Much of what I have heard about online dating in Christian-circles has ranged from skeptical to fearful. Why is it that evangelicals default to fear when it comes to so many aspects of culture? Fear of God is a wonderful thing, but fear of the world around us is paralyzing–perfect love casts out such fear (1 John 4:18; c.f. Chase’s recent post on this subject).
Online dating is not evil, its not even necessarily full of creepy people, weirdos, and losers who can’t find a date otherwise. The best online dating sites help people connect in meaningful ways that wouldn’t otherwise. Perfectly normal, well-balanced, and godly people can be found through online dating. I will argue that online dating probably shouldn’t be the first choice for the Christian and it has some pretty important limitations to consider, but most of those limitations are present in face-to-face dating as well.
For the record, I am happily married to a wonderful woman who I met in seminary. I was once, for a short time, a member of a “Christian” online dating site and my experience there was surprisingly encouraging–obviously online dating did not work out for me and I am glad it did not, but it does work for many Christians and we should not consider their path to marriage as sub-par simply because they utilized the world wide web.
Fear of God makes one wise, fear of the world around us paralyzes us and keeps us from being fruitful for God’s kingdom. Bottom line is that the internet, chatting, emailing, etc., can be great ways to communicate and get to know people, certainly they can be used for great evil, but the internet is not evil in and of itself. Am I saying, go right now and sign up for an online dating site and search for a soul mate? . . . Not at all, I am not even sure I believe in soul mates as our culture defines them. What I do want to say is that something being new and different does not make it evil. There are limitations to online dating that should be noted, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be entered into in a way that is honoring to God.
Online dating websites cannot be evil because they do not have souls. So can a Christian be a member of one? Sure. Does online dating carry certain dangers that face-to-face dating does not? Yes, but dating is inherently dangerous because in every instance it is entered into by sinners. And the dangers are really the same as are the precautions believers should take in either situation.
Dangers of Online Dating:
It is more difficult to truly discern a person’s character over the net. When you begin talking to someone online, you probably do not know anyone who knows them, you don’t know how involved they are in their local church etc. In my experience in online dating, there seemed to be a good number of girls who seemed to be quite serious about their walk with the Lord. On the contrary those same girls would tell me that most of the guys they met online did not seem to be very serious about their faith. From my limited perspective, that seems to be true of churches as well. Though not always true I suppose its something to be aware of. But then again, for a short time I was on a Christian dating website and we all know how godly I am (kidding)!
When talking to people over the internet, it is easy to present what is best about you and not your less admirable qualities. This is a limitation of face-to-face dating as well though. In either case, you need to make sure you know this person you are pursuing.
Online dating lends itself to the temptation to become overly committed before much face-to-face communication. Because so much communication is nonverbal and so much of our personalities can only truly be seen in person, this makes online dating tricky. I fell to this temptation. When I dated online, I really seemed to connect with someone online to such an extent that I began to make commitments to her, however when we met in person it was awkward and just did not seem natural and the relationship quickly ended. I think in-person interaction is essential in looking for a spouse. Again this is a limitation to be aware of, but it doesn’t make online dating something Christians should avoid altogether.
Finally, online dating can become “shopping” for a mate and there is a danger to “fall” for someone’s profile before you even talk to them face-to-face. This actually is a danger of face-to-face dating too. How long does it take to really get to know a person? I am not sure but it takes more than 20 questions I think. It involves seeing how they live life, its more than just hearing that you have a lot of the same interests and favorite Bible verses.
Why its worth looking into for some Christians:
Marriage is good and seeking it is biblical. It is equally biblical to be single and content (1 Cor. 7:7), but probably not if you are burning with passion (1 Cor. 7:9). Some Christians live in small towns where there are not many believers of the opposite sex in their age range or are a member of a church that has little or no singles. The latter was true for me. I signed up for online dating at a time when I was a member of church that I loved but did not have many single young ladies. Certainly I could have been more patient than I was, and I allowed the fact that so many of my friends were getting married to make me anxious. But nonetheless, I think I was in a situation where online dating wasn’t necessarily a poor choice. As I said earlier, online dating did not work out for me–but it has for some Christians and we should be careful not to label their path to marriage as second rate.
I had friends tell me that if I couldn’t meet someone at church I should attend Bible Studies at other churches for that purpose. Others told me to get involved in parachurch ministries, some even told me to find another church–one with a vibrant singles ministry. None of these things seemed like viable options, I loved my church and most of the churches that had “vibrant singles” ministries were overloaded with single seminary students who were overly eager-to-get married (plus I didn’t like these churches and I loved mine). Additionally, in my opinion that is not a biblical reason to leave a church. Dating/Courtship at my seminary was very awkward to say the least and I was burnt out on it and I simply didn’t have time for another extra curricular activity to try and meet someone in and yet I had a strong desire to get married and my closest friends were saying that that was natural.
So for those who have a strong desire to get married and whose daily lives in church, work, and neighborhood do not provide much opportunity to get to know Christian singles, online dating may be a viable option. This is an option that should be entered into carefully and thoughtfully. I would encourage anyone who decides to go this route to seek mature counsel. Ask for accountability–this is a great pitfall for all types of dating. When it comes to relationships with people of the opposite sex it is very easy to start thinking irrationally and to make impulsive decisions. Find someone who is faithfully married that loves the Lord and ask them to help you through this process, to pray with you, and to ask you difficult questions about your motives and actions.
Online dating carries most of the same dangers as face-to-face dating, its just different. I met some interesting people and in the process discovered that it wasn’t for me. My foray into online dating didn’t last long and not long after I gave up, I began pursuing my wonderful wife who I met at Seminary of all places! My experience would tell me two things. Online dating wasn’t for me. Secondly, its not something to be afraid of, there are plenty of normal people who try it and for many it ends in faithful marriages.
For those who are interested, this site looks intriguing–it seems to be a site that is aimed at connecting more serious Christian singles and encourages accountability. Marriage is a wonderful thing, it should not be entered lightly or apart from accountability, but it is also something worth pursuing. If you long to be married, the pursuit could either take patience or creativity–neither are unbiblical. Proceed without fear of culture but fear of God–proceed with accountability and prayer.