‘Fat Boy’, 24, was the last in a long line of totally unsuitable matches sent to me because of our “deep compatibility”. In answer to the form question, “I typically spend my leisure time [fill in the blank]”, Fat Boy said, “I love to have sex! I am freaky a lot and i am VERY romantic. I also like trying out new positions too … I love music and money. I’m even thinking about making my own clothing line. I’m very stylish and love a girl who looks good 24/7.”
The problem is glaringly obvious: he didn’t make the ‘i’ a capital letter, and his punctuation is all over the place.
But seriously, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure out if this profile was a joke, experiment or honest portrayal of a Christian guy. But it’s profiles like this that reveal the truth: online dating isn’t all about beautiful people in soft focus planning their wedding. Just like dating IRL (in real life), it can be brutal.
The problem is that you sign on with wide-eyed hope. Sure, you’ve not had much success IRL before—those three guys you had a crush on in your early 20s are all married with kids now, and the pool is getting smaller and smaller—but this is the internet! There are boundless possibilities of matches from all over the world! Surely there’ll be someone out there for you. And maybe it’ll be a little easier because you’ll be matched with people who suit ‘the real you’. That ‘you’ all those guys in your life have obviously not been seeing up till now. Cos y’know, if they had seen the real you, they would have fallen adoringly at your feet. This is your chance: millions of members. Rack ‘em up, let’s get going.
But then the matches arrive. There’s the alarmingly large proportion of men who want to live and die for the glory of the US of A (and want you to as well). It seems that apparently every guy in the world likes to keep fit and typically spends their leisure time playing Frisbee. Everyone is most passionate about Jesus, which is great right, until it becomes such a pat answer you want to stab your own eyes out. Are you passionate about anything else? Suddenly the guy that announces his light-saber skills becomes fascinating because at least it sounds like he has a personality! And hey, he’s willing to teach his future spouse nunchuck skills—sign me up!
But most depressing of all is that actually, online dating can simply massage discontent into bitterness. That world of possible matches starts turning into a longer and longer list of people who don’t want a relationship with you. Boy is that great for the self-esteem! I find it hard enough to remember that I’m valuable in God’s eyes without the ever more consistent reminder that in the world’s eyes, I’m a risible failure because nobody loves me.
Even worse, in the sheer inanity and superficiality of it all, it’s horribly easy to become more and more judgemental. Deleting him: he mentioned weight-lifting. Deleting him: he said he doesn’t read. Deleting him: he CANNOT spell. Deleting, deleting, deleting. It doesn’t matter what criteria you’re sifting and evaluating by, the smorgasbord system makes it so easy to make a more and more specific and yet impossible list that ceases to reflect the godly desires you started out with (that he loves Jesus and honours him as Lord), and becomes about marginal partialities you wouldn’t notice immediately in person.
No wonder discontent can grow and grow. Your search becomes more and more about finding someone who fulfils your desires and preferences instead of someone you can serve, encourage, exhort and minister to. And it can become a bigger and bigger part of your life, eating up precious time with daily emails, profile checking, photo uploading and wondering and wondering instead of rejoicing in the people God has already put in your life and in the many blessings you have in Christ.
I know people have varied experiences of online dating (and dating in general). My Bible study leader’s brother is about to marry the second girl he was matched with—hooray! And it’s not as though devoting time to finding a marriage partner is sinful.
But for me, for the second time I’m deleting my account and stepping away from the whole palaver. I want to focus single-mindedly on God, knowing that he will provide all I need.
Returning to a cliché of my teenage years, it’s probably a good idea to ask, WWJD—what would Jesus do? If Jesus could date online and sort out his whole 33 and living with his mother problem, would he do it? I think his clearest answer is in Matthew 6:33:
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”