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March 23, 2015

online dating for believers

My husband and I met in 2013, and we were married in 2014. If you've followed my blog for a while, you've probably seen little bits of our story. There was the first post where I told you he existed, and thoughts on letting romance remain a bit mysterious and on that weird transition from being single to being married. More recently there was a post about how we planned a faith-based wedding.

My husband and I met online in 2013, and we were married in 2014. How else would a Canadian living in Asia meet an American living in Europe? We had never lived in the same countries, let alone the same cities. We had no mutual friends. Yet, we had so much in common.

We've gotten quite a few questions from others about dating online or dating long distance. Our parents were a bit surprised that we met online, but most people of our generation are more familiar with the concept. There are quite a few good articles online about the pros and cons of online dating as a believer, but lately a few people have asked me about our experience again, which made me want to distill a few things we learned into a blog post that I can share with them, and that will hopefully benefit a few others, too.

Some of this is subjective, some is His Truth. Sift, and see if you find something useful. Please note that if you are married to someone you met online, and didn't handle your relationship the way I describe below, please don't take this article as condemning of your story. Every story looks different!

I divided these thoughts (which my husband has looked over, too) into three sections:
  1. Don't try online dating unless...
  2. If you try online dating, do....
  3.  If you start talking to one person in particular regularly, do...
This article does not attempt to cover godly dating in general, though I think that the pursuit of purity, honesty, godly gender roles, and more can (and should) all be pursued in a relationship that starts online. This is a response to people who say things like "Do you have any advice you could give me about online dating?" Or "What kinds of questions should I ask the person I met online?"

Be warned, this whole article is rather pragmatic and might be boring! I'm not going to tell you to follow your heart, not even once! Here we go!

try online dating unless:

  1. can do so "in faith" (Rom. 14:23). Don't do something that goes against your conscience or gets between you and God. Not everyone is meant to be married, and not everyone is meant to try online dating. Pray about it and be at peace about it.
  2.'re willing to tell others you are doing so. The whole online world can be very secretive. I've heard of people who have dated in a vacuum, with clandestine dates or trips to see each other, and then announced to their families that they've met the person they want to marry, without others having any opportunity to know their partner. This seems to happen especially as people get older, and are feeling a bit wary of letting people know that they have "yet another boyfriend" unless they're "sure." I'm not suggesting that everyone should know, but dating secretly is dangerous, no matter what age you are. Tell someone that you trust that you are making an online dating profile, and ask them to keep tabs on you.
    Another reason it is good to tell someone you're trying online dating is because it can be a big time-waster, and someone else can ask you if you're stewarding your time well. (My husband suggests just trying a two-week or one-month subscription at a time, then taking a break, rather than constantly using a dating website.)
  3. could realistically see yourself getting married within a year or two. Romance is a journey toward a definite destination, of marriage. If you've just locked into a three-year job on-site Uzbekistan, it's probably not the best time to make an online dating profile and start extended conversations about your emotions with a girl living in Kansas. It's not fair to you or to that person.
  4. are able to spend the time and money it takes to get to know someone. It's terribly practical to say this, but if you are up to your ears in debt and toying with dating a guy who lives even a $500 trip away, it might not be wise. In our case, cost was an extreme factormy future husband had to pay for a flight from Europe to Asia to meet me, and meeting each others' families before we got engaged and then getting to and from our wedding location were costly endeavors, too. But we had an early conversation about the distances and cost, and agreed that assuming all else went well, money would not be an obstacle to pursuing this relationship.
  5. are willing to move, whether that's across town or to another country, if things get serious. Often online dating relationship are long distance or at least a little way apart. Don't start talking to someone in Texas or India if you couldn't see yourself potentially visiting and later moving there if the relationship got serious. Don't assume that they will move to where you are, until that is discussed. Also, bear in mind that if you are dating someone of a different nationality, things like paperwork can be rather complicated and expensive.
  6. have never spent time with datable singles in real life. This is more just a personal opinion, but for example, I don't think it makes sense to start looking for dates online if you're 19 or 20. Try meeting people in more natural settings like at your local church, camp or city. To me, online dating seems like a great option for people who feel they've exhausted their natural, local connections and want to be married.

