Finding True Love... Through a Dating Website
Sure, it’s embarrassing to admit that I tried online dating yet again. It’s particularly embarrassing because I’m a Christian man who is familiar with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “seek not a wife” (1 Corinthians 7:27). I’m aware that a man (or woman) of faith ought to exercise that faith by patiently waiting for God’s will to be revealed; he or she should trust that God is capable of working out the necessary circumstances to arrange for a meeting with a mate when – or if – he sees fit.
I gave in to a weakness. I get lonely sometimes and I have human feelings and desires, and I suppose I figured that it wouldn’t be too bad as long as I kept a clearly defined purpose supplemented by good intentions. And I’ll give myself credit for that much: after several previous fruitless and even semi-disastrous excursions onto a popular dating site (most recently a year or so ago), I re-upped – with the idea that I would be as honest, decent, and forthright as I could, and with an openness to following through with things if they should actually head towards a long-term relationship… or perhaps even marriage (gasp!).
I had surreptitiously browsed first. I didn’t initially intend to throw away the forty-odd bucks this time around; I was merely “window shopping;” just curious who might be out there. The previous bad experiences – which were, to a fair extent, my own fault – had taught me to be wary at the least. But my resistance crumbled when I landed on the profile page of a woman who looked promising through my rose-colored lenses.
On the dating site in question there are several spaces on display for basic personal facts, in which the subscriber can fill in his or her political views, education level, income, faith, and so on. The woman I had found proclaimed her religion to be “Christian/other.” That was important to me; I’d been fool enough before (again, despite Biblical knowledge) to entertain the idea that maybe it would be o.k. to date a non-believer for awhile. Who knows, right? She could be converted later… by me! That logic (which seems to be rather popular with Mormons) inevitably proves to be faulty; first things should come first. In this case, however, my potential date self-professed to meet that quasi-critical criterion. Her profile also disclosed some interests, hobbies, and values that seemed both fun and respectable: enjoyment of bowling, for instance. Some girls are “too cool” for that! She indicated a tendency towards coupon use. I’m quite thrifty myself; I can appreciate frugality! And there was a professed interest in falling in love, staying with a partner through thick-and-thin, and all of that sweet stuff that looks good on paper (or on a smartphone screen). She keeps it simple, truthful, and real!
Of course, we are talking about online dating here. It’s a system that almost unavoidably lends itself to a fair amount of superficiality, and this woman’s numerous photos certainly drew my attention. I saw a model-quality face, an attractive smile, and a slender build. More things seemed to be adding up. Should I do it?
The question lingered though, because perfection is hard to achieve. We all have an idealized vision of what a potential mate should be, and despite all of the aforementioned qualities, I had some hesitation. She claimed to be Christian, but didn’t care what faith was professed by her date. Hmmmm… is her spiritual life truly that high on her priority list, then? She listed a couple of the area’s trendy hangouts as favorite “hot spots.” Can I live with that? I know I don’t fit in at those places; but hey, maybe she can go without me on girls’ night! She had that makeup-model face, but could I live without the swimsuit model body? Sorry if that seems unkind, but I’m male and I wrestle with male interests. Are you telling me that women don’t like muscled arms and six-pack abs to go with a dark and handsome countenance? She was divorced and had children. What might my role be if she reciprocates an interest, and a relationship develops? Will I eventually have to deal with the ex? And why is she divorced, anyway? Jesus gave one scenario (and one only) in which divorce was permissible. Was that the reason for the split, or did she and her husband just “grow apart?” She had laid it on fairly thick with delineations of her own good nature and with that “looking for true love” talk. Are those genuine pleas, or pre-packaged platitudes?
So there were some things for me to think about. I had to consider what I really wanted, and weigh the very real possibility of rejection. Though I basically fell within the parameters that she had listed for her desired date, there were two minor exceptions: my height was short by one inch; my current (but certainly alterable) residential proximity by about 30 miles. I didn’t think these would be insurmountable obstacles for a reasonable person. If I assumed she was such a person, I only had to decide whether I would surrender some of my own idealizations in exchange for a chance at some companionship and mutual growth. Should I compromise my vision – what might in some ways be an immature vision, anyway – in order to explore at least the possibility of a few e-mails, then perhaps some phone calls, dates, and maybe even eventual love?
