Author’s note, August 2022: I wrote the below piece just for myself in December 2020. Since then I’ve shared it as a Google Doc with one friend at a time: Whenever anyone said “online dating is scary and seems terrible,” I would tell them that I’ve actually found it kind of affirming and nice at times, and then offer to send them this little article. I truly have not touched the writing in over two years, but I’ve thought periodically about making it public. Rather than editing and updating, I’m choosing to leave it exactly as-is to preserve the thoughts of cute 25-year-old Natalie. I hope you find this encouraging — and I hope your dating experiences bring you growth, learning, and affirmation.
People have a lot of different experiences with online dating, dating apps, and the other techy ways we meet and connect with potential romantic partners these days. Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance, which I recently read after coming across it in a Little Free Library, makes online dating sound like a veritable hellscape of unwanted attention and hurt feelings. I know people who’ve had terrible experiences with people they met on apps, and that sucks.
But, most of the time, I have frikkin LOVED my past 13-ish months on dating apps. Here’s why.
Regardless of faith, when taking dating seriously, we have to confront the biggest questions about life: what are we hoping for in the future? What are we looking for in a partner? What do we believe to be true about the world?
In refining my preferences on apps like Coffee Meets Bagel or Hinge, I’ve had to decide what are deal-breakers for me. I’ve had to decide whether to go on a date with someone whose profile says “Christian” but whose bio tells a different story. I’ve thought about what I’m looking for in a partner and potential husband, and settled (for now) on “someone who takes initiative, inspires me to love Jesus more, and makes me laugh.”
When it comes time for text conversations and, later, first dates, there are two types of spiritual conversations I often have, corresponding to two types of guys. (A brief sidebar to say that tipsy spiritual conversations — after a couple of beers — are one of my favorite things in the world. I choose to drink in moderation in part because it gets me out of my head enough to really listen to people.)
The first scenario is a guy who really loves Jesus — whose profile said something like “I love Jesus” or “looking for someone who will grow in faith together with me” and who is generally clear about his belief. These conversations are encouraging and growth-causing like listening to a testimony is encouraging. In fact, we often literally swap “faith journey” stories on these dates. I am able to praise the Lord for what he has done in this boy’s life and to be amazed at the ways he works uniquely in each of us. Once I even had a date where, after two or three beers apiece on a brewery’s outdoor patio, we had a back-and-forth that I remember as roughly “geez I love how Jesus came not to condemn but to save, and how we get to participate in his healing and saving work” “YES omg he is the BEST, like what an honor to do gospel work… don’t even get me started on kingdom theology.” It’s like having a mutual friend who you both really love, but the friend is JESUS. Ideal.
The second scenario is a bit more apologetics/evangelize-y. When I end up on a date or in a long chat with a guy who marked “Christian” but is either sort of on the fence or just goes to church because he was raised that way, we often end up in spiritual conversations where he’s basically like “why does this matter to you?” This can go in wild directions, like the time we started a Zoom date making spaghetti all’arrabbiata together and ended it with an hourlong discussion about the problem of evil. It’s good to a) remind myself why I love the Lord, b) tell other people why I love him, and c) think through tricky theological and political issues, including my own stances, in conversation.
Just last week a new match messaged me the following: “Hey — prefacing this here by saying that I’m not super into Jesus. That point notwithstanding what inspires you to love Jesus more? Happy to discuss my own moral philosophy and reasoning more.” I haven’t decided yet how to reply — though I’m going to! — because this is such a big question. What, specifically, does inspire me to love Jesus more? Why is this guy “not super into Jesus?” What does that even mean? I know this isn’t likely to lead to a long-term relationship (imagine if your date knew your best friend but “wasn’t super into them.” Awkward), but clearly there are grounds for meaningful and fruitful discussion here. Don’t get me wrong — this is neither a “flirt to convert” strategy nor bait-and-switching people on dating apps to evangelize them. I think there’s a lot to mutually learn from chatting with someone you don’t necessarily see a future with (provided you don’t misrepresent your intentions).
This leads me to a brief discussion of longer-term relationships. I’ve been blessed to have two relationships in the past year that were, in many ways, both stretching and healing. I’ve learned how to be more straightforward and intentional, how to speak with grace and truth, and how to have difficult conversations kindly (I eventually broke up with both these boys, but am still good friends with one). I’ve been shown unconditional care and genuine affection, and have allowed myself to sit with my pain and doubt in the presence of another person who is willing to listen and pray and wait with me. I have recognized and started to heal from past trauma. I have been encouraged to seek out Christian counseling. I have been reminded that I am made in the image of God, and I am CUTE. And holy. And loved.
I’m so grateful for the beautiful dating experiences I’ve had in the past year, although it hasn’t all been lovely. In the tough times, I’ve had to remember the worth I have in Jesus regardless of the romantic rejection (or friendzoning) I experience, and I’ve grown closer to my best friends as they encourage and support me.
I know online dating isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve been considering jumping into the Zoom dating world in these long lonely months, I hope this encourages you to prayerfully give it a try. Our God is God of the Internet too, and he can use it for our good. We can deepen our faith, grow emotionally, share the gospel, and hey, you never know — my pastor met his wife on eHarmony ;)