So you're thinking about online dating...?

 

Every year, thousands of people get married to someone they first encounter online. Whereas online dating may once have been seen as the domain of the desperate, it’s now completely normal and mainstream – including among Christians. In fact, many believers speak of how blessed and joyful the experience of online dating has been. If you’re interested in trying it, Jackie Elton, founder of dating website Christian Connection, offers guidance on how to avoid the pitfalls and make it a positive experience.

App or website?

Dating apps and websites both describe people who are interested in meeting others, but they’re designed to work differently. Apps, with their quick swipes to accept or reject people, are designed to be casual and impulsive. Younger people often use them to find friends or dates, mostly without any intention of exploring a long-term relationship. One new Christian app http://www.crosspathsapp.com/ aimed at Millennials makes a point of this by allowing you to select friendship, community or dating, and also faith level in a non-judgemental way.  (If this is of interest, you can read a review by Lora of Honoured.

The majority of those looking for potential life partners choose an online site (even if they use it on a smartphone). That’s because you get more information about people from their profiles and a foundation upon which to build communication. Online services are also considered safer – you have the time and space to think about who you’re meeting. 

Choosing the right site

If you want to meet someone who shares your faith, you’d probably look for a site that says it has Christians on it. A Google search will list many sites that claim they do. They might even quote the Bible or have illustrations of crosses. However, an online site that is labelled ‘Christian’ might not be – in fact, many so-called Christian websites are simply an interface to a general dating service.

Thousands of sites out there rely on representing a generic group of profiles – these are called ‘white label’ services. They select a word and the software collects together all the profiles that include that term and creates a ‘new’ online site presented under that word. That’s how most specialist dating websites are created, including music lover, vegetarian, gay, single parent, casual dating, adultery and Christian sites. The result is that someone may join the website via, for example, a lads’ mag site. He may select his religion as Christian because he knows he’s not Hindu or Muslim, but he has no interest or commitment to Christianity and perhaps wants to meet for a casual fling. However, someone who has joined via a Christian label will assume the person she meets is as committed to his faith as she is – sadly not true at all.

Someone who has had this experience may then form the view that all Christian dating websites are a con. However, there are good Christian online dating services. So before joining a site, it’s important to find out which sites are genuinely set up by – and for – Christians.

By Christians, for Christians

There are two main websites that are genuinely Christian. These are:

There are a few other genuine Christian sites, but they’re very small and may have few members in the UK.

Other well-known sites may also have Christians members:

  • Christian Mingle was originally set up by Mormons, but now belongs to a company that also runs a Jewish dating site. 
  • eHarmony is not specifically Christian, but it was founded by a Christian and many Christians use it.
  • Match.com is the world’s biggest online dating site. Although not Christian, it’s possible to filter for Christians, and many do – but be aware of the different meanings of ‘Christian’ that people use.

When choosing a website, try to get personal recommendations. Find out who runs the website by looking at the Terms and Conditions, research its reputation and read reviews.

Online Dating Association – a mark of reassurance

A few years ago, Christian Connection joined up with a number of other leading UK services to set standards for dating websites. Together, they created the Online Dating Association (ODA). Membership of the ODA addresses some real concerns that put people off online dating. If a website says on its homepage that it’s a member of the ODA, then it has chosen to bind itself to their standards and is accountable to the Association. Commitments include:

  • Ensuring only real profiles appear on the site – not profiles uploaded by people who want to misuse the site, or by the site owners themselves, to draw in paying members.
  • Vetting for fraudsters and other problem people, with any misuse leading to offenders being removed from the site.
  • Providing processes for the easy ending of subscriptions.

Are free sites really free?

Some people choose to join ‘free’ dating websites that don’t charge any subscription. There are some benefits to free sites – for example, there are often more members. However, there are also some serious drawbacks. Site owners don’t have the resources to provide good customer services, or to devote time to checking the identity of those who sign up (often done through ID or credit card details). Very few free sites are members of the ODA. They, therefore attract more people who don’t behave responsibly or may even have criminal intent.

Moreover, free sites aren’t charities. They may not charge a subscription, but they’re still looking to make a profit. Once a profile is established, adverts can be targeted carefully to those profiles, or your data and email address may be sold. That isn’t legal in the UK, but websites may be based in countries outside Europe that don’t have the same rules. Even the USA has more relaxed laws than Europe about how data is handled. Some companies choose to base themselves offshore so they don’t have to observe these rules.

