Written By Krysti Wilkinson, USA
I still remember the day my best friend and I were hanging out, complaining about dating and boys and life in general, when we decided we were going to do it: download a dating app.
We did it at the same time, clicking through the questions and giggling as we sifted through an unknown world, trying to figure out what to put in our profiles and what pictures to use. How old a guy am I willing to date? How young? Do I put something about Jesus in my profile, or is clicking “Christian” enough?
The first time I tried online dating, I found it to be incredibly liberating.
I felt like I was taking control of my own dating life—putting myself out there instead of just sitting around waiting for a boy to ask me out. It also seemed to open up a whole world of singles that I didn’t know existed. As someone who hung out with a lot of couples and a lot of girls, I almost forgot there were single men in existence. It was a nice reminder.
And then it got old quickly—sifting through profiles of people I had no interest in, hoping that one of the few matches would actually message me, hoping that of those who did message me, they’d be somewhat normal, actually be a real Christian, and able to carry a conversation. I spoke to a few. Then we met up. But things went nowhere. Again and again and again.
I’ve gone on and off dating apps—deleting them, re-downloading them, re-deleting them, trying out new ones. Sometimes, I really enjoy the freedom they bring and the way they’ve re-invented dating. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is message a stranger and wonder what the world is coming to. It’s hit or miss, for me.
Based on the many, many conversations I’ve had about online dating with friends, there are many different views on it. But there’s one thing that remains the same: All single millennials stress over it. “Are dating apps okay?” “Tinder?!” “Coffee Meets Bagel?” “Whaaaaat?”
Yet, when it comes to church, online dating seems like something that no one wants to discuss in the open.
These days, when I ask a couple how they met, I can tell when their reply is going to be a dating app—they pause, smile at the floor, then at each other, then lower their voices and respond with “ . . . we met online.” Considering the number of relationships that start online these days, people still seem pretty embarrassed to admit they are part of the 35 percent. For Christians, it’s even worse—it seems like we should be ashamed for not dating only within church and not trusting God to drop our soul mates onto our porch, or for turning to something as “worldly” or “superficial” as a dating app.
But here’s my take: Dating apps are nothing to be embarrassed of.
Would I smile at a cute guy in a coffee shop or bar? Would I chat with him for a bit before considering giving him my number? Yes. So why is this seen as so different when basically, I’m doing the same thing through an app on my phone? I’m big on pushing back against the stereotypes of online dating, so I try to be as open and candid as possible about it: I’ve been on some apps, I’m not on them right now, I’ll probably be back on them at some point. I will gladly tell anyone that if the subject of dating apps comes up, because it’s no secret to hide behind! We need to stop treating dating apps like a dirty little secret. Being single and ready to mingle is nothing to be ashamed of—and neither is being on Christian Mingle.
So, as Christians, are dating apps okay? Yes. As “okay” as dating is. Working in a youth ministry, I’ve had many kids constantly ask if dating as a teenager is okay, how they would know when they’re ready to date, and how to go about Christian dating? I’ve given everyone the same reply: when you know who you are and you know what you’re looking for. That takes an incredible amount of maturity—which some people have at 16 and other people are still missing at 26.
When you know who you are, it’s pretty easy to know what matters to you, what you aren’t interested in, and what values you aren’t going to back down on. When you know what you’re looking for, you aren’t going to waste anyone’s time—yours or the other person’s—in a relationship going nowhere. When you know what you’re looking for, you can say no to things or people whom you see no future with. When you know what you’re looking for, you don’t get emotionally invested in relationships that are unhealthy. So if you’re dating in a healthy way, there is nothing wrong with dating apps in my book.
Here’s what I will say:
Know why you are using dating apps.
Are you looking for a serious relationship or a date for Friday night? Are you looking to actually connect with another human being or are you looking for someone to entertain you? If you don’t know your intention going in, just like in dating, you’re probably going to end up disillusioned and frustrated. Dating apps aren’t a cure for loneliness or a guarantee of a relationship—if you’re turning to apps to fill voids that only God or true Christian community can fill, you aren’t going to end up very happy.
Know how you are using dating apps.
Here’s the biggest problem I always see people running into: dating through the app. Dating apps aren’t ways to date people, they are ways to meet people. You cannot actually get to know a real human—and they can’t actually get to know you—through a screen. Be intentional about how you’re actually using these apps. Are you just browsing to see pictures of various single people in your area, or to date various people in your area? Are you messaging people just to message them for the night, or are you messaging them to hopefully meet up next week?
Remember there are people on the other side of the screen.
Technology is really wonderful, but sadly, the more removed we are from real interaction with others, the more removed we feel from the emotions of others. Remember there is a real living person on the other side of the phone—with real thoughts and feelings and emotions. So don’t say things in a message that you would never say in person. Don’t agree to meet up with someone and not show up. And don’t message someone incessantly, toying with their emotions, because you’re home alone and bored one night, and have no intention of talking to them the next day.
There’s nothing wrong with using the Internet to help us meet someone—it all depends on how you go about it. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. The way you meet someone has no direct effect on how successful the relationships is going to be; it’s how you go about the relationship that will make the difference.
This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.