I made my decision. I posted my personal profile and a couple of recent photos in order to give a somewhat brief-but-honest representation of my personality, interests, values, and appearance. I paid my money. Now that I was appropriately prepared to send word, I composed an e-mail to the one and only person I’d found on the website in whom I had any prospective interest, trying not to over-think it. I tend to hyperanalyze, and that usually doesn’t fly well. I had recently read an interview with a favorite guitarist who quipped, “If you’re thinkin’, you’re stinkin’.” I believe that to be true in life as well as in music. Once you’ve put in some practice and logged your rehearsal time, you’ve got to trust the process and start the show. Try to be yourself! Or rather, don’t try. Just be.
In my message, I expressed to this woman what I liked about her profile, and I truthfully complimented her appearance. I said that I appreciated the simplicity of her description and her lack of any tawdry photos (which aren’t uncommon on dating sites). I offered assurance that I took the whole situation seriously (she did have children, after all). I didn’t ask her for an immediate date, or that she provide her e-mail address, phone number, or even her name. I only expressed a hope that she might be willing to talk a little. I put myself out there...
…and got rejected. No, wait – that would have been tough enough, certainly. But I didn’t only get rejected; I got completely ignored. I didn’t even get a reply to say, “Thank you for the kind words, but I viewed your information and I don’t think you’re my type,” or “I appreciate the offer, but I kind of have my eye on someone else.” There was no remotely similar sentiment of any kind. There wasn’t even the pre-packaged, host-party, “let ‘em down easy” rejection response that I would have received had she simply clicked on the “not interested” button that appears at the end of each received message. There was nothing.
The site also displays how recently each member has been online, so I could see that more than enough time had passed for her to have read the message. But there was a hitch: Could she have failed to receive it? Maybe she’s only browsing; an unpaid member can’t read or send e-mails! Eventually, I buckled further to the temptations of cyber love-seeking, and paid extra money for the service of e-mail receipt confirmation. I don’t want to be obsessive, but it’s not fair to accuse her of mean-spiritedness if she is unaware of the contents of my message!
But she’d gotten it, alright. Having ascertained that fact, I was fully feeling like a chump. I had gambled and lost. I lost more than forty bucks for the sake of sending an e-mail message, but that was the least of my “online dating casino” miseries; forty bucks can be restored through a few extra hours of work. I lost human dignity. It had taken me awhile to regain some of that precious commodity after my last foray into this inadvisable venture, and now I just carelessly tossed it away again! However – and a bit surprisingly – I don’t know how much regret I felt. I felt the sharp pain of rejection, certainly. I felt somewhat ashamed that I wasn’t wise enough to heed the small-but-bright-red flags on the woman’s profile page, or the warnings of God speaking through my conscience and my memory. I could’ve been wiser, but was I really completely careless? The fact is, I was (and am) a struggling human who sometimes deals with doubt, and I knew that I had submitted as much genuine respect and goodwill toward this girl as I could. I had carefully considered the situation and made my best offer of a potential relationship – whatever kind of relationship it might have turned out to be. I wondered if I should be the one who was embarrassed.
The reader may be wondering what in the world this has to do with the Christian faith, beyond the obvious presentation of a warning about the foolishness of seeking love on the web (and it is that, for starters). So I’ll connect it now: I saw in this experience a reflection of God’s offer to mankind (humankind, if you’re hung up on politically correct terminology); an offer of salvation from the disappointment and pain of a lonely, loveless, and ultimately tormented existence. I also saw how most of mankind has responded to God’s gesture. In what is surely the most quoted verse of the Bible, we’re told that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” Loved. Gave. All of the Gospel accounts (as well as the other books of the Bible) relay to us the fact that God sent a message – he sent his Word – in order to “ask us out” when we were sitting at home alone and brokenhearted every night. But he promised more than one brief date. In Jesus’ words, Heaven is sometimes described as a feast. He said there were “many mansions” there. It’s a permanent place where there will be no sorrow or pain, and that includes the sorrow and pain caused by loneliness; by the lack of love. God posted his personal profile in hopes of wooing humanity into becoming his mate.