If you try online dating, do:

  1. ...try a genuinely Christian-run site first. The two that I've heard the most about are ChristianCafe (medium-sized) and MarryWell (quite small, but that's where we met!). Genuinely Christian-owned sites ask questions that are more relevant to your world (such as denomination, testimony, spiritual gifts) and are more likely to attract like-minds.
  2. ...describe yourself in a genuine way. This is cliché enough; we all know that the internet is the perfect place to pretend to be someone you're not. Don't be one of those people. In looking around dating websites, sometimes I have seen profiles of people I knew in person, and it has always been pleasant for me to see that they are true to who they are in real life.
  3. ...decide what your non-negotiables are in advance, within reason. 
    1. Don't even start conversations with people who are obviously nowhere near compatible with you. This is essential. Of course, the most important thing to have in common is that you both know and love the Lord, but there are a lot of secondary things that make a big difference. One of the benefits of online dating is seeing a synopsis of a person in written form before spending months investing emotionally in that person, only to find out that you disagree on some important topics. Often from reading a person's profile, you can learn what really is important to them, whether it is having 14 children and living on a ranch, attending a church that uses a particular Bible version, or living in China and teaching English. If you can't see yourself agreeing to their chosen lifestyle, move right along.
      Note: one friend commented to me that a lot of her thirty-something single friends are  marrying divorcees they've met online, but I did not consider even starting conversations with divorcees on dating websites because I still hold this view (however hard that is in our broken world).
    2. Also, remember that it's OK to have personal preferences that aren't particularly spiritual. God has made us with individual interests and tastes, and it's OK to admit that you're not attracted to certain types of people, however godly they may be. Ask God to show you if your preferences are not of Him.

If you start talking to one person in particular regularly, do:

  1. ...develop a genuine friendship before you dive into a romance. Figure out if this is someone you can genuinely enjoy and agree with as a person, sans fireworks. This can be especially difficult, when you meet online and you know that, obviously, you're both looking for someone to date. But when you don't know who a person really is, and you dive immediately into a romantic relationship, reality is you aren't seeing them in "normal mode".
    My husband was a great leader in developing a good friendship foundation to our relationship. We had a small talk about expectations near the beginning, but after that we spent most of the first three months writing or talking about theology, family, daily life and routines, history, travel, goals, and ministry. We memorized Scripture together and learned that we had tonnes in common. But we didn't talk about "us" much, as in, talk about our feelings for each other. Those three months gave us a real idea of what the other person's life and character was. After those months, my husband told me he wanted to come to Asia to meet me in person, "to see if there were any obstacles to pursing marriage." (At which point I asked him, "So, are we dating?" Ha ha!)
  2. ...hold the relationships loosely, especially before the first in-person meeting, and meet each other relatively soon. It happens often that people who thought they had something great going on, long distance, realize in person that it is not what they thought, and one or both have to end the relationship. (On the other hand, it is often the other way too!) If you can't meet particularly soon, because of cost or distance, video calls can make a big difference. But meeting in person is pretty essential. (And when you do meet, do so with others' knowledge and with others around - see #4).
  3. ...ask for and/or offer references, especially if there will be some delay before you can meet in person. In our case, after we had been communicating for a few months, we gave each other contact info for people who knew us in different settings (family, church, small group). The emails or calls were slightly awkward, but we were glad we did that, because those other voices rounded out what we were learning about each other directly. If the person you're talking to has nothing to hide, they shouldn't be afraid to give some references.
  4. ...involve other people as much as possible. The tendency with all dating is to spend time most of your time alone together instead of in groups, and with online or long distance dating it can be especially this way. For first meetings, it isn't wise that you would meet up with a stranger of the opposite sex without someone knowing what is going on or even being present, simply for safety reasons.
    But also throughout your relationship, keep others involved. My husband met with my good friend's parents when he was visiting in their area (before having met me), so that they could see what they thought of him. (They sent me five star reviews!) We did group Skypes with friends, roommates, or family, and we would stay at each others' friends' houses during our visits. My husband also emailed and Skyped with my parents on his own, and I did the same with his parents. My parents were passing through his parents' home state and they visited for a few days while we were still in Europe/Asia.
  5. normal life things together, when you meet up. We did some sanding, painting and drilling, read the Good Book together, and made supper for friends various times. Invite friends to go along with you on outings.When you're long distance, you have lots of time to talk "one on one" over the phone; when you're together being with others is important.
  6. ...ask lots of questions. We used this book of questions, which asked a lot of questions that are often asked in premarital counselling. We each bought a copy and used it fairly frequently to push our conversation to important topics.

