Navigating Online Dating

Joella Ranaivoson

January 16, 2022

So, your friend talked you into trying this new dating app. It’s all the rage in your city, and your friend says their co-worker’s cousin met their spouse on it, so it’s gotta be legit. Yet you’re not convinced. Still, you’re past the time where social events and gatherings happened by virtue of life-stage (a.k.a. college), and adulting is hard and lonely enough, so it’d be nice to have someone to go through it with you. You decide to try it, download the app onto your phone, upload a few decent profile pics, and start a-swiping.

Wow, so many matches! But then you start to see a theme. People straight up want to meet you to hook-up after the first few messages. Others want your socials and phone number too quickly. Others don’t seem to know what they want at all. You set up dates with a few. One or two stand you up. It’s demoralizing and embarrassing. Others arrive at the date but then they’re a dud. Sigh. What’s the point of these apps anyway?

Apps are the new normal

If you are a millennial or a Gen-Z, or really anyone seeking a relationship, dating apps likely have visited you in one form or another. It’s no longer an unusual or taboo way to connect with people. It’s become a normal way of meeting people you would not normally encounter in your everyday life. Life is online in the 21st century. Apps aren't the only way to meet people, but it's a legitimate and common way to do so. Whether you’ve moved to a new place, are feeling alone in your own city, or looking to meet someone outside of your usual circle of friends, dating apps are a mainstream way of engaging with new and different people.

Know WHY you’re on the apps

Yet, it’s important to know why you’re on the apps. Having a clear intention will help clear the muddy waters that online dating can often become.

  • Do you want to meet friends? There are BFF functions on certain apps.
  • Do you want to practice going on dates? It’s a learned skill to interact with another human in the context of a date.
  • Would you like to go slow, dating folks without necessarily looking for a serious or long-term commitment?
  • Is your goal to find a lifelong spouse with intention and momentum from dating to marriage?

Are you looking for a long-term relationship?

Being clear minded about your intention and goals can inform which app you choose to join—there are so many. Do some research, talk to friends who have tried the apps, and get feedback on which one would suit your intention best. Some apps have stronger success rates for meeting people with similar interests or forging long-term relationships than others. You may not want an app at all, but rather a website that requires a more in-depth process (and money, usually, membership fees). The choice is yours.

Knowing why you’re there and what you want will also inform the way you set up your account. The pictures you upload of yourself and how you write a bio shapes the impression you project out to potential matches. This is your first chance to make sure the image you curate and share matches your intention. To find a person who shares your faith, you can set your parameters to show you only people of a certain faith or even denominational tradition, and you can specify that in your own bio if you choose. If you don’t put your faith tradition in your bio, you can establish that in the early stages of your conversation with someone. Other parameters like interests and hobbies, lifestyle, spirituality, or political orientation can also be specified when setting up your account.

Be honest with yourself about what you like:

As you begin swiping and hopefully getting matches, and as you begin chatting with these matches, observe yourself: for what type of person are you swiping right the most? What about them draws you? Does your behavior and attractions align with your intention? If not, why not? How can you respond to that?

Share your intentions

There’s no prescribed way to go about messaging with people with whom you've matched that will yield a specific desired result every time. But a good way to stay true to your goals is to ask your match why they're on the app, especially if it’s not clear in their bio. Then you can also share why you’re there. It’s shocking how often your intention and others’ can be misaligned, so establishing it right at the beginning of your interaction can save you both a lot of time and effort if you don’t actually align in your purposes, despite the mutual swipe-right.

Protect yourself

When you’re messaging with matches, keep your personal information and details to yourself. Don’t give away your personal information, whether that be social accounts, phone number, or even your neighborhood where you live. Treat them as the strangers they are. In the course of your messaging, you can discern if they’re someone you’d like to meet in person or not.

