I Kissed (Online) Dating Goodbye
What I learned, and what I’m doing instead.
I kind of feel like online dating kind of tempts us to “shop for a human.” Shopping for humans is weird. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised then that “trying them out” is even weirder.
I’m not saying online dating is all bad or that it can’t work. But to make it work, you gotta be willing to work.
And I’m just not.
I once had coffee with a guy who told me during our first meeting, “I don’t like online dating, but at least I can expense the coffee if we talk about my business.” Another guy told me, “I think people who read Bibles in coffee shops are total fakes.”
(Of course, he said this to a Jesus-loving blogger girl who regularly reads her Bible in a coffee shop. SMH.)
A couple of times, I did meet a person of interest, and I’d spend a few anxiety-ridden months getting to know them (anxiety-ridden because after all, these people are literal strangers). The downside of this was investing months of my life watching yellow flags become full on red.
After a year of disappointing meet-ups, I had a chat with God about this whole experience. What am I even doing with all of this?
It was time for a fast—an online dating fast. In a move of faith, I deleted all my dating apps and asked God to show me what I was missing. That was nearly a year ago, and what I’ve learned has shifted my perspective entirely on why I’m dating in the first place, and what I’m really looking for.
Dating the Amazon Way
A few years ago, I used to shop on Amazon for cheap accessories. It all started with a pair of leather feather earrings I’d found at a local boutique. They were oh-so-boho chic, but came with a price tag I just couldn’t justify. I took to the internet to find an alternative, and ended up discovering a knock off pair on Amazon for a fraction of the price. I had to give them a try. When I received them, I was shockingly pleased! So pleased that the bargain hunter in me was now determined to figure out if I could have the same kind of success with Amazon clothing.
More than once I ended up with garments made from uncomfortable fabrics with unraveling seams. Definitely NOT as pictured. And even in cases where the quality was adequate, the clothing was often still ill-fitting. What looked like an effortless bohemian tunic on the model ended up looking like a shapeless pillowcase on me.
Like online shopping, online dating has two similar pitfalls—one obvious and the other not-so-much. The obvious pitfall is what we see online is not always what we get in person. And it’s not just the cat-fishers and scammers; the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University conducted a study that determined 80% of online daters have lied on their profile to make themselves appear more attractive.
And even for those who don’t lie per se, it’s still possible to stretch the truth. For example, every man I dated from the apps appeared to be a C.O.P.—a Christian On Paper. But after investing a little time, it became easier to see that marking “Christian,” or even throwing up a few ministry photos, was not always indicative of a life surrendered to Jesus.
And there’s no way to know who you’re really dealing with unless you spend a little time with them. This sifting experience is just part of the process.
But the not so obvious problem we face when dating online is making selections based on what we think is good for us, whether or not it actually is. Remember that pillowcase of a dress I mentioned? It was a decent article of clothing, but it just wasn’t fitting for me. I had to face facts: I’m short and small-framed. As much as I want a relaxed tunic to look great on me, they tend to just swallow me up. I think the same can be true when it comes to the people we are typically attracted to, and who are attracted to us. Sometimes what we think we need just doesn’t fit.
Dating the Unexpected
I’m a people watcher, so during my online dating fast I began examining the amazing couples around me. I wanted to observe the characteristics of strong, healthy relationships. When I’d ask the couples how they met, I’d often hear things like, “I never would have picked him myself,” or “She’s probably not someone I would have chosen just looking at a dating profile.” Over and over, I witnessed seeming opposites—introverts and extroverts, savers and spenders, risk-avoiders and risk-takers—building these amazing Kingdom relationships and families.
Of course, they had a fair amount in common as well. But in learning from these couples, something profound struck me: In dating, we tend to be drawn to people according to our preferences, our wishlists. This is dangerous because these preferences are often deeply rooted in our insecurities and our comfort zones.
But when God puts a match together, He tends to draw people according to His purposes. It’s the balance of strengths and weaknesses that draw us into relationship with each other, to bless and be blessed as we compassionately attend to each other. And as we learn to fit together, we get a more full (yet still incomplete) picture of who God truly is. That’s one of His purposes for our relationship—that they would reflect Him—and that we would each be refined in the process.
So, I’ve decided I want God to show me what is good for me, that His purposes would rule over my preferences. Can that happen online? Possibly, but it seems like an awful lot of “needle-in-a-haystack-ing,” at least for me.
As a mom of three, I’m not willing to miss out on this one crazy, beautiful life God’s given me to date a whole bunch of people no one is able to vouch for. I’d rather just live it well, and see what God does in the midst of it.
All that being said, we can pursue a life well-lived and seek a purposeful relationship with someone who is running a similar race, simultaneously. This is not an either/or situation here—it’s both/and.
How that can look:
Get to know God.
Getting to know God is SUPER critical to dating. Why? Without knowing Him, we can’t know ourselves very well. We bear God’s image and reflect His glory, neither of which we can really glimpse or embrace if we don’t know Him in the first place. As we discover Him, we also discover who He has made each of us to be, and we can more easily identify the unique giftings we’ve each been given. This then gives us a more clear picture of who we’ve been called to share these gifts with, and who has been called to partner with us in that (and who has not).
Say yes to experiences that will enrich your life and allow you to sink deeper into sharing your gifts with others. Make it a lifestyle. Serve at church. Go to that party you were invited to. Get involved at your child’s school. Saying yes to your life connects you with other people who are doing the same thing. That’s necessary for dating, but also for meeting safe people to walk through life with. This is just one way God places the lonely into families (Psalm 68:6), which is something all of us need regardless of dating/marital status.
Let people know.
Okay, I know it would be nice if everyone just assumed you wanted to date because you are single. But they don’t. And even if they did, you don’t want them matching you up with someone just because they’re single too, do you? Share with safe people in your life what is important to you in a potential match, and what hurts you’ve experienced so they can be sensitive to your needs when making recommendations. BTW, this is not a one-and-done conversation; you may need to invite new people into that space regularly to extend your reach.
Make a friend.
We’ve gotten so task-oriented in our lives that even meeting new people seems to need a goal attached to it. If a trustworthy friend suggests you meet a friend of theirs, it’s never a waste of time to go and fellowship with another believer for 90 minutes or so. Find out what God has been up to in their lives. Share what He’s doing in yours. Keeping interactions casual opens you up to see what God is up to, and how His purposes might be met over a cup of coffee. Stay open—He just might surprise you.