7 Things I Learned from Online Dating

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Earlier this year, I published a piece called Everything I Know About Dating, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Clearly, lots of people are interested in the topic of love and relationships, and I completely understand why! Dating is an often-mysterious experience full of potential for mishaps and misadventures as well as fun and finding someone you truly enjoy.

OnlineSo how do you navigate the rocky terrain of dating while enjoying the process and avoiding the pitfalls?

Each one of my relationships has taught me to examine the three spheres of dating and connection:

  1. How I connect with myself
  2. How I connect with someone else
  3. And (assuming we’re well-matched) how we stay connected to God throughout the dating process

This post is focused on the second sphere of connection, although I’ve found that all three are tied up together. As I discover more about myself, I learn how to connect with someone else in a healthier way. And as my approach to dating has matured, so has my understanding of how to always keep God as my first love.

This is not a piece about “3 Ways to Improve Your Online Dating Profile” or “5 Steps to Finding Love Online.” That kind of advice has its place, but I won’t pretend that my few months of online dating made me an expert. But here’s one thing I know: it always helps to have a guide, someone willing to traverse the unpaved road and let you know what’s ahead. I talk to people nearly every day about the challenges of dating – especially as a Christian in the city. We all need to help each other out in this process.

So that’s what I’m here to do. This is simply me sharing what I learned – and am still learning – in hopes that you’ll find courage to step in spaces that feel uncertain to you. Maybe that will mean choosing vulnerability in your current relationship, “getting back out there,” or simply resting and not dating for a while. Wherever you’re at, I hope you’ll find some joy and encouragement in the journey.

1. Don’t Be Afraid Of Online

I was pretty opposed to online dating for a while. To me, it seemed a lot like “the island of misfit toys.” Were people on online dating platforms just cast-offs who couldn’t cut it in the “real-life” dating world? Despite my initial cynicism, I learned this isn’t always the case.

After years of dating guys in the church, entering into serious relationship after serious relationship, I started to get relationship-weary. I was exhausted by the heavy expectations of marriage and happily-ever-after in what were actually ill-fitting relationships. The lie I told myself was: If you can’t make this relationship work, it’s on you. It’s because you failed. It’s because you weren’t enough.

While healing from those lies, I sought out a lower-pressure environment, and online dating afforded me that.

Ultimately, I chose to remove my online dating profile after a while – more on that below – but it did help me recognize that God could most certainly bring someone across my path anywhere. Church, the grocery store, a coffee shop, and even online. In some ways, online dating can be like a tech-powered friend that introduces you to someone he or she thinks you might like.

Well, as I found, that friend isn’t always right.

2. Be Choosy About Your Platform

Pick the space that’s right for you. There are so many options out there, depending on how much commitment you want to put into the process. For me, CoffeeMeetsBagel was like an easy softball pitch, helping me warm up to the dating world since I’d never been much of a “dater.” I called myself a “serial monogamist” – either in a committed relationship or completely single. In my mind, there wasn’t room for anything else. My perspective has definitely changed; more on that in a bit.

From talking with other friends who’ve been in the online dating space longer than I was, here’s my take on some of the most popular platforms:

  • Hinge/Tinder: These apps are known for their swipe functionality. You swipe a certain direction if you like someone and another direction if you don’t. From what I’ve heard, you’re pretty much choosing a date solely based on looks. I understand that relationships that begin through an initial physical attraction can develop beyond that. But for me, a guy’s picture wasn’t enough to want to go on a date with him. I needed more information.
  • CoffeeMeetsBagel: This dating app provides an easy entrance into online dating. Your profile is short and sweet, you can filter for your most important preferences (including location, faith, etc.), and you don’t have to go in search of anyone. They bring the match to you, just one per day. For me, this was all I could handle, and it was a good learning experience.
  • eHarmony/Match: These dating sites have fees associated with them, which may seem like a barrier but it can also help you have real skin in the game. If you want to be more proactive about your dating life, you can spend more time looking through profiles of potential matches. That wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to date, and I sensed God saying, “Just be open.” But I know other people who have met their spouses on one of these sites, and they have wonderful marriages. It all just depends on your mindset and God’s timing. Seriously, I can’t reiterate enough that God’s got this.

