A Dirty Little Secret of Singles on the Field

by Amy Young on July 26, 2015

I’m not a fan of dirty little secrets. Dirty little secrets are laced with shame and create hiding and distance.

I am a fan of having confidants and knowing how to hold a confidence. Oh the joy of being known and feeling safe enough to trust someone with a piece of yourself!

I first became aware of this dirty little secret talking with married friends around a pool in Thailand. We were chatting and I mentioned a stat from some research I’d conducted for a presentation at a professional conference. During my research I’d learned that 32% of the singles in our organization had either tried or were currently trying on-line dating. We were in a fairly large organization so this was no small number.

Online dating

With shock and a tinge of panic they said, “No! We are going to lose too many singles to eHarmony!” That is a fairly common response from married folks on the field. Is it any wonder many singles are ashamed to admit they might want to try online dating? The result is that many singles have no idea how many others are trying it–and once they find one or two, it’s almost like they have fallen down the rabbit hole, left to wonder, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?”

Shame from fellow servants isn’t the only pressure singles can face. On the other extreme, many folks back home want to know why a single is not on a dating site and pressure, pressure, pressure them to try and get married.

Of course, not all singles are the same and their experiences are going to vary as will their definitions of “success” when it comes to online dating. Since this topic is broad, my goal today is simply to say online dating is happening and to get the conversation started. Instead of talking in stats and hypothetics, I contacted three singles I know who started dating someone via online dating in the last year and asked if they would share their stories with us and they agreed saying, “Finally. Finally we as a community can talk about this!” So as to not get bogged down by whether you know them or not, I’ve changed their names. 

How long have you been on the field?

Ann: I’ve been on the field since 2003 (with a one year and a half year home assignment since then).

Beth: I was on the field for 2 years. I’m back in the States now.

Cici: I’d been serving with my organization for nine years when I signed up for eHarmony. I’d been overseas for about half of that time.


What factored into doing (or not trying) online dating?

Ann: I had a few friends on the field join eHarmony and they were really honest about the process, with the struggles and ups and downs of online dating including dating long distance. One of my friends on the field met her now husband on eHarmony and she really encouraged me to think about joining. I knew she didn’t suggest it lightly because she had joined eHarmony the year before with no “success.”  I felt like I had a pretty realistic and balanced view of long distance online dating and, with a lot of prayer and consideration, I decided that I would join while I was on home assignment since had time to invest in it and could theoretically meet someone in person faster while in the U.S.

Beth: The most significant thing that factored into using online dating was the fact that there were very few single men on the field. I lived in a very small expat community and all the men my age were married. I had dabbled a little in online dating during college (but it wasn’t really successful). However, after I moved to China, I decided to try my hand again after realizing that the options on the field were very limited.

Cici: Several of my friends had met their husbands through online dating, so I knew it could work. When I decided to try it, I factored in cost, safety, and timing. When I joined eH, I was planning to be on the field for another year, and I only signed up for three months because I didn’t want it to consume my time for that long. For me the timing seemed good because I wasn’t too far away from being back in the States if I met someone, but I was far enough away from being home, that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t meet anyone. I originally looked at it as “practice” for when I got back to the States because I rarely interacted with any single men where I was living.


Did you feel this was something you needed (or wanted) to hide from your team or organization? Did you feel comfortable sharing it?

Ann: Since online dating is pretty common I didn’t feel like it was something I needed to hide though it wasn’t something I necessarily advertised. I’m more of a private person that way and so it wasn’t unnatural to me that I wouldn’t share it with just anyone. My close friends knew about it though.

Beth: To be honest, I didn’t tell a lot of people on my team about meeting the two guys I dated these past two years online. I felt really ashamed and lot of people were really concerned about it (online dating is seen by the Christian community as not such a great thing — or at least that’s been my experience). Only a few people knew about the first guy I met when we first started dating. However, because of my first experience, I was a little more open telling people about Ben (my current boyfriend).

