Bobby Gilles is the Director of Community Life & Operations at the New Albany campus of Sojourn Community Church. He is a songwriter and leads songwriting workshops are part of the worship ministry. He co-authored the children’s book, Our Home Is Like A Little Church. Bobby and his wife, Kristen live with their children in New Albany, Indiana.
Online dating is all the rage these days – even among Christians, who flock to sites like eHarmony, ChristianMingle and ChristianCafe.
I’m tempted to join my voice to the chorus that says this is a bad thing, due to my own prior experiences with online dating. Like the lady I met online who, on our first “real world” date, referred to herself in the third person . . . all evening long.
Or the lady who had said she was a Christian in her profile, but once we met for a lunch date she informed me that she didn’t believe in marriage because it was too much of a hassle if things didn’t work out.
Or the lady who revealed (again, only after we met in person) that she was divorced and that her ex-husband was still her best friend, with whom she confided in daily. He was “excited to meet” me.
But plenty of couples enjoy satisfying, God-honoring marriages today after first meeting online. I have friends who tell completely different stories of their online dating experience than the stories I tell. Friends who wouldn’t trade their experience with online dating for anything in the world, because they have become one flesh with someone from an online dating site.
What makes the difference?
Here are three practical points of wisdom when navigating online dating that I have learned from my own failed experiences, and from the successful experiences of others:
1. Meet in person as soon as you can.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can discern deep things about a potential mate from their Internet profile. Even people who identify as Christian can paint themselves in a flattering, deceptive light online. People lie about income, education, living situations, previous dating/marriage history and other aspects of their lives.
You may also be tempted to relax into the relative safety of online messaging, especially if you’re an introvert. You can write back and forth, using your “match” like a journal. Over time, your heart bonds to this person with whom you’ve been exchanging histories, hopes and dreams. If your match is a gifted writer, you may think, “This person gets me.” But remember that online communication makes it easy to hide anything unflattering, and present a picture of their life that may be as fictional as a novel.
You need to see how your date acts in public – how he or she treats a waitress, how he or she handles frustrating situations, how he or she relates to the world. Also, body language and eye contact can reveal things about a person when words fail.
2. Beware the indecision and regret that come from so many choices.
In Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less, he describes nearly identical studies involving candies and jams. In each case, one consumer group was given access to a few basic flavors of the product. Another test group received many more options. Each group taste-tested all the choices they desired.
In both cases, the group with more options was far less likely to buy a product. And afterward, they reported being far less satisfied with the choice they had made. These test results line up with a wealth of anecdotal evidence and contemporary consumer behavior patterns.
How can more choices make us more likely to make fewer choices?
Because in a land of limitless options, we feel like we should be able to find the perfect, indisputably best choice. This is the promise of online dating: you’ll be able to find the perfect person for you – the flawless mate.
The first fly in that ointment is that you’re not flawless. The second is that no one else is, either. Don’t demand a perfection in others that belongs to God alone. And don’t let the sea of endless dating options prevent you from seeking or accepting anyone.
3. Bring the person into your community, and let the person welcome you to theirs.
How will your match relate to your friends and family? Will you fit in with his or hers? Better to find out sooner than later. This has always been the case, but it’s particularly true when the relationship begins online – when you have no mutual friends or shared social settings.
Give yourself the benefit of receiving wisdom from brothers and sisters in Christ, including those who have seen more of the world and lived more in the Word. Bring your match into your community group. Visit his or her church. Go on a double (or triple) date. Meet up at the coffee shop or a music show with a group of friends. Bring him or her to your family’s board game night.
Ultimately, God’s plan is to work everything for your good – to make you more like Jesus and move you ever more deeply into union with him. Whether your dating life begins online, at church, or in the cereal aisle of your local grocery, our prayer should be not to find the perfect match, but to be made more like Jesus through the process.