How do most people react to God’s well-considered message, which cost him a lot more than forty American dollars to send? In most cases, the answer is: by directly rejecting him through pushing him away, or by passively ignoring him in hopes that he’ll just disappear. Many people who consider themselves to be “spiritual” might deny that they’ve done that to God (if there even is one); a lot of folks check the “Christian/other” box in life’s profile. That’s their religion. Yet in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus says that people reject him every time that they reject one of his brethren: those who believe in him, and therefore imitate him. And his ultimate response to their response will be to say, “Depart from me into everlasting darkness.” Occasional church attendance, meditation, yoga practice, or other forms of alleged spirituality won’t be satisfactory substitutes for mistreatment of Christ.
It may seem self-aggrandizing to compare my negative experience to an unbeliever’s rejection of God. Don’t worry; I can assure you that I am well aware that I’m not God, and that my expressions of love – whether romantic or friendly – are pitifully weak in comparison to his. Though my flaws cause the metaphor to break down in places, I still feel it’s a useful one. The offer that I extended was heartfelt and made with the best intentions I could muster at that particular point on my life’s journey. It was truthful and genuine. It was risky; I was somewhat fearful not only of the possibility of failure, but also of the chance of success and its attendant responsibilities. If this actually works out, I will have to give up some aspects of the life with which I’ve become comfortable; there will need to be some real changes. I freely admitted my nervousness to the woman, but I didn’t consciously cling to an option to withhold friendship and fealty, or to renege on the offer should she accept it.
The inestimable insult I received in return not only caused me pain and humiliation, it provoked in me a considerable bit of anger. In the past, I had experienced similar snubs when attempting to meet women online, and it always felt terrible – like I was gum on a shoe sole. With the passage of time, I have been able to be a bit more understanding of some of those women because I was often flirtatious, too unprepared and immature to follow through on my advances, and frequently just plain goofy. Women have God-given radar for such things; they’ve got to keep an eye out for questionable characters because there’s a lot at stake. Additionally, there are advisory articles that are available regarding online dating safety and such. I imagine that those articles get read, because women must think about guarding themselves more so than men. While I was never dangerous in any physical sense, I may have been somewhat justifiably perceived as a “danger” in the sense of being a time-waster and a dead-end road for the purposes of romantic love. I can’t fully blame someone for giving me the cold shoulder if she legitimately detected these shortcomings – especially because I would do the same if I were in that position (although I’d at least send a personal message to gently disclose my lack of interest. Even flirtatious goofballs are human, and should be treated as such).
This was different. I’m still not perfect and far from it. But I was real, and I was prepared to try my best. I came with thoughts of fidelity, affection, and a willingness to overlook another’s flaws. After all, I’d like to have my own flaws overlooked; I want to receive some mercy and understanding for both my personal struggles and my physical defects. I have considered the words contained in Matthew 25, and about how the rejection of an honest and decent person constitutes a rejection of God. Why is that true? To answer, one has to remember what, and who, God is. God is goodness. He is truth. He is love. He is single-mindedness, loyalty, honor, purity, and sacrificial generosity. Therefore, whenever a person rejects those Godly qualities as expressed by another human being – even a frail and imperfect one – that rejection constitutes a rejection of God, for they are a small extension of him. They represent and reflect him. And I find such a rejection to be terrible. I consider the treatment I received (and have sometimes doled out to others) to be absolutely reprehensible. And what made it even more so was that it was from a person who had put herself in the exact same position as I. It’s not as though I barged uninvited into her place of employment and pestered her to go to dinner, or knocked on the front door of her house and tried to carry her off. We were in a “place” where it is (or should be) understood by everyone involved that we were essentially beggars for love. We were all equally impoverished. We were a bunch of people desperate enough for companionship to advertise it on the World Wide Web. Think about that for a second: world-wide! When a person has reached the point where he or she is willing to seek friendship, romance, and (ultimately) a mate in such a completely public forum, how can there be remaining room for stubborn pride and disdain for a fellow advertiser? It’s as though a homeless person rejected another homeless person’s request for a crust of bread, and then laughed and spat on him to boot.
