Two years ago today I met the woman who would become my wife. The vehicle that brought us together was the internet. So we are an online dating success story.
I guess that success makes me an expert. But I also learned a great deal about myself and God through many disappointments before I met my wife. So consider these four reflections as you discern whether online dating would be appropriate for you.
1. Most of the Dating Doesn't Happen Online
I didn't meet my wife online. I met her in a restaurant on the north side of Indianapolis. And we didn't date online, either. We dated in parks and on running paths, in churches and at our parents' houses, on road trips and in coffee shops (big focus on coffee shops). We dated in person.
Sure, we spent a week or two exchanging information online. And we went through all the typical phases of an eHarmony relationship: structured communication options, emailing, Facebook friendship, texting, and talking on the phone for hours at a time. But we put faces with names at an early stage in the process. We discovered we had overlapping circles of friends on Facebook and through ministry connections. We spent focused time together one-on-one, and also in groups of friends and family.
It wasn't an internet relationship. It was a relationship. (And an uncommonly successful one, if I may say so. We were married six months and four days after we met in person.)
2. Most of the Dangerous Parts Do Happen Online
My wife was matched to me the day after she joined eHarmony, so she spent less than a month as a member of the online dating community. My story is different. I spent a year and a half experiencing crushing online dating defeats before meeting my wife. During that year and a half, I was thwarted by my own unrealistic expectations. And I fell short of others' unrealistic expectations. Many people in their late 20s try online dating to meet the perfect person they have (surprisingly) failed to meet in real life. This does not work. But the temptation to pore over online profiles for hours at a time in order to unearth the soul-mate who has eluded you all your life-that temptation is real.
I noticed (mainly in retrospect) an interesting phenomenon in my own approach to online dating. When I reviewed profiles, I found myself thinking of each and every potential match as the perfect person for me until I found evidence to the contrary. This is noteworthy because I don't think it is the way I approach other realms of life. In person I adopt a much more guarded perspective. But for some reason when I reviewed all those profiles (and I reviewed a lot of profiles), I thought each one could be the one . . . until I was disabused of my naivety over and over.
I don't know why the temptation to let myself be deceived (or at least misled) in the online context was so strong. Part of it, I'm sure, is that the internet dating medium lends itself to the presentation of the very best version of a person. But whatever the reason, through this experience, I eventually learned to put more stock in the evaluation techniques that work well in normal life. And about that time, I met my wife (who turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I always thought she was).
3. It Goes Deep Right Away
When dating is initiated through most internet sites, it differs from normal dating in at least one important respect: you start out knowing a great deal about the person you are dating. You have invariably exchanged voluminous information before meeting in person. If you think it's going well, you have probably memorized every word on the other person's profile and pondered how your own eccentricities might or might not mix with what you've read. If you're a guy, you have probably considered how the girl's first name would sound with your last name. All this happens before you ever meet in that restaurant for lunch (lunch is always a good place to start).
This kind of dating has a tendency to go very deep very quickly. This is both good and bad. It's good because it helps you weed out people whose worldviews are incompatible with your own. But it's bad because it creates a sense of intimacy that is almost never going to be actualized. I say almost because, by the grace of God, these things do occasionally work out. When they don't, however, this kind of dating leads to a special kind of disappointment. It's the disappointment that comes from letting another person into your life, into the deepest parts of yourself, and then, in some cases quite suddenly, being discarded.
Moreover, even if you are the one who decides not to proceed with such a relationship, there is a unique sense of loneliness that comes when you realize that you have deeply invested in a person, and now you will in all likelihood never speak to—nor have any contact whatsoever with—that person for the rest of your life. It's a feeling you can only know if you've been there. I don't believe it's a reason to stay away from online dating entirely. But it's worth considering.
4. It's Not an Alternative to God's Sovereignty
I told myself the reason I joined eHarmony was that, at the very least, I should do everything in my power to find a wife. On its face I don't think this was a bad reason. But peeling back the layers of my psyche, I think something different was happening. My unspoken thinking—probably not even a fully formed thought—was that God was not working, so I should do it myself. This underlying idea fits well with the structure of online dating. It is work. I received multiple matches every day. Each of them was a possibility, a mystery, a project. Each of them required time and evaluation. I am not exaggerating when I say that I sometimes spent hours reviewing profiles. This is because I would fall several days, or even weeks, behind. Then would follow a marathon session of soul-mate searching.
In this context, it's easy to say you're waiting for God to work, but in reality you believe that you are making things happen. Of course, I hope what you've read so far shows you that this kind of thinking gets you nowhere. Online dating is a beautiful expression of, and by no means a replacement for, God's sovereignty. I firmly believe I would have fallen in love with my wife no matter where we met. It could have happened anywhere, at any stage of our lives. But it didn't. Until it did. In the fullness of time, out of the overflow of his mercy, God was pleased to bring it about. I couldn't make it happen. God could, and he did. Praise God!