‘Had a date last night – great banter. He’s a Christian, creative. He was actually three inches shorter than he said on his profile – so he’s not 5’9 but a whopping 5’6. I could manage the vertically challenged thing, but there was no spark. And you?’ shares my friend from the UK, via WhatsApp.
‘I’ve been matched with a 24-year-old woman who is looking for a man or a woman. I had stipulated on my profile that I’m looking only for men over the age of 28. I’m not sure what I’m more perturbed by – that OKCupid set me up with a woman, or the fact that she was into video gaming. I might ask her for the number of her colourist though. She has nice pink hair’, I reply.
This has been my life for the past two months. A dedication to online dating, just for you; for this article. Having chatted to the Premier Christianity team, I agreed to experiment in trying to find love in the cyber world, with all its personality filters: lawn game champion, marathoner, political junkie, health nut, zombie survivalist, tree-hugger, vegan, die-hard carnivore, non-believer in cologne (or deodorant), and finally, but importantly for me, just how much are you a Christian – really?
Twenty years on from the launch of the first online dating site, Match.com, perceptions (and usage) of Internet dating have changed significantly. Much of the original stigma seems to be slipping away, and according to the Online Dating Association, online dating is now the most common way in which relationships in the UK get started. According to Pew Research, one in five Americans aged 25–34 have used online dating, and it’s also popular with older singles. The research also showed that 5% of Americans who are married or in a committed relationship said they had met their significant other online.
Taking the plunge
So, at 35, and still yet to find the right man to marry, would the online dating world be full of desperate souls seeking marriage so their lives could begin? Or maybe I’d turn out to be one of those fortunate ones who shares in their wedding toast, ‘My husband is the best thing I found on the Internet.’
For two months I would trial online agencies from my current home in a small town in northern California. I also roped in two girlfriends based in London, who are also single, and in their 30s. They agreed to take on the world of online dating from home in the UK.
I would sign up to both secular and exclusively Christian websites, both paid and free, adding in the latest craze of ‘hook-up’ dating apps. On every dating site or app I tried, I would clearly state that I was a Christian, and that spirituality was ‘very important’ to me.
I procrastinated starting out on my assignment for a week as I battled with the ego and the fear of looking desperate. I’d had serious relationships in the past, and the main feedback my pastors had given me was not that I wasn’t ready for marriage, nor wouldn’t make a great wife, but that I simply didn’t know what I wanted.
Questions, questions, questions
Enter online dating: engines asking you more questions than an inquisitive 6-year-old. Lesson one: online dating requires you to know what you want. Aware that eHarmony – the dating site known as most successful for marriages – has a 90-minute questionnaire, I started here.
At $59.99 for a one-month trial, I seriously hoped this was worth it. After the painstaking process of answering 120 questions, I finally began to get matched. I had selected men in the age range 28–41, and was paired with quite a few. But I was slightly disappointed with the options I was being given: too old, too young; too invested in believing in ‘the one’ rather than the best ones. Too many were divorced and didn’t sound like they were healed from the last marriage. And too many had clearly not left the house for a while.
It began to appear that choosing the ‘spirituality is important’ option was a limitation. But was I being too picky? And why wouldn’t eHarmony let me search through the men registered for myself?
Over in London, it seemed my girls were having similar problems. ‘I wish I’d burnt my cash and made a video of it on Instagram instead of waste my time on eHarmony,’ shared one friend. ‘It appears being a Christian is not working on this site. And any of the men I am interested in have probably viewed my profile, discovered that I’m over 30, and clicked off.’ Said friend is 39, and beautiful.
The three of us had never had an issue with our age, until men on these sites started to highlight it – be it in messages, in conversation, or in their lock-down filters for girls under 29. This process has made me aware that women are often more accepting of age than men are.
This was confirmed by a survey conducted by OKCupid, which suggested that on average, men aged 20–50 prefer to date a girl in her early 20s. Despite having limited the age to 41 on my own filter, the ‘Daddios’ – as old as 57 – were flooding into my inbox. By end of week two, I had 62 ‘reasonable matches’ (people who were more than a 60% match). But this only happened because I extended the distance range to the whole of the US. Trust me, I was trying hard to not be choosy.
With the men I did take a shine to, it felt like we had to take exams before we could actually obtain contact. By the fourth step in the process, I was halfway through the first month of my subscription.
Christian-only dating sites
As my London girlfriends and I started trying out exclusively Christian dating sites, such as Christian Connection, ChristianCafe and ChristianCrush, the line ‘Faces that only their mother would love’ was whispered among the three of us. We hoped no one would hear our harsh honesty.
While many Christians have found long-term love through Christian dating sites, I’ve also heard stories of the same Christian men existing on these sites for years. I’ve concluded that the picky ones rarely pick. We’ve all met them… and I’ve dated some. Some of them may well have later fled to the Internet in the hope they’d find their wife: soft in character, tall, with model looks, joker, non-smoker, prays in tongues at least 45 minutes a day, preferably a virgin, never confronts but isn’t a pushover... and so the list continues.
I appreciate the need to have standards when it comes to finding a life partner, but not when we’re unwilling to look at ourselves, or the fear so clearly attached to so many requirements.