An interesting facet of this whole experience is that over time, one becomes familiar with the online dating “community.” Having been on this site before – several times over several years, actually – I recognized a face or two. There had been some space between my residencies in the neighborhood, yet each time I came back, I saw some of the very same women still ensconced there and still logging on at least once a day. There could be some debate, I suppose, about which is more pathetic: the person who remains on the site for many consecutive weeks, months, or years without finding love; or the person who just shows up periodically and rents space for a month or three before moving away again. Regardless, I have come to recognize that this virtual matchmaking scene is something of a romantic Hell; a place of “outer darkness.” There are women (and presumably men) who linger there, eloquently proclaiming their alleged desire for a lifetime of love, yet apparently perpetually refusing any opportunities for the very thing they claim to want. It would be easier to believe what this woman (and others) plainly thought – namely, that I was not good enough – if at least someone had turned out to be good enough. But it’s reasonable to assume that in their minds, no one is. After all, this incident took place in a metropolitan area of more than a half-million people. The woman I sought had her favorite local “hot spots” and an admitted occasional church attendance in addition to her daily online presence – yet in all of these venues, no man has come along who can meet her needs and wishes? Either the Boise area has an unusual paucity of worthy suitors, or some people out there have an unusually unrealistic estimation of what constitutes worth. And in my age range, quite a few of these women are divorcees, often with children. Are they really such fantastic catches, that they presume the right to spurn at will? I think their mentality has more to do with their subscription to a notion that it’s good to keep one’s options open, so that they’ll be sure to be available when Mr. One-Hundred-Percent-Right appears.
I believe that this is one of the fundamental reasons that lot of people reject Jesus. Strip away all the excuses regarding a supposed lack of historical evidence, or claims of religion’s current societal irrelevance, or contentions about the Church’s failure to accurately demonstrate Christian charity, and you’re quite likely to find a person who just doesn’t want to go on a spiritual marriage-bound date with Jesus because there are so many other seemingly more attractive opportunities to grasp in this life (see Luke 14:16-24). Who knows what might come along around the bend? Depending on one’s ethical tendencies, a dating site is basically a virtual nightclub, a mixer, or a reserved social event. The attendees are milling about, exploring the territory and sizing up its visitors. In my mind, if one is going to be there at all, it makes sense to actually mix a little bit – sometimes on a strictly casual level. To that end, as a subscribed member I sometimes tried to simply strike up lighthearted conversations with people. Occasionally my efforts were successful, but the majority of the time they were blown off. Those who behave in that way are the girls (or boys) at the dance who won’t talk to you because you’re not on the A-list; your clothes don’t have the right label, your hair isn’t quite stylish enough, you’re not from the right neighborhood, or you’re an inch too short. They’ve got to keep themselves available for the in-crowd; they’re not here to waste time talking to that guy! People feel they need to maintain open options because they have misconceptions about worth. When the value of people is prejudicially determined, then the most precious of people are difficult to see… and they’re likely to pass right by, completely unnoticed.
Two thousand years ago in Israel, a man came upon the scene speaking of the Kingdom of God, of repentance, of love and commitment. He publicly and repeatedly demonstrated the true nature of love by his miraculous deeds and his accompanying honest words. Yet he was rejected – and ultimately killed – by the religious and political leaders of his time while the common people passively looked on. In the case of the former group, these were men who were supposed to be the experts when it came to the nature of God, but their perception of who God was – and consequently, what love was – had become twisted. They claimed to be children of Abraham; they claimed to believe in Moses. They professed a desire to see the promised Messiah come. But when he appeared “with no beauty that (we) should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2), and when he entered Jerusalem “lowly, and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9), he didn’t fit their profile description of a desired date. They knew the right phrases to type into the relevant fields, yet they couldn’t perceive when someone came along who met and exceeded all of the sentiments expressed by those phrases. They were picky; they wanted someone that they believed to be “better.” They were blind to love.