Cici: I chose not to share with my teammates, but that was based on team dynamics that were already in play. I did tell former teammates about my online dating, including teammates who were still with my organization. I chose not to tell my organization at the time; however, I have been honest and open about the timeline of when I met my now boyfriend and how we met when I’ve been asked questions about my future plans and when former (but who were current when we met) teammates found out via social media.


What was the reaction when people heard you were trying it out? Or succeeding? (All three of you have succeeded, so to speak)

Ann: Most people, what they hear that my boyfriend and I met online, say something to the effect of “lots of people meet that way now” or “so-and-so also met their boyfriend/husband online” as if to assure me and/or themselves that it’s a common and valid way of meeting people (not something I struggled with though). I expected more people to ask me what that meant for my life/calling overseas, but I’ve been surprised at how few people ask that.

Beth: I kinda answered this above, but it wasn’t always positive. I started talking to Ben in September but we never actually met in person until I visited him in February over Chinese New Year. People were really worried about me going to Australia and visiting Ben (I had friends on the ground there and I felt comfortable with the whole situation — my friends and family all knew where I was and where I was going so I felt that I was safe enough. I had met Ben’s family on Skype so I was fairly comfortable with the whole thing.) After Ben and I met in person, people were way more open to it and very excited about it.

Cici: Everyone seemed supportive, and I think this is because it’s becoming far more common for couples to meet online. For people who didn’t even know I was dating someone until a couple of months after we begin communicating, there was definitely surprise. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that people had been receiving regular updates on my life and ministry and assumed they knew everything that was going on in my life. However, aside from family and close friends, I chose to keep my relationship private in order to maintain a distance between it and my decision to move back to the States.


What have been the challenges and blessings of trying on-line dating while on the field?

Ann: I met my now boyfriend online while I was still on home assignment. Dating long distance definitely has many challenges and it has its blessings too. Since all we can do is talk while I’m on the field and he’s back in the states, we do a lot of talking! We have lots of good conversations though I miss the opportunities to just go out and do something with him and experience life together that way. But we’re able to build a really good foundation of communication (and the fact that we spent some time together during my home assignment before I went back on the field was really helpful!) Another big challenge has been figuring out how this new relationship and my life on the field fit together, and how and when to return to the U.S. so that we’re not always long distance and we can actually be together to figure out where this relationship is going.

Beth: I did date a guy my first year in China who lived in another city in China, but it didn’t pan out. The challenge was his approach to faith/Christianity — he was really liberal and eventually said I needed to show more of a commitment in physical ways I wasn’t willing to do. This is the downside to online dating. You don’t actually know how they will approach the physical aspect to your relationship until you’re in it.

However, this past year I have seen the absolute blessings associated with online dating. Ben is the man I have been looking for my entire life. Because our relationship started on Skype and emails, we were able to be open and honest with each other. Our relationship started as a friendship first before developing into something more deep. My relationship with Ben is not founded on the physical aspect (which is something that has really tripped me up in past relationships). It’s founded on our love for the Lord and on our friendship and care for one another.

Communication is one of our strongest aspects of our relationship because we have had to work so hard to do it well since we live so far apart. I feel that this is one of the best benefits to online dating. You really get to know someone and who they are. Ben is from Australia and I’m from the US, so it’s been challenging, but because we started this relationship at a distance, it’s made it easier dealing with it since we know it will eventually end (he’s moving to the US sometime next year).

Cici: The challenge for me was how time consuming it was. It can be like having a part-time job, which was a little stressful when I was trying to prepare to move back to the States. However, it was also a welcome distraction from all of the drama that was going on in my life at the time. Waiting for communication and emails because of the time difference was difficult as well, especially the more I got to know my now boyfriend. Another blessing was feeling like I had a personal life that not everyone was privy too. Much of my life is public knowledge, and I appreciated being able to get to know someone without everyone at home or on the field watching.

Ann, Beth, and Cici thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for helping to remove some of the shame singles might experience in this area.

For the rest of us, what could online dating for singles on the field mean?