    Before things get too serious, ask about views and practices about things like: alcohol, debt/money,  homosexuality, and pornography/sexuality. Watch for red flags in their responses, and ask a wiser, older believer how to handle these conversations if you're not sure. Do not assume that just because you're both Christians, you don't need to ask about these topics.

    One thing that often happens on online dating sites is that believers of very different theological backgrounds meet. In our case, we had fairly similar backgrounds, but some of our very first questions for each other were of a theological nature, because the way we view God determines how we view everything else. We didn't do it argumentatively, but constructively, and it led to good conversation and good study for both of us. It is so essential to be able to agree on these faith foundations, so that you can be effective in life and ministry together, whether this means happily attending the same fellowship, or raising your children with consistent teaching and direction.

    Below are a few questions, just as an example:
    • How is a person saved from the punishment for their sin (justified)?
    • How does a person "stay saved"/do you believe in eternal security? Why or why not?
    • How can a person have assurance of salvation? (For example, how would you answer someone who wonders if they are truly saved?)
    • How does God speak to mankind today? What do you think about the "sign gifts" (tongues, miracles, healings, prophecy)? Do you believe they are still in use in the church today, and if so, do you practice any of them?
    • What are your persuasions about creation? 
    • What are your persuasions about end times?
    • Would you use any of these words to describe your views: Reformed? Covenant? Calvinist? Dispensational? Describe what you mean when you use those words.
    • What kinds of churches have you attended, and at which do you feel most at home?

One of the greatest powers of online dating is that it broadens the playing field, allowing people who desire marriage to connect with like-minded people that they would never have otherwise met. When done intentionally and prayerfully, online dating can lead to godly marriages, just like in-person dating! I hope the points above will be helpful as you think through the options that exist, if you desire godly marriage.

When I was in middle school, a teacher quoted us a paraphrase of this quotation, "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." That concept stuck with me, of watching for a man who was looking in the same direction as me, a man who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him in a similar way.

My husband and I are more alike than most couples, likely, in our preferences, interests, lifestyle, family background, etc. (I could see this from the first time I read his profile, online—and actually, he was the only person I ever talked to through a dating site) and our dating relationship was rather smooth. In our first meeting and also in marriage we have had very few surprises about one another, and I think this is because we communicated honestly and often  beforehand, we had known the Lord for quite a few years, and we did not come from complicated backgrounds. We are not the proverbial "opposites attract" couple.

However, what gives us the most joy is loving and serving God together.
I could have found a man who enjoyed TexMex and Thai, travel and internationalism, books and study, just like me (and I did). But all this would have been empty if he didn't love the Lord with his heart, soul, mind and strength. And all this could have been tarnished if we hadn't followed wisdom principles in dating. We are thankful for this gift of grace—of investing this short life in eternity, with a like-minded soul—and thankful for online dating, the tool God used to make it happen.


  1. Julie, Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I was (pleasantly) surprised to hear your story. As I regularly counsel young women in this area, online relationship is an area I am not familiar with. I learned a lot and really appreciated your focus on finding your pleasure and delight in the Lord -- even in a post that is full of practical insights. =) The Lord works in mysterious ways. Praise be to God that his ways are not our ways. Praise be to God for bringing you and your husband together to glorify and enjoy him forever.

  2. Julie, this is GREAT! I'm so thankful you shared on ALOS. I think I'm going to save this as a resource. Thanks :)!!

    1. Thanks, Amy, for your encouragement!

    2. And yes, feel totally free to share it with anyone.