I wouldn’t recommend baring your soul in these chats. The chat stage is light, perfunctory even, a way to gauge if they’re someone of interest to you that you would like to meet in person and give more time to. Use discernment here. Talk with God about the people with whom you are chatting. It’s so very important to trust your instincts and stay in a space where you are connected to God when engaging with new people in a dating context.

Making Real Life Connections

If you’ve connected with someone online and been chatting for a while, you may feel a strong connection to them simply from messaging. But it is important to meet them in real life. There are so many gaps in just texting that your mind can imagine someone more perfect than they really are. In person, you can begin really seeing if they are someone you want to spend your time with or not. If you would both like to meet each other in real life, set up a date: set a specific time, place, activity.

Be safe. Don’t go on a first date or meet-up with someone you don’t know (remember, you still don’t know them) in a secluded place or activity (e.g. don’t go hiking alone on a trail in the forest with just you and them). Go somewhere public, well-lit, and well-frequented. Set a time limit so there's a natural end to the meetup. Maybe coffee or drinks is a better choice than an involved meal or activity. Keep it simple and lightweight; there will be time for more dates if it goes well, and if it doesn't go well, keeping simple will let you end it quickly and well.

Ending a date

You will likely know within the first few minutes of the date if this is someone you want to spend more time with or not, and it’s OK to bow out if they are not. Our politeness or fear of appearing rude can keep us in a situation when we should leave immediately or soon after arriving. It’s OK to simply take your leave if and whenever you feel uncomfortable or don’t want to be there any longer. It is okay to just say thank you, goodbye, and leave.

If you are not inclined to simply leave once you’ve determined it’s not a good fit, stick to your time limit you planned when setting up the date. Or, arrange with a friend beforehand to call you 30 minutes into the date. If you want to leave, that can be your reason. If you don’t want to end early, simply tell your friend you will call them back later.

If the date goes smashingly well, ask if your match would like to hang out again. If so, you can agree to keep chatting on the app. Or, if you feel safe and confident with sharing your phone number, you can exchange phone numbers to keep in touch.

Have fun

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Dating is supposed to be fun. It’s a way western society has structured for people interested in one another to get to know one another. In some Christian contexts, dates can sometimes become heavy-laden with expectations of marriage. Remember, a first date is not a marriage proposal. You are allowed to simply go get to know someone without any burden to become each other’s soulmates or spouses. Even if your match is someone who clearly won't be a long-term interest, enjoy the small talk for the lightweight encounter that it is.

If you’re dating with pressure on yourself to find ‘the one’ quickly, that will make it much less enjoyable for yourself and anyone you might potentially meet. Finding a partner and spouse may be your intention and end-goal (and that’s lovely and good!), but don’t project that expectation outward onto each person you date. Be open to the process of meeting people to expand your perspectives.

Check your expectations

Remember that people on apps are meeting lots and lots of different people too. Assume that every person you are messaging is also messaging several if not dozens of other people (as you likely are, too). Dating apps can be quantity over quality before finding a good match. Think of it like a speed-dating scenario. You don’t bare your soul or invest deeply in someone in a speed-dating scenario. You’re there to see if they are someone with whom you would like to have a longer conversation. Then from there, deeper investment can begin. Treat connecting with people on apps like the mixers at college or nearly chance encounters on the street. Give yourself the freedom to simply get to know people first. If it turns into something more, lovely! But don’t put that pressure on yourself or them to make it so in the beginning.

Nothing is wasted

With every date you go on or person that you meet, you will refine what it is you are looking for. And that is a brilliant education in and for yourself. Even if you don’t end up meeting your life partner on a dating app, it is not time wasted. You met new people; you learned some things about yourself, and you hopefully grew as a person.

Be discerning. Be safe. Learn & Grow. Enjoy the process.

About the author — Joella Ranaivoson

Joella is an artist using words in writing, songs, and acting to convey truths about being human. Storytelling is the joy. Everything feeds everything, so take it all in and let it feed your creativity.

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