In recent years my wife and I have had many of our single friends ask us our opinion of internet dating. They are generally in their late twenties and into their thirties. When they ask us about what we think, their voices have a sense of desperation, because they believe they have reached the sunset of their marriageability. Internet dating is perceived as the final avenue where they can travel in an attempt to discover God’s perfect will for their lives in finding a spouse to marry.
I have also noticed that when I am asked about internet dating, the inquirer will pose the question with a hushed voice. Sometimes the person prefaces the question by swearing me to secrecy as to the nature of our conversation. The reason for the clandestine discussion is because the person wishes to avoid looking unspiritual for even thinking about using the internet as a means to locate a potential spouse.
With the advent of the internet increasing communication between all sorts of folks, for some reason, there are Christians who think using it to find a spouse lacks the official blessing from God. It seems from my vantage point that the main objectors are those in the “courtship only” camp.
I can only assume my readers are familiar with the debate between the dating model and the courtship model of relationships. The dating model can be defined as a nice young man taking a nice young lady out to dinner, where as the courtship model is a nice young man taking a nice young lady’s entire family out to dinner.
Courtship only proponents bathe their convictions in the terminology of covenant theology, God’s sovereignty, and Reformed headship protocols. Those convictions are suppose to grant their courtship model an extra dose of spirituality so it is extra blessed by God. Hence, it is understood that any circumvention of the courtship approach to relationships places the believer under the glaring frown of the Lord.
This is especially true of internet dating, because a person is essentially going outside the immediate influence of the local church, and perhaps, even the knowledge of the parents, to find a spouse. My single friends have an affinity for the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and all things Reformed, so this courtship only talk concerns them when they believe they are pursuing a relationship outside the bounds, as it were.
In order to dispel what I believe are crippling misconception about dating, let alone internet dating, I thought I would take a moment to offer up my thoughts about the whole internet dating thing.
Remember, as I move along, I stated I am offering “my thoughts.” I never claim any absolutism with “my thoughts.” In fact, I am open to rebuke and correction if you can defend yourself biblically.
Let’s us begin with the basic question: Is dating someone from off the Internet a bad thing?
In other words, will the Holy Spirit depart from a Christian and she incur the displeasure of heaven, just because she applies on-line with a Christian internet dating service? Or a secular, worldly service for that matter?
To be completely honest, I believe the objections to meeting someone on the internet with the possibility to become a spouse are ridiculous. The internet and e-mail are just two different ways to communicate. There is really no difference between writing back and forth with some one via computer, and Jane Austen and her pals writing back and forth with each other 200 years ago.
Fifty years ago, if a guy tells his single buddy about a nice girl he and his wife met while on vacation in Maine, and he thinks his buddy ought to write to her, would it had also been unspiritual if they had struck up a pen-pal relationship? How exactly is God dishonored if the two finally meet and then get married all from the pen pal relationship?
This is basically what we have with internet dating, except it can be a lot quicker due to cable modems. Moreover, reputable Christian dating services can even help a person narrow down to specific compatible interests that helps to save a lot of chit-chat time.
Yet, just like all things pertaining to relationships, there is still an important need for any Christian to be discerning. Just because a believer may even be using the services of E-Harmony in order to meet someone doesn’t mean a person’s brain is checked in at the door.
Here is the collective wisdom my wife and I share with folks when they ask us our opinion about internet dating:
First the Pros:
A person can avoid a lot of the awkward pressure of the so-called first impressions. For girls, that means you don’t have to have your make-up on all the time; for guys, you don’t have to be aware of your shirt being untucked. You can just concentrate on getting to know the person.
A person is forced to express his or her thoughts, and essentially the heart. Writing back and forth with another person forces an individual to articulate him or her self in print. That in turn forces the person to choose words wisely and express his or her personality in a manner that doesn’t necessarily come through in a one-on-one conversation.
Along the same lines, physical expectations take a back burner on the Internet. A guy is not immediately concerned with how a girl looks, nor is a girl immediately concerned with how a guy looks. What is right in front of them is the person’s words, thoughts and expressions of the heart. You have to actually think about the other person, something often ignored in our visual society.
Internet dating can be a helpful tool for singles in rural areas. Those Christians in small, rural towns may have a more difficult time finding someone to even think about dating, let alone date. Perhaps they are the only 25 year old person in their immediate area. The internet is a helpful means to find a person around the same age who may hold similar convictions. Moreover, there may be a young man or woman who is the lone, sober minded marriageable person at the local church in a little, po-dunk town out in Kansas somewhere. The internet provides a forum to locate like-mind individuals with whom to communicate.
Now the Cons:
The risk of being lied to is greater. A person corresponding via e-mail doesn’t have to divulge everything about his personal life. In fact, the person can make up stuff and the recipient wouldn’t be the wiser. I would certainly advise to being alert at all times. Not paranoid, but discerning. For example, be aware of obvious contradictory statements a person may make over a course of an exchange and kindly ask him to explain his inconsistent statements.
You obviously do not have personal interaction with the individual. Though there is a plus to responding to a person’s writing as I mentioned above; there is also much to be gained by seeing the person regularly that is not available via the internet alone. Knowing the individual personally is helpful in evaluating her character. Watching her minister and serve in Church; seeing how she will handle trials in the daily life, or how she treats others. Those simple things can speak volumes about a person that written words do not.
The risk of dashed expectations. There is a danger of imagining the person you are writing as being someone she is really not. A guy may get in his head a certain idea about what he hopes the girl he is writing will look like, and when he finally meets her and sees she’s not what he imagined, then he is ready to move on. The reverse can be true about a woman having expectations about a man.
The Internet experience may direct a person away from quality friends who may in fact make a lovely spouse. It is easy for people to fall into the belief that the hunting will be better in another forest. One bit of advise my wife and I give our single friends is for them to seriously consider their immediate circle of friends. My wife and I were “good” friends before we married. Neither one of us considered the other as a potential spouse because of our individual allegiance to personal preference issues neither one of us were willing to relinquish. Thankfully, God helped us both with that.
A single girl may believe she has no other option but to seek a man through the internet totally out of her immediate circle of friends, because she is under the mistaken notion there are no good guys at her church. However, she is dismissing the pursuit of a young man who has been a faithful friend to her for years, and all because he doesn’t meet some of her personal preference qualifications. He is merely perceived as the “big brother.” Guys can also fall into this mentality about there being no good girls to marry, when in fact they have many great gal friends who would make wonderful wives.
Finally, in spite of the pros and cons, always be discerning. That should go with any relationship pursuit, not just internet dating. Specifically know your theological convictions and what convictions you are willing to die for.
What are your views of baptism? Salvation? the authority of God’s Word? I could not marry a woman who doubted the sovereignty of God, or bickered with me regularly over the doctrines of election. I would have problems with a girl who had charismatic tendencies or a mystical view of God’s will.
I am sure there could be plenty of other pros and cons and bits of wisdom to internet dating. I have the comments opened with the hope some of the readers will be kind enough to maybe add some of their own thoughts. It would also be nice to share any experiences a person may have had with internet dating (good or bad). I know one dear couple who met through the internet and it is, as they say, one of those matches made in heaven.