that on-line dating is or isn’t a good idea. It will be for some people, but not others, depending on their circumstances. But I think it is a helpful way to look at it.