  1. Let your single friend or teammate bring up the subject. Just like a married couple may or may not want to discuss infertility, some singles will want to talk about online dating a lot (maybe too much for your taste) and others not at all.
  2. Try not to use language like “we’re losing so many singles to online dating.” This elevates location and current assignment over following God and tends to shut down conversations.
  3. Write your prayers, run your prayers, bake your prayers, however you best pray, pray for singles and the pressures they face when it comes to dating, not dating, leaving the field, and staying on the field. Pray that above all else, that they may know the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in them, the hope of glory.
  4. Might I remind us of the obvious: singles aren’t just women, they are men too. I know this post is female heavy and hope to hear from men so that we can learn from your experience as well. I can be reached at messymiddle (at) gmail (dot) com.
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About Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. She helped found Velvet Ashes and writes books to help you. Amy is the author of Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China and Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service. Looming Transitions also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook. You can listen to it too.
  • It’s fun to read this article. I was super nervous to tell my coworkers that I had met someone online, because they really depended on me to keep their business running, but they were so mature in their response and once they knew more about my “friend”, they encouraged us to keep talking. In the end, they hosted my “suitor” when he came to visit us in Asia, and gave insight and perspective. I know that online dating can really be a distraction from life abroad, but at the same time, it is something God can really use to establish godly homes. I am so thankful for our experience (I wrote about it here: http://www.simplicityandpurity.blogspot.de/2015/03/online-dating-for-believers.html)

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    This: “Singles aren’t just women, they are men too.” Such a good point. And thank you for all the other advice at the bottom, too.

    • I feel for single men! The pressures they face are extreme. “Bust a move and just ask someone out!” Dating within an organization where MANY people know you is not for the faint at heart. Single men, we might not say it as often as we should, but we are so much richer for having you! So much. Thank you for putting up with us. 🙂

      • p.s. I was just talking with a dad whose son is on the field and he was talking about how lonely his son is. The son is in a rich community with lots of locals and expats, so I bet if people knew who he was, they’d be shocked, “lonely? Him?” Yes, lonely. Yes, him.

        • Elizabeth Trotter

          (That’s more of an “amen” kind of upvote than a “like” the loneliness kind of upvote)

      • Dustin

        The ratio of single men to women in cross-cultural work is an interesting phenomenon and, as you note, both genders can find this challenging, albeit for different reasons. Besides whatever effect from this ratio, there is also the reality that one’s day-to-day world in regards to possible interactions with potential life partners seems quite a bit smaller than it would be in one’s home country. I think this has the effect of amplifying some/all of the challenges that singles would normally face in their home cultures/contexts. I’ve found that I need to be a bit more careful and conscientious in aiming for clarity of communication and intent as I seek to be a good brother to my sisters, and perhaps be a bit more gracious towards others who would just ‘love’ to see a match being made and wouldn’t mind doing their part to make that happen. 🙂 Since I am not currently seeking a life partner, the ‘easy’ thing would be to just back away from any kind of real relationship with my single sisters. But… they are my sisters, I appreciate my sisters, and I believe that (in spite of the challenges there can be sometimes) there can be mutual blessing in relationships with them.

        As far as online dating, I can understand how some people’s first reaction might be red flags going up, probably just because it’s something new and different, not really a familiar part of their experience and worldview. But I do believe that God can use online dating (as one of many methods) to bring people together; however, there is wisdom in recognizing its characteristics and being aware of how it is different than other ways of meeting, and then making whatever adjustments are necessary to try to make it a good and God-honoring experience.