This may sound mean-spirited, but after being ignored by the object of my interest, I felt little pity for the very real possibility that she may be unrequited for a long time – maybe permanently. She may just spend all of her remaining romantic shelf-life in a tormented state of aloneness. This brought to mind the scene from the movie Midnight Express in which the convicts at a Turkish prison are mindlessly and rather psychotically pacing in a circle, mumbling some sort of nonsense. That’s what a prolonged presence at an online dating site becomes: an unending, repetitive, and fruitless addictive ritual. It’s a circle of misery… but it’s a deserved misery. Those who dwell there are not incarcerated without reason; they’re Love Criminals. Somewhere along the way they most likely received an offer of love extended in well-meaning kindness, and they spurned it. They won’t be paroled until they grasp the truth about their error and repent of it. I don’t mean to say that they have to go track down the exact person to whom they demonstrated callousness; in most cases that would be impossible. Repentance simply means a change of heart and of future actions, with reparations made where they are possible. The proof is in the pudding, as they say: those who do find love and break free of the cycle – or alternately, peacefully acquiesce to the single life – are evidently the changed ones.
But there is a point when it’s just too late. Having experienced rejection, I spent a little more time on the site and met a few more people. Admittedly, during that time I wondered if my first choice might have a change of heart; if I might open my inbox one day to find a message expressing that change and an acceptance of my offer. It didn’t come, however, and I reached a point where I had no more interest in remaining a site member. I closed my account and deleted my profile. If she searched for me even one minute after I did that, it wouldn’t matter anymore. I can no longer be found there.
Jesus spent more than a reasonable amount of time demonstrating his love to the people of his world, yet was continually spurned by those in positions of power; he was snubbed by the “beautiful people.” John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as saying to the unbelievers, “I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: where I go, you cannot come” (John 8:21). Considering the deeds Jesus did (healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead to life, and so on), it is rather difficult to feel sorry for the self-styled big shots who shot him down. Unless they repented in time, they have now had two millennia to ceaselessly ruminate about their mistake; to seek him without being able to find him. The window of opportunity for grasping God’s offer of real love is limited.
He offers us that love and fidelity in spite of our status as divorcees from our former lover: our sin. He accepts the unpleasant presence of our “ex” – that is, our sinful flesh and its tendency to make unwelcome intrusions into the new relationship. He is willing and able to help us with the various burdens we’ve accumulated along the way (in terms of the male/female romantic analogy, I don’t mean that anyone’s children are to be perceived as a negative strain; quite the contrary. But they would unquestionably necessitate additional resources, financially, emotionally, and time-wise). God doesn’t care if we have a face worthy of a magazine cover. He simply loves us, and that love can cover our pre-accumulated expenses; it can ignore our scars, freckles, and warts. He can deal with all of our less-than-attractive traits if we’ll just say “yes” to his request for a date. Even if the acceptance is a little tentative, it’s still a start.
But he won’t grab us by the hair and carry us away over his shoulder. There is no predestined, irresistible force involved. Though some people may wish to portray God as a “crazy stalker” due to his repeated attempts to get our attention, the fact is that he will leave us alone – truly and eternally alone – if we are absolutely determined to resist his overtures. In my case, I suppose I could have continued peppering the woman with e-mails, and gone to her town to ask the locals where she might be found, and generally done everything humanly possible to make her accept me. But even if I had found her, it would never have worked; a person must love freely for the love to be true. A real relationship is one in which the pursued responds affirmatively to the pursuer without irresistible coercion.
And that brings me to the bright side of my own experience – and to the outcome when one does accept God’s offer of lasting love. After suffering the significant sting that resulted from being ignored by the “prettiest girl in the room,” I was tempted by despair, and consequently by sin. Was she right about me? Am I really so bad, so unattractive, so encumbered by my own shortcomings, weaknesses, fumbled words, and past failures, that I’m not even worth talking to? It’s hard to resist the pull of sin and despair when one feels that he is hopeless in any case. Why not just give in and go back to being my old self, if I’m beyond being lovable?