3. Filter, Filter, Filter

Speaking of more, here’s my best advice for filtering through people’s profiles: evaluate the tone. You can tell so much about someone by the way they present themselves online. They’re choosing pictures and words that make up the reality of how they want you to view them. That’s both an advantage and a danger. It can be helpful because it can help you evaluate them early on based on how they present themselves. But it’s also dangerous because a profile is static. It doesn’t show what they’re like in the 3D world – living, fighting, working, loving, serving.

That’s why the actual dating process is so critical. You have to spend time together interacting – and not just talking but actually working alongside each other and trying activities together – to gauge your compatibility. And you also should observe them around other people. What are they like in community? How do they handle conflict? How do they react to fear, hurt, or sadness? Do they get angry or do they process adversities well? I’ve made the mistake before of not observing someone enough before jumping into a relationship with them, and I paid the price in a broken engagement.

The goal is to get to know the deeper reality of each other as you meet and date. But someone’s profile can already tell you a lot.

Are they looking for shallow characteristics? They may lack depth. Did they not share much about themselves or include photos that represent their life? They may not know themselves well enough to know how to present themselves…or they may just be a little oblivious to how they’re coming across. On the flip side, do you seem to share common interests and values? That’s a good indication you may have a good time together.

4. Is He or She Acting or Authentic?

Here’s how to tell if someone is putting on an act: Does he always come across as smooth? Or does he sometimes fumble his way through dating?

In my opinion, the best moments in dating are when one or both of you make a mistake. When your date can listen, learn, apologize, and adapt, that’s when you know you have a date worth keeping. I don’t judge the health of relationship by how little you fight, I judge it by how well you move forward after the hiccups. When something looks too glossy on the outside, it’s probably a distraction from something ugly underneath.

5. Be Clear With Both of Your Intentions

“Are we just hanging out? Or are we hanging out to see if there’s potential for more?” I asked one of the guys I’d met online and had gone on a few dates with.

His response? “I’m going to have to think about that and get back to you.”

Yeah, I had my answer right there.

Be honest with yourself and your date about what you’re looking for and how much you can really invest in a relationship right now. Also, take things slow. I mentioned this in my previous post about dating, but I’m more convinced of it than ever.

Ladies, the quality guys are not in a rush. Don’t forget it!

And, if you’re the one who wants to push for more, ask yourself where that’s coming from. Are you feeling insecure or lonely? Or, does he legitimately seem to be pushing you off?

Address your issues with yourself and God, and address relational issues with your date. It’s always better to clear the air than let things fester too long.

6. Three Dates Is Enough to Make a Decision

If you’re wavering over whether to continue seeing someone after you’ve already been on three dates, let me give you my personal read on the situation: you’re just not that into them.

Now, I’m not saying that after three dates you should be ready to sign a marriage license and walk down the aisle. That would just be foolish. Rather, if you’re feeling uncertain about someone, and you’ve already seen them in three varied circumstances, then go with your gut. Trust your read on the situation, and cut them – and yourself – loose.

Remember, you’re closer to meeting your spouse when you’re single than when you’re dating the wrong person.

7. Limit Your Pool to Two or Three at a Time

As mentioned in my previous post, dating multiple people is not always advisable – nor does it work for everyone. In my case, casually dating a couple people at a time did help me decide more quickly whether I wanted to continue seeing each of them.

Not that you should be comparing them all the time, but seeing a couple different people at once can give you a different perspective.

But limit it to that: two or three. More than that, and there’s the very high possibility you could get overwhelmed. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t want to see anyone anymore. I was exhausted by too many new people. So, I deactivated my CoffeeMeetsBagel profile, quit dating, and decided to trust God with my love life. And you know what they say…when you stop looking, that’s when you meet someone.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened for me.

What’s in front of you? Are you saying yes and walking through the open door? Or do you need say no for now in order to rest and let God take control of the situation?

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