“If you’re serious about dating, you need to get online.” Lisa, a friend and dating expert, wasn’t backing down on this, but neither was I.
“No way,” I told her, convinced I would bump into The One at church or Whole Foods, just like in the movies. It’s not that I was against online dating for other people, it’s just that I didn’t want my story to be “we met on Match.com.”
I didn’t want to get serious about dating, and yet there was this ever-growing sense of existential dread rising up day by day, convincing me I was probably going to die alone.
I just wanted to meet my future husband and live happily ever after. Was that too much to ask? Why did I have to “get serious about dating” while my dad fell in love with his neighbor who would become his wife and a “bonus mom” to my siblings and I? Dating was another thing to do in an already busy season of life. I didn’t want to date. Dating meant getting dressed up to make awkward small talk with someone I would never see again. Dating seemed like a giant waste of my time.
So I told her no and stood my ground and lamented my singleness and rolled my eyes every time my dad and his new girlfriend flirted in the kitchen. They were as giggly and starry-eyed as teenagers and months of witnessing their love story unfold sent me over the edge.
“You win,” I told Lisa on the phone as I stared out at the sad, grey, suburban landscape of late January. “I’ll do this online thing for three months, but when nothing comes of it, I’m out.” So I joined match.com and resigned myself to this experiment being a waste of both my money and my time.
At first, I followed Lisa’s advice. There were no pictures of me with my other friends, lest a potential suitor find them more attractive. I kept my search criteria broad to increase the pool of possible soulmates from whom to choose. My interests and hobbies were broad and generic so as not to turn off a future spouse by being too unique. My profile mentioned nothing of religion or politics. I worked hard to make myself as likeable as a golden retriever puppy. Sure, maybe I couldn’t please everyone, but with a profile like this, I could at least get a date.
The whole process made me absolutely crazy. I didn’t recognize the girl who was described in what was supposedly my profile, and honestly, I didn’t really like her. She was boring and shallow, but she did get a lot of attention. The problem was, all of the interested parties lacked any real potential. A few of them seemed nice enough, but I turned down dates for any number of reasons (they were too young, too old, etc., etc.).
I’m sure they were perfectly nice guys. We probably would have gotten along just fine, and they were definitely the right guy for someone. But if I was to take this online thing seriously, then I wasn’t going to spend time going on dates with men who weren’t the right guy for me. Online dating was like browsing a bookstore, except instead of finding a whole stack of new favorites, I was leaving empty-handed.
Halfway through this experiment, I was fed up with the results my lackluster profile was getting me, so I threw out all the expert advice I’d been given. I uploaded a picture of my friend Meghan and I on the beach, our heads together, the sunset turning our hair brilliant shades of gold, bronze, and copper, our skin glowing in the evening light. I erased my bio and my interests and started from scratch. I talked too much about books and my dog and wrote things like, “If you’re looking for someone to dance barefoot in the kitchen with on a random Tuesday, I’m your girl.” I updated my political views and selected the options for “Catholic” and “looking for Catholic.”
Looking over my profile, I recognized the girl it described, and this time, I liked her. The number of messages I received on a daily basis dropped dramatically, which didn’t bother me one bit. For more than six weeks, I had lots of quantity, but little quality in the candidates coming my way, and that was starting to change.
Less than a week later, I got a straightforward message from Steeleman89 saying hello and asking me if I wanted to meet up. For no reason at all, I said yes immediately and suggested the upcoming weekend. He was on spring break, he told me, and wouldn’t be back until Sunday. I rolled my eyes. Still in college at 26, on spring break in Florida, I thought — no wonder he couldn’t graduate. He probably wasn’t even really Catholic if he was too busy partying to be bothered with things like classes or homework or Mass. But I set aside my judgment long enough for us to exchange numbers and agreed to meet at a nearby Starbucks the following Monday.
When Monday rolled around, I almost cancelled. It was the first full day of spring, and I could have used the time to go outside, to take my dog to our favorite park, or just to take a nap. My friend Catherine begged me to go, if only to bring her back a good story. So, instead of canceling, I asked my first real match date if we could meet at the park instead. Hindsight being 20/20, meeting a complete stranger at a secluded park in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday probably wasn’t the safest choice, but I’m still alive, so all’s well that ends well, I suppose.
Jeff and I looped around the park trails for hours while Hank, my Aussie pup, chased squirrels in the woods. As it turns out, Jeff had been visiting his grandmother with his dad over spring break and had signed up for Match.com out of sheer boredom after watching a commercial during March Madness. He was still in school because he’d spent 11 years studying to be a priest with the Legionaries of Christ, first in a New Hampshire boarding school for boys, then in Germany, then in Spain, then in Germany again, before going back to New Hampshire, where he eventually discerned out of the priesthood with the guidance of his spiritual director. So much for not really being Catholic, I thought.
Three days later, he picked me up for our first real date: Holy Thursday Mass and burgers. When we sat down in my usual spot at church, Jeff asked me if I always sat there. As it turns out, we’d been going to the same Mass at the same parish and sitting in the same area for months and had never seen each other. I think God got a good laugh out of that one.
Six months later, Jeff proposed at the park where we met. A year after that, we were married in that same church. And we lived happily ever after. Ha!
Honestly, I don’t love being a match.com success story, and I would much rather have a romantic-comedy-style story to tell when people ask us how we met. God used online dating to help me grow in virtue and in my identity as his beloved daughter, though. Dating online was an opportunity to practice humility, charity, respect, and generosity. I learned to value quality over quantity and to trust the still, small voice of truth over the advice of dating experts.
Creating an online dating profile gave me a chance to be creative and take a risk and be honest and unashamed about who God made me. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t enjoy it, but there’s a pretty solid chance that if I hadn’t “gotten serious” about dating, I wouldn’t have met Jeff, and we wouldn’t be married.
I believe it’s true that God gives good gifts to his children, and I believe that most of the time his gifts look less like kicking back and waiting for our future spouse to ring our doorbell wrapped in a bow with a note that reads, “love, Abba,” and more like an online dating profile, a parish singles or young adult group, or introducing ourselves to an attractive stranger a few rows down after Mass.