This issue is not applicable purely to online Christian dating, of course, but these dating sites, I’m learning, are often where men with this sort of outlook end up. Online dating creates naturally (and thankfully) more options than our local town may provide, which can catalyse the desire to be fine-tuned and higher in goal-setting – and that’s where all this gets interesting.
The danger of the ideal
I generally assumed that men would be fearless when it comes to finding an online mate, but it seems that as they are encouraged to dream up the ideal woman, most of us are sidelined from being a serious option.
So, I ventured into the world of dating apps, in the hope that the men there wouldn’t take themselves so seriously; that they would make a move, and we could bypass eHarmony’s encyclopedic volume of questions. Match.com promised more potential matches for me, and my girls in London finally did get a date or two through it. These came to tepid endings, however; the sparks were missing. It was at least a relief to know that all these profiles do have actual people behind them.
The three of us discovered that Hinge, Happn and Tinder were now where everyone serious about this stuff seems to roam. These apps are more entertaining and verge on handheld game territory, so the stigma of appearing needy or desperate is gone. What does instantly appear, however, are a lot of torsos and, should you not be careful, adult content. Especially with Tinder.
I THEN STUMBLED ACROSS A DELIGHTFUL - I MEAN GORGEOUS - MAN
Happn and Hinge were living up to their names: these apps were allowing the UK girls to go on dates pretty quickly. Hinge has the added bonus of allowing you to see friends you have in common (a safer option) and Happn introduces you to people who are literally walking past you.
‘Why don’t they make a Christian version of Happn, so that when we all get to church, we turn on the app and see who is single?’ my girlfriend suggested. Reasons for being distracted from worship or the sermon aside, she did have a point. In fact, the recent emergence of Collide, an app billed as the ‘Christian Tinder’ may just have proved her point.
But over in the US, the sorts of matches coming my way through Tinder were not exactly what I’d had in mind. On ‘liking’ one man, the invitation of dressing in yoga pants and bringing a bottle of wine made me question just how much of the date would involve conversation. Despite his beautiful eyes, I declined him.
I then stumbled across a delightful (I mean gorgeous) man. Simon, 34. In his profile shot, he had a stethoscope around his neck. How novel! A man with a career! It was an instant ‘like’ towards each other and within seconds a message, ‘Hey beautiful’, appeared.
After we had exchanged a few messages, he wanted to meet (I would strongly advise meeting early on to avoid the imagination exceeding reality). I ensured that church was mentioned within 15 minutes of conversing online; my own profile already declared I was a Christian. Although Simon told me in one message that ‘God drives his bus every day’ he was swift to change the subject to more intimate matters. On asking him if he could write, and therefore help me meet some article deadlines, he responded: ‘If by “write articles”, you mean I can make out with you, then yes, I’m your man.’
And with that, I deleted him and the Tinder app from my phone, feeling unknown.
Towards the end of my online dating trial I had some revelation. Neither I nor my two friends had found love. But strangely, I found myself feeling more open to that little thing that I had lost time for due to so much online activity – real life. Appearing in human form for social events, community projects or blind dates suggested by friends made more sense – it was more productive and less isolating.
And funnily enough, over those two months, male friends became more intriguing. One had known for three years had slowly begun to grow an interest in me. I even dated him a few times, having never before considered romance could be there. Had I gained a new sense of self-awareness?
I had become more open-minded to people in my everyday. It seemed the pushing of comfort zones through online dating had lifted a veil, opening my eyes to people I hadn’t previously noticed. My Brit friends in London also seemed to exude a new sense of confidence, more faith in God, even. We may not have reached the destination of marriage through a screen, but this has poised the heart to be more hopeful, brushed off pride or fear in dating, and left us enjoying a journey of unexpected interactions.
In short, online dating may not bring the spouse you were after – but it might introduce you to yourself on a whole new level.
Stories of success from UK users of ChristianCafe.com
‘I’m now married to a wonderful woman who I met on ChristianCafe.com. We spliced the knot just a few days ago. So Internet dating does work! If you’re tempted to give up please don’t. God rewards persistence and faithfulness. Your turn will come if you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.’ John-jojouk483, ChristianCafe.com
‘When I contacted Craig and received his first email back, I fell deep inside his words. By coincidence we have both been divorced for 15 years and have a lot in common. He is based in USA and I in UK. We are dating, praying and planning a future together. I believe I have found my soul mate.’ Dina-angel6943, ChristianCafe.com
singleroots.com offers helpful reviews of dating sites and tips on how to make the most of online dating. It also details agencies that you can pay to help you create your online profile and work on the image you’re portraying.
onlinedatingassociation.org.uk will equip you to date safely online.
Highs: Large number of people registered, easy to use.
Lows: Pricey, doesn’t let you search further than quizzed matching.
Highs: Largest dating site, allows access to the full database.
Lows: Too many options; no Christian or like-minded filter.
High: Cheaper than the above sites.
Low: Did I mention I was matched with a girl?
High: Bible studies option available (but you may not consider this a high…)
Low: Too many options offered.
Highs: Less cheesy prayer forums; more creative types on here.
Lows: Has too many frills (do we need to state desirable eye colour?).
High: Cheaper than eHarmony; it has the potential to be just as good.
Low: As yet, too few users.
High: Filters for Christian denominations. It is one of the most popular sites used by Christians and therefore has good user numbers.
Low: Lacking in aesthetic.