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:
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.
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…