Read an Excerpt
What You Need Going In
Give Yourself the Best Chance for Success
Let’s get real about online dating right from the start. It won’t solve all of your dating problems, and it sure isn’t the easy way to find a date.
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to bring up two basic caveats. First, online dating has nothing in common with Hollywood movies or effortless Disneyland romance. Listen, I love the movie You’ve Got Mail. Who doesn’t? But face it, Meg and Tom were parroting lines from a script. In real life a really cute Meg Ryan clone doesn’t just stumble into an engaging e-mail relationship with a clever, charming Tom Hanks look-alike. It doesn’t happen because we don’t have a copy of the screenplay,
and relationships like that just don’t magically happen. But Tom and Meg sure make a cute fantasy couple.
The second reality is that online dating takes place in the real world with all of the real-world challenges and limitations. Online dating takes a lot of work and hours of effort. And not everyone will walk away with a wedding ring. If you have been hurt or disappointed in traditional dating, don’t expect the Internet to transform your social life. It won’t. In fact, cyberspace will actually add a few new wrinkles to the process.
Many disillusioned people thought online dating was a guarantee of success. They assumed that all they needed was access to millions of available singles and they would soon find “the one.” If that’s you, stop and take a deep breath.
Online dating appeals to many because it’s convenient—you can date from home and on your own schedule. The process is also attractive to many because it allows people to connect with an astounding number of singles.
But it’s not easy. Online dating is incredibly time consuming. Just getting everything set up, creating your profile, and finding the best online singles communities and matchmaking sites takes preparation, effort, and time. The skills you will learn in this book will put you ahead of the game and will help you avoid confusion, disappointment, and hurt. But since online dating is still evolving, there are no hard and fast rules for success.
Much of what you learn about the process you will learn as you go. Just make sure you don’t have to learn things the hard way.
The Advantages of Dating Online
Online communication has several clear advantages. First, people who date online are forced to talk about matters of substance earlier in the relationship. You spend less time in small talk and instead get to know the other person’s values, beliefs, and attitudes early in the relationship. So, in most cases, you won’t spend months developing a relationship only to discover later that the two of you are incompatible.
A second big advantage is captured in the slogan “falling in love from the inside out,” used by many online dating sites. When dating online, people get to know each other’s hearts without the distraction of outward appearances. Singles who don’t match the culture’s definition of beautiful people due to body type, age, disability, or income level can meet people who get to know who they really are without being biased by cultural standards. The Internet gives everyone a fair shot at being known for who they are inside.
Several other benefits serve as big selling points for online dating:
• You don’t have to rush. As you meet people online, you can keep things low-key as you get to know several people by e-mail. There is no obligation to quickly narrow the field to just one person. You can also control the pace of conversations, and you can choose when you’ll respond, particularly when corresponding by e-mail. You can take your time and answer questions thoughtfully, communicating at your own pace.
• You don’t feel as pressured. At the start of an online friendship, you can concentrate on communication without the distractions of what you’ll wear, where you should meet, and what you should do together on a date. Instead, you start at the best place for developing any relationship: emphasizing open, honest communication. Plus, because you’re writing rather than speaking, you can be more detailed and precise in online conversations.
• There is time to reflect and gain perspective. You can save your e-mail conversations and reread them later. This is helpful when you sense good chemistry and you need to slow down and make sure you’re not reading too much into the other person’s messages. Also, you can use previous e-mails to ensure the person is telling you the truth. Is he or she consistent over time in descriptions, stories, viewpoints, and personal details?
• You have access to an incredible number of singles. No longer are you limited to meeting others only in your own city or region. The Internet expands your social network to include the entire world. That may appeal to some people and horrify others. Remember, you’re still in control of how much you enlarge your territory. If you want to limit your search to people in your own ZIP code, you can.