        On a (sort of) funny note, a number of years ago I started receiving unsolicited emails from a couple different online dating sites. At first I just thought they were spam, and I wondered why my spam filter wasn’t blocking them. Then I looked closer at one of them and it seemed to look legitimate, and even had a link where you could unsubscribe or change account settings, etc. So one day I decided to click on the link to see if I could stop this regular influx of emails. It very kindly took me to their website and asked me to sign in with my user name and password, so I could unsubscribe. The only problem was that I didn’t have a user name and password because I had never subscribed to their services! The only thing I can figure out is that someone used my email address to set up profiles on these sites… 🙂 :-/ 🙂 So, not really much I could do about it, except flag the emails as spam myself and try to train my email servers/clients to deal with them as such. This has generally worked, although probably several emails a week still get through. Well, who knows, maybe whoever signed me up will eventually give up and shut the accounts done again. You can always hope, right? 😉

        Well, that was a lot of rambling. 🙂 Thanks to you, Amy, for the original post, and a special blessing to you all you single sisters out there as you continue following the Shepherd in the paths He has for you. May you know His hand guiding you, strengthening you, and giving you grace for each day’s challenges. Keep looking up and pressing on!

  • Anonymous

    I wish I had read this a couple years ago when our single teammate brought up the subject. Its given me something to think about. My reaction was that online dating is seeking out a mate rather than allowing God to bring the right person into your life. I know its easy to say that as a married woman, but I know its hard for single missionary women to be on the field with little or no single men with which to connect and possibly date/marry. I would still enjoy reading more about this topic so I can better understand and not be quick to jump to conclusions that would lead to unfair counsel.

    • Anon, I’ve heard others voice this “concern”/wondering. What I’ve heard in rebuttal is that God uses different ways throughout time and culture to bring people together. Online dating requires faith too — faith that God is orchestrating the matches and letting a person know whether to continue with a relationship or stop it. One of my favorite things to learn is how God bring people together (even friends!).

  • jessrings

    Very interesting article- I didn’t realize that there was still a stigma around online dating. I know so many people who are doing that. I’m personally not doing it now but have in the past before I served overseas. For me it’s like, who cares if single people are meeting people that way. I don’t see a problem with it, and in fact I think it’s a very practical way to meet potential mates since there seems to be an abundance of single women on the field but not always men. Additionally, in my opinion, it’s probably best to keep most dating experiences and stories private until a more serious and exclusive relationship crops up. Most people are well-meaning, but I find if you tell people outside of a closer circle of friends all about your dating experiences, online or not, it’s not always taken with support but met instead with a bunch of inquisitive (but I’m sure well-meaning) questions & criticisms. Especially married people who’ve gotten married before the normalcy of online dating started, think this must be so fun to see all the profiles and chat with people, although in reality it’s exactly like “Cici” stated, it’s a ton of work and is often discouraging. Also, I loved the last 4 points in this article, but what does #2 mean- to “lose singles to online dating?” I didn’t know what “losing singles” meant. Anyway, thanks for including a singleness topic! Great job!

    • In the context I’ve heard it, it means that they will leave the field because they met a spouse who is not “on the field.” I’d sent Ann, Beth, and Cici an advanced copy of this and in part, Ann wrote back: “The article looks good, thanks Amy! I had to laugh (though it hit close to home! :)) at your opening paragraphs about the marrieds talking about losing singles to harmony. I don’t remember if this came up in any of my answers to your questions or not, but one of the things I struggled (and still do to a point), is feeling like I didn’t want to be “one of those” — that is, one of those people who left the field “simply” because of a boyfriend/to get married/whatever. THAT reason to leave the field for some reason never felt “good enough” on it’s own (though I wouldn’t think twice if a family had to leave the field because of “family reasons” …!). Haha, I could talk more about my thought processes there but that quote just reminded me of those feelings.” This could be another post 🙂 … reasons that we think it’s okay to leave the field and reasons we think aren’t very “holy.” (or reasons to come to the field) So much to talk about in life, isn’t there 🙂

  • JJ

    Thanks for shedding some light on the subject! I am in my 3rd year serving overseas and just joined EH a few months ago. I wondered if I was weird joining an online dating sight in the US when I leave out of the US, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one! I joined because I found what many others have said: the selection of single men on the field is quite limited. Good food for thought and a relevant topic! Thanks!

    • JJ, thanks for commenting and helping to validate that singles are at least thinking about this (even if it might be the reasons it’s not a good fit for them).

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