So, as in most areas of life, you get what you pay for.  (See also 'Dating websites: to pay or not to pay?')

Getting started

So, you’re ready to join a dating website. Here’s how to get the most from your membership…

Create a great but real profile

A good profile makes all the difference to attracting good contacts. It’s worth putting in the time to present yourself and your interests well. Look at other profiles and pick up hints for good presentation. Run your profile past friends and tweak or shorten as necessary. Profiles that are too long or too short, or a bit whiny, don’t do well. Remember, your profile has one objective – to initiate conversation with someone.

Have an up-to-date picture

Pictures matter – people may say they shouldn’t, but of course, they do. However, it’s not about looking like a movie star! People can tell a lot from a photo, so the key is that your picture reflects who you are and matches what you say in your profile.

Send messages

Send messages. Send messages. Yes, that’s a deliberate repetition! I’ll say it again – send messages. Don’t wait – and that includes women. Online dating is a numbers game – you need to send lots of messages to get a few replies. However, the messages you send should not be generic, but specific to the person you’re contacting. Mention something you’ve seen in their profile – it should open a conversation to see if they wish to respond.

Reply rates on dating sites are generally low. On average, women reply to one in six messages, and men reply to one in four. On Christian Connection, the rate is about one in three. If you don’t get a response, don’t take it as a personal rejection (it can’t be as they don’t know you!), but a normal part of the process.

Meet face to face

Once a correspondence starts, you should be prepared to make the jump to a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible. Long, extended emails back and forth do not create many relationships.

For more advice on successful online dating, see David Pullinger’s short graphic novel Online Dating: Top Tips for Success.

Be intentional, proactive and patient

People who find love online are generally the most intentional and determined – just like people who succeed in finding new jobs. They work hard on creating good profiles, uploading great photos and keeping up conversations with people they meet online. They make sure they message lots of people, reply to approaches and meet in real life. It takes courage, proactivity and patience.

It’s easy to get a little depressed when people don’t message or reply to you. However, if you feel discouraged or are not enjoying the process, consider thoughtfully and prayerfully whether you should change your approach, be patient – or throw in the towel. Many times, people have told me they were on the verge of giving up and then sent one last message – and hey presto, that was the one!

Staying safe

One of the most common questions about online dating is whether it’s ‘safe’. What people usually mean is the risk of serious physical danger – sometimes given as a reason not to try. In general, online dating is very safe. However, dangers can emerge when emotions are strong and hopes are high, and people do things they wouldn’t consider doing in other circumstances. All online daters should read up on safety precautions. There's more information on the Christian Connection safety pages.

Always meet a new person in a public place, where it’s easy to leave and not be followed home. Never bring someone to your home, or go to theirs, until you’re confident you know enough about them. That includes not getting in their car. Always make sure friends know where you are. 

Avoid putting yourself under obligation to other website members, and don’t reveal personal details – including where you live, work or worship – until you really feel you can trust them. If somebody harasses you with texts, block them from your phone. And if anything goes wrong, report it to the website (as well as the police, if appropriate) so the offender can be given a warning or excluded from the site. 

Scammers and fraudsters

Online scams try to get you to part with your money. They are common in all corners of the internet, and dating websites are no exception. The process is usually simple: they move you rapidly onto a chat platform and keep ensuring you are alone when you talk. When you are hooked into lots of sharing, they give a reason for needing money – an important operation on their child; because they’re stranded in Africa without any money; or to come and visit you. 

These scams are run by sophisticated criminal gangs all over the world, and they use the illusion of a loving commitment to carry out their frauds, which can devastate people, both financially and emotionally. The golden rules for avoiding fraudsters are:

  • Never give money to anyone you meet online.
  • Immediately report them to the website.
  • If you have any concerns, ask the site to investigate them.

Happy endings

The upside of online dating is, of course, that you can meet a partner and create a happy marriage. Despite the potential problems, that possibility is what drives people to persevere. On Christian Connection, we hear many wonderful stories of people who’ve found life-transforming love and marriage. So don’t put off starting your own dating adventure!

Jackie Elton, 4 October 2017