• You are free to be yourself. If you typically grow quiet when you’re in a group or an unfamiliar social setting, online dating frees you to really express yourself. By communicating in writing, you can allow your true self to emerge. Some may argue that people who communicate by e-mail aren’t really being their true selves, but are instead presenting an idealized version of themselves. Some of that may be true, but it’s in your best interest to present the real you online. If you meet a match offline and stray too far from the persona you presented online, you can kiss that relationship good-bye. So don’t pretend to be someone else; be yourself.
The Limitations of Online Dating
Although there are clear advantages to meeting people over the Internet, it’s important to keep in mind the limitations. You’re meeting strangers by e-mail or in a chat room, and you don’t have the visual clues that come naturally with in-person conversation. Here are a few of the limitations to be aware of.
• You can’t see the other person. I know, this one’s obvious. But think about the implications. Not being able to see and hear each other when you converse can leave you vulnerable to the other person’s lying about who he or she is. The e-mail says he’s twenty-eight and athletic when he’s actually fifty-eight and obese. But that’s not all. E-mail is silent, just like letters. You miss out on nuances, since written words leave out much of the information that is communicated in spoken words. The human voice communicates meaning through pitch, volume, tone, inflection, and the pace of speaking. Even if you do voice-chat online, other nonverbal cues are absent that would normally supply information about a person’s emotions and intent. That is, unless you’re using Web cams or even video phones for a chat.
• You might be tempted to read into a message. When you rely on text-only communication, it’s easy to hear what you want to hear. You can assume meaning that’s not really there and hinder the relationship by falling into miscommunication and misunderstanding. “I was happy to receive your recent e-mail” could mean that the person was dying to hear from you, or simply that he or she is politely acknowledging receipt of your last message. It could even mean that the person sent you a form letter. So take e-mail messages at face value.
• You may fall victim to romantic fantasies. Online communication tends to encourage a fantasy element in relationships. The person receiving a message may reshape the image of the sender to fit an imagined ideal. Likewise, the person sending a message may present an idealized persona rather than a realistic picture of who he or she really is. Online communication often frees people to present themselves as wittier, more outgoing, or more creative than they really are in person. But if these qualities don’t come through when you meet a match in real life, you may be disappointed. Sure, there is little you can do if the other person goes all Disney on you, but don’t fuel the madness by getting swept away with the rush of romance.
• You’ll encounter widely contrasting backgrounds and experiences. Since the Internet expands the universe of available singles, it’s likely that you and your match will share very little common history. When our parents and grandparents were dating, they often had much in common already when they began a relationship. They may have grown up in the same city, attended the same school or college, and even known some of the same people. That’s the strength of meeting people through mutual acquaintances, family, church, or work. With online dating, however, you will share far fewer of these natural links.
• You don’t have the benefit of doing things together. With an in-person relationship, couples spend a lot of time talking, of course. But they also do a lot of talking while they’re doing something together—playing tennis or participating in a ministry project or simply going for a walk or a drive. By engaging in these kinds of activities, they also enjoy shared experiences that help build a relationship. Shared activity online is limited to Internet games, such as chess or dominoes, or building a joint Web site. As great as these moments can be and as much as you may feel intense chemistry online, they need to be verified through in-person activities. You get to know a person on a deeper level when you do things together in various settings, circumstances, and emotional states. That’s when you can observe who the other person really is.
A High-Tech Blind Date
Before getting into the practical skills that will increase your chances for success, I would like you to consider one last issue: the reactions of those around you. Many in your family or church or circle of acquaintances may have doubts about the propriety of dating on the Internet. Some people might try to convince you that what you’re doing is not condoned by the Bible. This attitude comes partly from a lack of familiarity with the technology, but there is also a certain bias against online dating—as if it’s less legitimate than meeting others in person.
