I have just returned from spending a week in Germany with a group of missionaries. While with them I lead several workshops, one of which was “Being Single in Missions.” Since I’m still jet-lagging and processing conversations we had, today I will share a post from a couple of years ago about singles and online dating. We will hear from three singles. How well does your organization make space for talking to singles about dating?
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 in a conversation 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 online dating.
We were in a fairly large organization so this was no small number.
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 hypotheticals, 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 online 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 deeper. 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 the 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 of 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.