Church culture, Culture, Dating, Digital, Life, Uncategorized

On-line dating: some observations from my experience with it

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 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Dating, Life

Let the online dating begin!

So, three days ago curiosity finally got the better of me and I signed up to an online dating site.

For those of you who know me, that might be a bit of a where-did-that-come-from moment.

The reason’s a simple one really. The way church is usually structured in the UK, in my experience if you’re above 25 and live in suburbia, its virtually impossible to meet a single Christian woman in the same age group and spend enough time talking to actually get to know one another.

Lots of things contribute to this:

Church size

Most churches in small towns or suburbia are about the same size, something like 80-150 people on a Sunday morning. In consequence, the number of single people in any age group is just small.

For a long time I went to a local Anglican church in Sussex. In my age bracket there were two single people, me and “the single woman”. In comparison, at my church in Aylesbury there is a positive riches of singles – me, and TWO single women. Heady days. In fairness, I don’t know everyone at the church equally well, and there may be people who come less often that I haven’t considered, so technically I may have miscounted. But my estimate can’t be out by much. The point is, within a church of standard size the “dating pool” in any age category is tiny.

Churches rarely work together

So for dating, church size is an issue. However, in a reasonably sized town there are lots of churches, most of the same standard size. So if churches worked together, it would be possible for a working dating pool to operate. Aylesbury is large. It has 20-30 churches, so if each has one or two single people of each sex in each age group, that means that town-wide each person has perhaps 50 potential partners. Great! There is plenty of scope there for some happy campers.

However, churches don’t really work together very much. So the chance of meeting more than a handful of these 50 people is, well, small.

Relationships are based on communication, and communication takes time – which is hard to come by

Really getting to know other people takes time. And churches don’t make this easy. Church on a Sunday morning usually takes the form of a service, followed by a short time for coffee/tea and a bit of chatting. Services generally don’t involve much communicating with other people, and coffee time is a fragmented affair – if you speak to the same person more than once a month you’re lucky! Based on Sunday mornings alone, getting to know anyone well is virtually impossible.

Churches generally do have more going on than just Sunday morning services. Our church has a lunch once a month, there are midweek homegroups for Bible studies / talking about specific issues / prayer, and a few times a year there are social events. However, not everyone goes to everything all of the time, and there may not be any other single people of a similar age in a homegroup (there aren’t in mine, and I go to two groups from different churches!). Over time it is still possible to get to know people. But slowly is the key word – and waiting 3 years to get to the point where you might know someone well enough to know if you want to ask them out is not really workable!

Changing social opportunities

By their late twenties most Christians are married and have started a family. This is great, but comes at a price. Suddenly, they aren’t available as much socially – and for a single person their social scene often contracts. Some couples consciously make an effort to include single people (particular shout out to B&R, who are wonderful at it) but even their time may be limited.

Meeting friends-of-friends is one of the best ways of meeting other people. Not only might you be introduced to someone that your friends think you might be interested in, but the fact that you share a friend means that in a sense you come pre-vetted, which greases the wheels. A lack of this social mixing is only exacerbated by changing location, which is often a hazard of modern life. I’ve lived in four different places as an adult, each time moving hundreds of miles. Those I know best are scattered over the whole country, and meeting up with them in person is rare.

In short, for a Christian over the age of 25 and living in a small town or suburbia, the off-line dating scene can be pretty much non-existent. If only there was a solution to this problem…. Which is why I’ve decided to give on-line dating a go. Dating sites are set up to solve exactly the problem I’ve just described.

Last thought

At the start of this post I said that those who knew me might find this action bewildering. I think this is probably true. The reason is kind of sad: in the ordinary course of events, no-one ever asks me about relationships. No-one asks if I’m dating anyone. Or have ever dated anyone. Or whether I’d like to. Or whether I want to be married. Or whether I’d like to have children (a separate but related issue). So in crucial ways no-one knows what I am actually like.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when talking to a counsellor. During one conversation they asked me about my experience of relationships, what kind I thought I wanted, what kind of a person I would be interested in meeting or was attracted to, what I thought about sex, and children, and so on. And as they did so it suddenly occurred to me that this was a unique conversational line, the kind of subject that may come up only once every few years. It was eye-opening, and a somewhat painful experience akin to a kind of grief.

I’m not sure what the reason for this is. Partly it may be a desire not to pry; partly because I’m male, on the quieter side, or not astoundingly good looking; partly because my closer friends don’t live nearby. But I think that a lot of it has to do with the dominant style of Christianity in the places where I’ve lived. When I’m down the pub for Drink-and-Draw* night, or to play board games, relationships come up in conversation all the time. With church people – usually tumbleweed: relationships are things that just happen, or don’t.

(*I should clarify that Drink-and-Draw night is a monthly art event, in which a group of us spend the evening in the pub with a drink in one hand and artists’ materials in the other. My proofreader was sent into a five-minute hysterical laughing fit at the thought of what “Drink-and-Draw” might be, given that the context of this post is dating related. I still haven’t got to the bottom of this, but their suggestion that I clear this point up has been noted.)

My suggestion to the Christian community is this: if you know single people, but have no idea about what they think about any the kinds of things listed above, why don’t you ask? By all means tread the waters carefully, as not everyone will want to talk and for some people the subject may be a raw one. But some will. By doing so you will get to know much more of the person under the hood, and who knows you may even be able to help them out!

Updates on progress to follow…