Singles: A love-hate relationship with online dating
They met in aChristian chat room, exchanged countless instant messages, eventually talkedface-to-face and finally got engaged.
It may not soundromantic, but after five years of marriage, Lisa Hyde said she has no regrets.The cyberspace courtship allowed her to fall in love with her future husband,Dave, before she ever saw him.
Still, “even when Itell the story, I hate to say that we met online,” said Hyde, who attendschurch with her husband and their young daughter in West Virginia.
Some church members,understandably, are wary about the Internet — a haven for sexual predators. Andwhen it comes to online dating, “everyone has heard some of the horrorstories,” said Mario Tobias, campus minister for the Southside church, Lawrence, Kan.
Tobias, who is single,said he’s hesitant to tell fellow church members when he meets someone online.
“It just feelsuncomfortable,” he said. “And yet, I’ve found that online dating services haveprovided the simplest way to meet others that I would consider dating.
“In my presentcongregation, there simply aren’t many other (age) 25-to-35 singles.”
Jim Foster had smallchurches in mind when he launched churchofchristsingles .com, a Web site thatallows singles to post personal information and meet other church members.
Foster, who wasraised in Colorado, got the idea in 1997 whilesingle and living in Dallas.At the time he was surrounded by a large number of Christian singles, but heknew that would change if he moved back to Colorado.
“The widespreadnature of the Internet seemed an ideal medium to connect such a thinly spreadgroup of people like singles in the churches of Christ,” Foster said.
Now the site has morethan 4,000 members, ranging from ages 18 to 90, and has played a role in morethan 100 weddings that Foster knows of. He’s heard of only two divorces.
Foster, 33, is bothadministrator of the Web site and a testimony to its success. Four years afterhe launched the site he met his future wife, Honey, a graduate student in Tennessee. They startedexchanging e-mails.
“I’m from a verysmall town, so there weren’t very many male members of the church around myage,” Honey Foster said.
But going fromInternet conversations to a face-to-face meeting was a scary prospect.
The couple’s firstdate, like many first dates, “didn’t go exactly smoothly,” she said. But theykept talking, and were married two years after they met online.
The Fosters live in Colorado, and theirfirst child is due this month. One of Honey’s sisters later married a man shemet on http://www.churchofchristsingles.com.
Liana Nixon, a memberof the White Station church, Memphis, Tenn., also met her futurehusband, Russ, on the Web site.
“The more we e-mailedand talked, the more I grew to love him and his heart for God,” she said
The Nixons are one ofat least three couples at White Station who found each other through theInternet.
Still, “when we tellchurch folks that we met online, it always brings a ‘REEEALLY?’ and a raisedeyebrow,” Russ Nixon said.
“But when I tellpeople that there is such a thing as a church of Christ Website for singles, I believe that they feel that it’s safer and that it’s agreat idea.”
ROMANCE ACROSS ANOCEAN
The problem of toofew eligible singles exists in many churches outside the United States —at least in countries where Western-style dating is acceptable.
“There are not manymen in the Russian churches of Christ, (and the) Internet is considered a veryunusual way of dating,” said Natalie Makarova, a church member in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Makarova, in hermid-20s, posted her information on a Web site, and a man from the United Statescontacted her. The two are engaged and plan to marry after Makarova completesher training.
Three women in theMactan, Philippines,church met their spouses online, said missionary Salvador Cariaga. Others areinvolved in online relationships, many with people outside the Philippines.
“Philippines is apoor country. One of the ways out of poverty is to marry a foreigner,” Cariagasaid. “I preach caution, but the prospect of finding a spouse, and the fun ofit, is not keeping our members off online dating.”
The country alreadysuffers from “brain drain” due to overseas jobs, and losing additional membersto overseas marriages “will obviously affect our small and strugglingchurches,” Cariaga said.
In the moreindustrialized countries of Western Europe, church members see a mix ofpositives and negatives in Internet dating, said Scott Raab, a missionary whoworks with congregations in the Netherlands and Belgium.
One church member methis wife on the Internet, but only after his first wife left him for a man shemet on the Internet, the missionary said. Many European Christians see theInternet as “a place where one can be easily tempted to do things that wouldnot normally be considered.”
But Reynard Amoako, achurch member in Brussels, Belgium who has never tried online dating, said thatthe Internet also can allow couples “to learn and to know each other on anintellectual and spiritual level” without “trying to please each otherphysically.”
TWO KINDS OFACCEPTANCE
In congregationsaround the world, Internet dating “has been seen in the same light asmail-order brides,” said Jonathan Woodall, a member of the White Station churchwho works with the campus ministry at a local university.
But that attitude ischanging as more and more people meet online.
“I wonder what it waslike the first time a child told their parents that they wanted to pick theirown mate,” Woodall said. “I’ll bet that was looked down on.”
As churches graduallyaccept online dating, Foster said that singles tend to lead happier lives — andfind mates — when they learn to accept themselves.
Many singles inchurches “aren’t at peace with the situation they are in,” he said, and some merelyare “looking for a hostage to stand next to them.”
“They really need tovalue their single time and make use of it to serve God,” he said. “They won’thave that kind of time ever again. Had I not been single, the singles Web siteitself would’ve never started.
“Iwish more singles would apply themselves to both their local congregations andthe church of Christ as a whole.”