Some years ago, I contributed posts to my colleague Jimmy Akin's blog. One of the more controversial posts I wrote was Single RadTrad Catholic Seeks Same, in which I talked about an online dating site for single Catholic Traditionalists. (Nota bene: Following global upgrades to Jimmy's site over the years, the original byline indicating my authorship of the post was inadvertently altered, but the post was indeed written by me and not by Jimmy.) Quite a few Catholic Traditionalists, whom I will admit I might have treated more kindly by not using the faddish moniker "RadTrad" that was popular at the time, were outraged that I criticized a dating site that catered specifically to their desire to find a likeminded spouse.
Well, as they say, opinions may change or develop but the Internet is forever. That post stands as a testament to my thinking at that time about online Internet match sites, especially those specializing in matching people with extremely selective requirements (e.g., not just Catholic, but a tiny minority within the Catholic demographic); but it didn't really capture my thoughts on finding and romancing your potential spouse online, which have since darkened considerably in the time after that rather pessimistic post was written.
To be perfectly frank, I despise the idea.
Yes, I know of several couples who met through online dating services, got married, and are very happy. One couple conducted nearly the entire courtship online, flying cross-country to meet in person only after things got to the point of discussing marriage. Another couple took the more prudent route of using the online dating service as a means of locating interested singles in their own area and then conducting the rest of the relationship in person. Both couples are doing well years later. I have also heard of other online matches that have led to successful marriages.
And you know what? While that's all well and good for them, their success leads others to think online services are the way to go, and those people can end up with broken hearts (if they are fortunate) and broken lives (if they are not). It's like spending your paycheck on lottery tickets because you know of a few people who hit the jackpot.
What are some of the problems with online dating?
It's dangerous. A recent news story reported that a woman who ended a relationship with a man she had met on Match.com was stabbed and stomped by that man. She is now suing the online dating service in an effort to compel Match.com "to more prominently include a disclaimer of the dangers associated with using the website," but the popular site is "calling 50-year-old Mary Kay Beckman's case 'absurd.'"
Of course, the dangers of meeting people through cyberspace are not limited to physical abuse, nor are they limited to online dating services. I know someone who was approached through email by a person who had read her work online and professed romantic interest. My friend quickly concluded that something seemed hinky about the situation and ended the correspondence. Later she learned through reliable sources that this person very possibly had fabricated important portions of the background he had offered about himself.
It's unrealistic. When you meet someone in real life, you meet the whole person, and it is a lot more difficult for that person to pass himself off as someone he's not. You see how he carries himself, you hear whether or not he is a good conversationalist or hogs a discussion, you can read body language that will tell you whether or not this person has abhorrent habits that will make your life together hell. If you're not sure, you can introduce him right away to friends and relatives who will be more than happy to tell you what clues you are overlooking. You can also more readily scope out the people with whom he keeps company. When you conduct huge chunks of your "getting to know each other" online, you risk that your heart will be heavily invested by the time you meet in person, which will make it more difficult to objectively evaluate "dealbreaker" flaws you might have had no problem assessing if your initial meetings had been in person.
It's isolating. Even in the best of circumstances, handpicking a specimen of Catholic orthodoxy from a dating site has its own problems, some of which I mentioned in the post I wrote for Jimmy's blog all those years ago. Just as you would not want to marry your biological twin, so it may not be a great idea to marry someone who confirms you in all your ideological and theological prejudices. No, it's also not a great idea to marry someone with whom you'll have deep-seated and irreconcilable differences, but some reconcilable differences in a relationship might be healthy. If you want someone who will help you grow, which can be an arduous, fractious process, look for a spouse with whom there is just enough friction to kindle fire. If you want someone with whom you can rest on your laurels, you might instead consider finding an old-fashioned platonic pen pal or starting a diary.
It's distasteful. I often wonder why more people don't find it revolting to market their romantic availability to strangers on the Internet, where their biographical sketches are being assessed and picked through by consumers as if they were of no more importance or value than handmade crafts on Etsy. Perhaps it is a byproduct of our tell-all culture, but not many people seem to understand that "selling yourself," at least in regards to selling your romantic "availability," is not admirable. The human person is not a product to be sold, bartered, traded, or marketed—no matter how worthy the cause.
Yes, I know. The question is still "Then what do I do if I want to get married and have children?" Believe me, I've been asking that same question along with you. The answer, however unsatisfying and non-guaranteeable, is time-tested and age-old: Meet friends of friends. Volunteer with local religious and civic organizations. Go back to school, even if it is just one evening course a week in a subject that intrigues you or would make an interesting hobby. Ask your married friends, relatives, and religious leaders to keep you in mind if they meet someone single (and free to marry!) whom they like and with whom they think you'd get along well. In other words, broaden the number of people you know so that you have potential contact with all the people they know, and sooner or later your path may cross with a person you can love.
And it wouldn't hurt if parishes and dioceses looked into offering matchmaking to Catholic singles—not online but through clergy, religious, and married lay Catholics who can perform introductions at church events. Matchmaking is an honorable vocation, and it works well when the local community, especially the parish community, fosters vocations to marriage among its singles. But it is not a service to be peddled online.