Had I genuinely resigned myself to giving up on the attempt to be a good man, I would have only proven her snub to be justified. Thankfully, the Bible states that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure, but will provide a means of escape, so that we can bear it (paraphrased; see 1 Corinthians 10:13). Additionally, Proverbs 24:16 encourages those who fail along the way by stating that “the righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” In the midst of my downheartedness, I sent out some of those aforementioned simple conversational messages to other women. I’d paid for the service, so I figured I’d try to get my money’s worth out of the deal. Maybe I could make a friend; maybe someone else would like to make a friend. A number of those messages were ignored, too – it seems that snubbing is a popular modus operandi of date-deprived people (go figure). But not all; within a day or two, I struck up a pleasant conversation with a woman who seemed to have signed up for the service with good and humble intentions. Her photo collage didn’t overtly display the same degree of cover-girl attributes. She was older, and she appeared somewhat more tomboyish in terms of her recreational interests (which is not a bad thing at all, incidentally). But there are two clichés that apply here, which I shall combine for simplicity’s sake: Beauty is only skin deep, and it’s in the eye of the beholder. The image of the woman who originally captured my attention began to lose its affected sheen once I discovered what lay beneath the deceptively fault-free surface. The images of the other woman became more worthy of observation and consideration as a result of her kindness towards me. She displayed a nice, seemingly un-posed smile; she wasn’t afraid to get dirty in the great outdoors. Perhaps my own ideas of what makes for beauty were somewhat skewed from the start, though I can’t indulge a sour-grapes attitude; most people know what the concept of feminine beauty implies, and that concept is not wrong in and of itself. God made it that way. It can simply be incorrectly prioritized and misinterpreted (Proverbs 11:22 reads, “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion”). I know I’d failed to recognize examples of more subtle female attractiveness before this particular incident occurred. Kindness can make even the plainest person into a beauty; cruelty transforms the beautiful into hags.
I wrote earlier about Heaven being likened to feasting and mansions. I won’t submit that a date with me is the earthly romantic equivalent of God’s Heaven, but I will say this: had the first girl responded positively to me, I’d have gladly come a-calling carrying flowers and opening doors. I’d have bought her dinner at a nice restaurant. I’d have brought the Porsche and let her drive it. If in fact our relationship had eventually progressed to the marriage point, I’d have shared a home with her… our own little mansion. As it turned out, she will get nothing from me. Regarding the other woman who accepted me, a fine dinner immediately became fully available at my expense (it turned out that we planned a casual lunch, but the willingness was there). Particularly after the way I was treated by Exhibit A, I was prepared to give this second woman the best of myself, whatever that might entail as the relationship progressed. I understand more fully Jesus’ expressed sentiments about those who receive him (by way of belief and its accompanying obedience) as opposed to those who reject him, spurn him, laugh at him, and ignore him. His love was completely extended, without pretense or hesitation, without doubt or duplicity. He loved fearlessly. He has every right to repay us according to our response to that extension of love, whether such a repayment means Heaven or Hell. When we follow his example (to the best of our own limited abilities) by offering love to our fellow humans, it becomes easier to see why he would share his entire kingdom with his friends while sending his enemies away empty handed to tread the crowded-but-lonely circle; to endlessly prattle about their wishes for love while being wholly incapable of ever experiencing it again.
In his book The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis wrote, “All get what they want; they do not always like it." The dating site beauty queens may indeed find their dream mate; the man who meets their minimum height and income requirements and who can complete a glamorous family portrait. It won’t be enough to fulfill them, though. For my part, I rediscovered real, satisfying, everlasting love – God’s love – by way of an online matching service. I guess I got my forty dollars worth after all.
I wish I could say that the experiences described in this article marked the absolute end of my time experimenting with online dating. The truth is, my faith wavered a bit more after writing the rough draft of this article, and some of the interactions I've written about ended up having an extra twist or two. However, I decided to keep what I wrote (largely) as-is, for a couple of reasons: 1) Things ended up essentially the same (or worse!) anyway, and 2) The lessons that I learned continue to strike me as fundamentally true in any case.