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Online Dating: an Inferior Path to Marriage?

Jul 23, 2014 | 6 Comments

Earlier, we talked about the stigma of online dating. In response, we looked specifically at the concern that online dating is an act of desperation and the concern that it’s a sign of not trusting God.

We’re wrapping this series by looking at a few additional concerns that, when added up, often leave people wondering if an Internet-enabled path to marriage is just too inferior to a “real world” path.

Here are some of the perceived shortcomings that are often raised:

Online dating encourages a consumer mindset: it turns the important process of finding a lifelong marriage partner into something like a shopping spree where people can browse endlessly for the perfect fit.

Online dating lacks accountability: its anonymous nature allows crazy people to look normal and even allows normal people to exaggerate their strengths and hide their weaknesses.

Online dating encourages people to cast their net too wide: by offering a large pool of people from various regions, Internet dating introduces the unnecessary awkwardness of long-distance relationships.

Online dating can be expensive: and who wants to spend a lot of money doing something that might happen for free offline?

These are fair concerns. Each has proven to be a point of frustration for many users of online dating services. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Consumer Mindset

We already live in a culture that encourages men and women to think and act like consumers when it comes to relationships. The convenience and advanced shopping technology provided by the Internet only make it more tempting to bring a consumer mindset into online dating.

As in every area of life, we are called to be stewards. It all belongs to God and we are to do everything for His glory. That’s true of technology, including the Internet. Every media advancement and application can be used in ways that accommodate our sinful nature or in ways that are redeemed to glorify God.

The Internet is a neutral medium that was initially developed for research and security purposes. By the time it was opened up more broadly for commercial purposes it was quickly harnessed by people with seedier goals. Even many of the initial matching services did more to accommodate the fallen nature of their users than to harness the technology for more noble purposes.

One of the primary ways we’ve sought to offset the temptation to be consumer minded on Marry Well is through the coaching we offer in The Guide area–especially through our “Self-Assessment for Marriage Preparation.” The purpose of this assessment is to frame your approach to marriage and relationships before you even start connecting with other singles. We strongly encourage that assessment and also encourage members to pray that God will help them look at the people behind the profiles–to see them as His people created in His image, not as consumer objects.

Lack of Accountability

One of the primary reasons people tend to exaggerate their strengths and camouflage their weaknesses online is because they can. It’s just too easy to get away with fudging the details when you’re in an anonymous setting.

That’s one of the primary reasons Josh Harris and Isaac Hydoski stress the need for singles using online dating services to involve their community. Here’s an excerpt from the paper they wrote called “A Pastoral Response to Online Dating“:

Involve your community (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 20:18, 24:6; Hebrews 3:12,13, 10:24,25)
The biggest concern we have about online dating is that it seems to go under the radar. People aren’t talking to their friends or their care groups or their pastors about the people they are meeting online. We realize that you might be wary of sharing this with others because of a perceived “stigma” that on-line dating has, but you need to be seeking wisdom from others to help you honor God more than you need to maintain a reputation. It is unwise to not invite your friends who care for you and know you well to help you evaluate the type of people you are meeting online. The reality is that no matter how often you re-read their profiles, talk to them through email or phone, you still do not really know this person.

What we would suggest is that you invite family or a trusted friend into your correspondence with the people you are meeting. We know this sounds very personal, but consider letting them read the emails, profiles, etc. to get their perspective on these individuals. We are aware of some examples of humble people who have done just this as they sought to apply biblical principles to online dating. Finally, bring the people you are meeting into your community so your family and friends and pastors can begin to get to know them face-to-face. This will bring much needed grace, protection, and wisdom to you as you evaluate this relationship.

It was this piece that motivated us to add the reference feature to Marry Well. We wanted members to enjoy the benefits of a community that affirms the support and accountability of family, friends, mentors and pastors. For more details, see ”Inviting (and being) a Reference.”

Casting Net too Wide

Anyone who has experienced the challenges of a long-distance relationship, or watched friends do it, may come to the conclusion that it’s better to just stick with local opportunities.

There is some truth to that. Long-distance relationships require more work, patience, and often expense. The stakes are higher as relationships progress with many miles in between. Those extra challenges are enough to encourage some people to better appreciate the opportunities around them. Too often we think the grass is greener elsewhere, but people outside of our existing communities are going to have their own mixed bag of good and bad–plus the logistical challenges of connecting.

That said, the Internet can do a wonderful job of shrinking the world and creating a virtual neighborhood for people who are finding it difficult to meet Godly singles in their geographic area. That’s especially true for the following categories:

  • People on the mission field
  • People who have moved for higher education and/or career opportunities but haven’t put down roots where they are
  • People who would like to meet someone in a place they are about to move next (or even a place they are considering returning to)

We recently offered some additional thoughts on long-distance relationships in ”Ask Marry Well: Long-distance Relationships.”

Expense

Referring to expense, “The Pastoral Response to Online Dating” notes, “A few of these sites are free, but most average $30 a month and some are as high as $50 per month.” Anyone who is trying to be a good steward of online dating services has to also ask if they are being a good steward of their money.

While it’s reasonable to see a modest investment in relationship services as a better use of money than a lot of other places your money might go, you don’t want to feel like you’re just throwing that money away.

That’s one reason free relationship sites can be so attractive. Of course, nothing is completely free. Services still have to find a way to cover their expenses. Most services that waive subscription fees often make money by plastering their sites with ads (which can be offensive at times) or by selling member information.

The other downside of free sites is that they often attract people who are less serious about forming strong marriages. Some estimates indicate that as many as one in ten members on free sites are taking advantage of the low barrier of entry to push spam or some other kind of scam. Beyond that, there’s the principle in which “People who pay, pay attention.” In other words, there’s a seriousness and dedication people put into something when they have a financial stake.

Here at Marry Well, we made the decision to require a modest subscription fee as a way to cover our expenses and to build a community of people who are serious about marriage. We also made the decision to re-invest a substantial amount of our profits into educational content and efforts to grow the community [in fact, as of the date of this posting, every penny of our profits has been re-invested for those purposes].

We still want to help as many people as we can to marry well and to be good stewards in the process. That’s the reason we introduced our “Member ’till marriage” category. We wanted to cap the amount that anyone has to pay to use this service. To see more about membership rates and benefits visit our Membership page.

Finally, we know there are some people who are serious about their path to marriage and would benefit from a premium membership but just don’t have the means for the rates we set. That’s why we also added a Marry Well scholarship option. For more about that option, visit our Scholarship page.

Last Thought

Our hope is that Marry Well will be a “next generation” relationship service that helps Christian singles enjoy the benefits of making online connections without having to deal with so many downsides. But we also hope you’ll see Marry Well for what it is–a supplement and support for the vital role of family, mentors and the local church.

To be candid, the Internet wouldn’t have emerged as such a strong alternative if friends, family and churches weren’t more intentional about facilitating matches. Unfortunately, people who might be in the best position to initiate connections have been conditioned to “not meddle,” to “not play God,” to not let singles groups become “meet markets,” to stress contentment over forming good marriages, etc. The more that churches, family and friends recede in the process, the more singles are left to a dysfunctional dating system and secular settings.

We want to do our part through Marry Well to offset what’s been lost in the Christian community, but we also want to help you and those around you renew a vibrant commitment to forming good marriages within the family and church settings that God has given, in His providence. Ultimately, it’s in seeking to make the most of both online and offline opportunities that you get the best mileage in your path to marriage.

This article was originally published by Marry Well on May 13, 2010.

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