Don’t even try to change other people’s minds. They’ll believe what they want to believe, and you’ll just get hurt and angry trying to change their minds. It’s more beneficial to spend your time dealing with your own feelings about online dating. If you feel ashamed about meeting people online, then you may be driven to go online secretly. This will prevent you from gaining needed outside perspective and support from fairminded friends and mentors. (Remember, we’ve already shut our ears to the busybodies and the critics.) You need objective, trustworthy offline support from start to finish. If you find an online relationship that starts to become more serious, you’ll need a sounding board who isn’t biased or emotionally invested. If you fail to rely on offline support, you’ll put yourself at risk for disappointment, hurt, and even potential danger.
The following quiz will show how comfortable you are with online dating. Circle the response that most closely describes your feelings. To get a feel for where you stand, score 2 points for every True response, 1 point for every Sort of True response, and 0 points for every False response. At the end, add up the points for your final score.
1. Online dating is worse than being set up on a blind date.
True Sort of True False
2. Online dating is for those who are socially inept and/or uncomfortable with “real” relationships.
True Sort of True False
3. You can’t create real relationships online. Online dating feeds only fantasy relationships.
True Sort of True False
4. People who use the Internet to meet other singles are desperate for a date.
True Sort of True False
5. The Internet is not a proper way for Christians to meet others when looking for a spouse.
True Sort of True False
6. Christians should limit their search for a spouse to church singles’ groups and meeting others through friends and family members.
True Sort of True False
7. If you get involved in online dating, you are inviting trouble from predators, perverts, and con artists.
True Sort of True False
Now add up your total score.
If you scored 10–14 points: Yikes! What in the world are you doing contemplating online dating? If you are this skeptical of online dating, then log off right now. Your doubts and vacillation will prevent you from finding success. And remember, Scripture instructs us to act from faith, not doubt (see James 1:6-8). If you feel doubts or shame associated with online dating, then don’t get involved. Maybe this book will help you process and rethink some of your doubts and questions, but I’m not out to change your mind. You need to examine your own attitudes and make your own decision.
If you scored 5–9 points: With this much doubt, are you sure you’re ready? Your score indicates that you still have significant questions, and maybe some shame, about online dating. In general, most people initially do. Take another look at how you responded to the statements in the quiz. In which instances did you respond with True or Sort of True? Keep reading; the following chapters might clear up any lingering doubts. Also, pray about any doubts and questions you have. And don’t begin dating on the Internet until you are confident before God that you are doing the right thing.
If you scored 0–4 points: You’re almost ready to begin! Your score indicates that although you may have some minor doubts or questions, you are basically open to online dating. If you got your score because of one or two True responses, then make sure you read the rest of this book and pray about those feelings before you begin dating online. If those doubts don’t go away and you aren’t fully convinced that those statements are false, then online dating might not be for you. But keep an open mind and read on before making a final decision.
Time to Get Started
Contrary to some common assumptions about online dating, meeting others on the Internet does not mean you are socially inept or desperate. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Christians who are successful in online dating have a high level of spiritual and emotional health. They also have a clear sense of who they are, what they believe, and what they are looking for in life. They begin the process with an objective assessment of themselves, becoming familiar with all they have to offer others, while also being aware of their weaknesses and areas of vulnerability.
Dating on the Internet also calls upon a person to be creative and articulate. Creativity helps your profile stand out from among the many uninspired and sometimes strange profiles. Skill in expressing yourself allows you to take advantage of the power of the written word to accurately present yourself and your beliefs, goals, and aspirations. These skills help you connect with like-minded Christians. Far from describing a loser, these skills are usually found in the type of person that other singles are most eager to meet!
In the chapters that follow, we will look at the knowledge, tools, and skills that increase a person’s chances of finding his or her best match online. You will learn how to navigate the culture of cyberspace so you can develop safe and solid relationships. You will benefit from the wisdom of Scripture that will guide you as you seek God’s direction and protection.
You will reach the same level of proficiency in the emotional, spiritual, and technical aspects of online relationship building rather than strengthening one area while neglecting other areas. And finally, you will find yourself growing spiritually and gaining greater self-understanding as you search for the love of your life.
Enough preliminaries. Let’s get started!