It was my younger sister’s 39th birthday, and she texted me with the news: She got engaged. That meant I was the lone spinster of four sisters, 40 years old with no potential marriage partners in sight — and no potential dates in sight, either.
I’d never had a lot of experience with dating. My first date turned out to be a disaster because I hadn’t known how to turn down the guy without hurting his feelings, and my heart sank as he presented me with flowers before the date. My disinterest must have been evident since the conversation that evening was forced and awkward.
I had very few opportunities to figure out dating after that. Then, when I was in my early 30s, the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye rocked the Christian dating culture. In the following years, many conflicting messages swirled through dating books written in response, Christian leaders, and my own circle of peers.
By the time I turned 40, however, one thing was clear: No one was asking me out. I had been thinking about online dating for a few years but wasn’t really open to it. Why should I have to pay to meet a decent guy? Couldn’t I just trust God to let someone cross my path in a more natural way? As time went on, my resistance began to fade.
And so, looking at a photo of my sister’s engagement ring on my phone, I opened my laptop and filled out an eHarmony questionnaire just to see what would happen. With the press of a button, I was suddenly online and available.
I maintained a profile on that website for about three months, switching to a different site after a little break. In total, I tried online dating for about six months, and it turned out to be a positive learning experience. Here are the key things it taught me.
- I wasn’t invisible, after all. Almost as soon as my eHarmony profile went live, I received virtual winks and smiles. Of course, that didn’t mean all the guys who sent them were dating candidates, but at least I knew there were men out there who thought I seemed interesting, at least on paper (well, on screen). Honestly, it was nice to be noticed.
- A lot of men want to get married. I was surprised at the number of Christian men who didn’t want to date just for the sake of dating. It was good to know that the older single men still left in the world weren’t all aimless and afraid of commitment. Many of them seemed quite serious, based on their profile statements.
- A lot of Christian men are up front about their past wounds and failures. I felt compassion for these guys as I read their profiles, noting the commonality of divorce and longing for a chance to start again and do it right. Many of them seemed to lay their souls bare, well aware that their past might scare a woman away.
- Online dating sites create a new peer group that can provide invaluable experience. I had a new, ongoing opportunity to interact with men who were looking for a wife. While I was online I had two relationships, one lasting several months and the other several weeks. My experience with both of these good-hearted men, as well as interactions with others, taught me important things about relationships, dating, and myself. Here are a few of them:
- The need for good communication can never be overemphasized. Surprisingly, the men I dated were prone to discussing differences of opinion, misunderstandings, and even breaking up via text or email. At times I was very frustrated that I hadn’t been given the chance to call or meet to have a mature conversation. The ability to communicate well moved to the top of my list.
- Identifying specific fears within a relationship enabled me to overcome them and move on. I didn’t know how scary it was to be in a dating relationship until I was actually in one. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time — the vulnerability, the possibility of being disappointed, the mutual attraction. The Holy Spirit helped me identify and address my fears, developing my character and deeper intimacy with Himself.
- I refined and practiced my own convictions about dating. I was, perhaps, one of the most uptight and conservative women a guy could meet, fearful of making a mistake, crossing a line, or causing hurt. As I took each nuance of these relationships to the Lord, I began to see where my ideology needed to relax and where it could never be too stringent. I also talked with some friends and counselors to be sure I was walking in wisdom. Ultimately, I received the specific direction God had for me in each relationship.
In the end, online dating did not introduce me to my future husband. A few months after my last relationship ended, a handsome man in my new small group at church asked me out. And though I have several friends who had a great experience meeting their spouses online, I was thrilled to meet mine face-to-face. Our dating relationship was wonderful, and my season of online dating very directly prepared me for it.
Yes, there are weirdos out there in cyberspace, and the advertising-consumer method of meeting someone is initially very strange. Online dating, just like any other dating, requires emotional and spiritual maturity, wisdom, and discernment. But it is a viable way to expand one’s horizon of possibility and even meet a spouse.