Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The [unexpected] Perks and [misinterpreted] Perils of Online Dating

Online dating and I have had a rocky relationship. I have been fickle and unfaithful from the start, flirting with the prospect, but never committing.

If I were more gutsy, I'd change my relationship status on Facebook to: "It's Complicated with eHarmony."

I've never been able to make up my mind about the whole thing. Avril Lavigne would surely question my need to make everything so freakin' complex (more 90's references, forgive me. I'm just in that kind of mood), but over the years, I've played my own devil's advocate to think through all the possible perils and perks that could stem from the internet road to intimacy. Until very recently, the perils always won out...

Two weeks ago, I was shocked by my own insight. The words just tumbled out of my mouth to my counselor: "I feel ashamed to be looking at dating sites." 

Never had I been so honest about my thoughts on the subject before. Mostly because I tried to keep the whole thing hush-hush to begin with. My secrecy stemmed from the shame factor. Feeling embarrassed and guilty, I've had on-again, off-again seasons throughout my twenties where I looked at profiles, sent flirty "smiles" and even started seeing someone I met online. Even those things were a HUGE step for me. When I first signed up for eHarmony five years ago, I actually felt so ashamed that, although I paid for a four-month subscription, I only used it for three days.  

Armed with the revelation that shame was the real emotion I was feeling (more than embarrassment at the stigma, but the sense that I had somehow done something wrong), I began to poke and prod at the idea: praying, journaling, reading and seeking counsel about the whole thing. My big question was why do I feel this way about online dating? And should I be feeling this way? Here's what I came up with...

Why I've always felt ashamed/embarrassed/guilty for online dating: I grew up in the I Kissed Dating Goodbye generation where I thrived on love stories that revolved around young adults meeting their spouses "the old fashioned way" (more on that later) at church circa the age of 23. My expectation for how my future husband and I would get together was that he would (as the story goes): "See me from across the room, hear a voice from heaven that I was "the One," intensely pursue me, sweep me off my feet in a wonderfully romantic courtship, propose and put a ring on my finger all within six months of meeting me." And why not? I actually know people who have these stories (not just the Joshua Harris re-tellings I've clung to as though they were Scripture since I was 15)! I will patiently wait for the fairy tale to unfold, I told myself. This is clearly God's way of doing things...

Feel free to chuckle at my lofty expectations, but pause to think how closely they might resemble your own, single gal. Food for thought :)

Truth is, I've always equated online dating with bitterness and "settling" (like people who tell God "If you don't give me what I want, I'm just gonna go get it myself!").  If I dared to venture onto eHarmony or ChristianMingle, I immediately likened it to a Sarah (and Abraham) move; taking matters into her own hands to make her heart's desire (and God's promise) come true. Thus the immediate pangs of guilt: Ugh! Look at me. Failing to trust God...

But wait! Is that true? Is online dating "failing to trust"? Am I no longer "patiently waiting" for God to come through if I subscribe to a website that introduces me to single men who love Jesus (and want to be missionaries!)? 

A single friend recently had an older, Christian lady admonish her: "Don't you dare go looking for a husband!" I think this attitude, while perhaps well-meaning, is harmful to single women. And very misunderstood. Suddenly keeping our eyes open and actively waiting has become sinful. It's as if going online to meet a potential husband is somehow as evil as going online to look at porn. 

In shaming people away from online dating (or even venturing to local singles groups), we've done ourselves and others in the Christian community a disservice. We truly have put God in a box by saying that His way is that people meet their spouses for the first time in person and ONLY when they are "not looking" to meet someone. We must be 100% content and we must not be looking at all until that person arrives at our doorstep/church/work/social gathering. (I hope you read the sarcasm in that last line). This is what my friend calls "Meeting someone the 'old fashioned' way."

Pause. How 'old fashioned' are we talking here? Do you remember how people in Biblical times got together? Allow me to remind you...

Rebecca was found, NOT by her husband, Isaac, but by a man Isaac's father hired to find Isaac a wife! 

Ruth followed her mother-in-law's advice and used her "feminine wiles" to entice Boaz (he had already noticed her, but this "taking matters into her own hands" as some might interpret a modern parallel, was what caused him to step up and commit. And Scripture didn't seem to frown upon it!). 

Mary was betrothed to Joseph most likely through a traditional match made by their parents years prior to her being "of marrying age" (as in the case in many cultures throughout the world), not necessarily because they saw each other, "fell in love" and decided to get married. 

It seems that the "old fashioned" way of doing things (meet in person, fall in love, make the decision between the two of you to get married) isn't necessarily as "old" as we think it is. Perhaps the more traditional way is actually match-making. Maybe eHarmony is on to something after all...(Note: For those unfamiliar, eHarmony actually matches you with potentials, as opposed to simply searching through profiles like most other sites. They pick em for you. I like that. There's something "old fashioned" about it) ;)

Which leads me to my other original question: What should I feel about online dating?

First of all, online dating is NOT sin. It should NOT be a cause for guilt or shame. Nor do I think it's choosing merely the "good" instead of "the best" (as some people would over-spiritualize). Such thoughts assume that God's will is that everyone would meet and fall in love through an "old-fashioned" method that's really only existed in Western culture for the last 100 years. How limiting of our creative God to say that other ways of meeting people absolutely would not be part of His plan for us. 

And really, how arrogant of me to think that it's all up to me anyways? As though online dating automatically secures me a relationship ("Ha! Look what I got! I did it MY way!") and as though God has nothing to do with it. God is still sovereign and orchestrating the circumstances of my life! If it is His will that I meet someone on eHarmony, you'd better believe that He will be overseeing that process and making sure it happens! 

But I don't want to be the stubborn one to tell God how exactly I will meet my spouse and what the whole process has to look like. Do we ever stop and think that maybe we haven't met "Mr. Husband" (as one lady I met would call her FH before she was married) yet because we're not open to God introducing anything or anyone outside of our expectations?

So, as a godly Christian gal, I keep my options open. I smile and talk to single guys, at the store or at church (despite whether or not they appear to be "my type"). I shun the "creeper-fest" and "meat market" labels of singles groups and give 'em a try with my fellow single girl allies. I'll see who eHarmony matches me with (many a mission-minded man, amazingly enough!). But most importantly, I will trust God to guide the process. I'll humble myself to let Him work in His way.

 And maybe, just maybe, that's outside my "old-fashioned" box...

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