The Promise and Peril of Online Catholic Dating

One of the side projects that I work on is a bi-weekly “talk show” on YouTube called The Catholic Five, so named because there are four other people involved: David L. Gray (of DavidLGray.info), Katrina Fernandez (The Crescat at Patheos), Brantly Callaway Millegan (Founder and Editor of Church POP), and Kevin M. Tierney (Associate Editor of Catholic Lane). Last Saturday, there was an interesting discussion on Catholic online dating – and online dating more broadly – that I wanted to revisit:

As you can see from the clip, we’re coming from three different perspectives: Katrina and David have had negative experiences with online dating; Kevin met his wife online; and Brantly and I are outsiders, having never experienced it up close.

Katrina’s argument against, in a nutshell, is that online dating promotes a view of dating that commodifies the other person rather than treating them as individuals. Here, it might be helpful to recall Martin Buber’s distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationships, because Katrina’s point is basically that we’re operating in “I-It” territory, when we desperately need to be in “I-Thou” relationships. It’s also worth noting that this trend towards commodification is something that non-Catholics have been worried about: that electronic media generally, and online dating specifically, are just not providing the depth of human interaction that we need, and that each other deserve.

But this raises some questions of causality: how much blame does the medium deserve? Would the people in question treat each other better if the interaction was in person? There are two factors cited in blaming this on it being online:

  • First, that the interactions are less personal, perhaps even less incarnational.
    • You’re engaging with a wall of text, or looking at a photo of someone, rather than encountering them in person.
    • This argument seems like it could go the other way, though: after all, in some cases, it might be easier (and safer) to open up online, rather than in person.
  • Second, that the world of online dating is just too large.
    • Barry Schwartz has done some great work on the paradox of choice, and found that people often make bad decisions (or no decision) when they had too many options. We’re not good at knowing what to do when there are so many alternatives, and this is a common complaint about modern dating: people are so worried about who else might be out there that they fail to ever commit.
    • Without a doubt, the Internet has brought the world a lot closer. But that seems to be true whether or not one uses an online dating app; indeed, the world has become more globalized and interconnected offline as well as on.

So I’m curious about your take: what are the pros and cons of online dating, generally? Of online Catholic sites, specifically? What are some of the ways that things need to change? Any tips for those currently discerning marriage?

Love it or hate it, those discerning a call to marry are going to have to reckon with online dating. And while it can likely feel faceless and impersonal at times, I’m reminded of this 1920 ad in a newspaper called the Altöttinger Liebfrauen Messenger:

“Middle ranking civil servant, single, Catholic, 43-years-old, immaculate past, from the countryside, is seeking a good Catholic pure girl, who can cook well, and who can do all housework, who is also capable of sewing and a good homemaker in order to marry at the soonest opportunity.”

It was in responding to that ad that Maria Peintner met a police officer named Joseph. They married and had three kids, including two sons, who each became priests. The youngest boy, Joseph, Jr., would one day come to be known by another name: Pope Benedict XVI.

11 Comments

  1. I didn’t meet my husband online, but I did meet him on a speed date. Granted it was one of those mixer type things the university’s student leadership put together. I don’t think it’s necessarily turns a person into a commodity. I certainly didn’t go to a speed date to look for my spouse. I just thought it would something fun to try to meet people from other departments. And it was fun. I suppose that’s how you can perceive online dating. You can meet new and interesting people online and get to know them. And just like regular dating bad things can crop up but not necessarily so.

  2. I met my wife on the St. Gabriel’s online Catholic site and everything worked perfectly. Being a very orthodox Catholic, I was only looking for someone similar in faith to myself so as not to live a life of misery should my future spouse not have the song religious convictions that I did. The recitation of the Rosary was a must, belief in the authority of the Magisterium and everything it teaches, another must.

    When I read on my wife’s profile that she both prayed the Rosary, and the entire Liturgy of the Hours, everyday, I was intrigued immediately. We were married about 6 months later, with many small miracles involved to accomplish it. I was out today at the Oakland Farmers Market handing out Catholic Radio cards, and Scott Hanh’s “The Lamb’s Supper” books with her, which is something that might be a bit difficult if she didn’t have the same interest in evangelization that I do.

    So, if you have particular specifications in the type of spouse you are looking for, a Catholic singles site is probably the best way to find somebody with your own religious interests. Just be honest with your profile, and your faith life, and see what happens. Maybe an upfront disclosure of your faith via your site profile will inspire, and intrigue, somebody out there ( with the Lord’s providence and help of course!).. like my wife’s faith, and holy profile, did for me?

    So…I guess you can figure that I’m totally ‘for’ Catholic dating sites for others also. I can hardly imagine a better way of finding a suitable Catholic spouse.

  3. I met my wife online. It was simply a means to begin conversation and then a courtship. I am seeing way too many perfectly “dateable” 20 and 30 somethings remain single because quite frankly society has changed and they are not updating with the times. I hate to break it to people out there, but you are not going to find Mr./Mrs right running in the airport trying to catch a plane and running into each other, knocking down each others stuff, like in the movies. The more innocent matching elements of the past (arrangements, set ups, dances, and social events) are not as common anymore, probably because they have been replaced with debauchery. Online dating allows for both debauchery (i.e. AshleyMadison.com) but also an environment conducive to serious courting (Christian/CatholicMingle.com, etc.).

    So, it’s not about making people into commodities. It is about meeting people within an appropriate context, which is hard to find offline being that churches are shrinking and dances/socials are essentially a thing of the past, replaced by rave parties and night clubs.

  4. Sorta on the topic of “Catholic Dating”:

    I think that the way the Catholic Church treats single people in America (That’s where I live, so I don’t really have any other frame-of-reference) is horrible. Because of the way the Church has treated single people, the Church leaders in America deserve to be beheaded by islamic hajjis, have the video of those beheadings put online with horrible auto-tuned Arabic singing, have their churches and cathedrals turned into mosques (or just blown-up), and have their parishioners forced to endure the humiliation of being dhimmies.

    If you look at other religions, there is a huge amount of pressure on their young single members to get married, and start families. It’s OBSCENE in some cases, imagine standing-room-only conferences in large convention centers with hundreds, or even thousands of single men and women all looking for future husbands and wives.

    Attempts in the Church by young people to “get together”, are shut-down by the little old ladies in the Parish office. And shut down hard. If you’re not a part of a family in the Catholic Church, you might as well not be a Catholic in America today.

    Considering that we’re heading towards a “demographic cliff” in the Church, where most of the parishioners who currently attend will be dying of old age in the near-future, and we’ll be left with a serious “parishioner-shortage” problem in the future (within 5-15 years), the Church should be working desperately to get young people to marry and start (Large) families.

    1. Except for the obvious and overdone sarcasm of the first paragraph, I think you’re pretty much right. However, there’s even a bigger problem out there, and that is that the Cathoic youth really aren’t being catechized very well in the first place. Even before there can be Catholic weddings, there need to be Catholic Christians. And for this good catechesis needs to start very early in life, probably at about 4 or 5 years old. And then it needs to continue strongly until adulthood, without any let-up. This is the way ancient Israel practiced their faith, with an immense amount of religious education starting from a very early age.

      To translate this into practical, real life, possibilities for the modern Church, I think the Church should promote an immense amount of ‘Lives of the Saints’ reading, mixed with Sacred Scripture, from about age 6 upwards. Each Catholic Child should be reading at least 3 full length biographies of the Saints each year, and as they get older, to study the writings of ALL of the Doctors and Fathers of the Church. They should also know every story of the Bible, and teaching of Christ, upside down and inside out. Then there would be plenty of Catholic marriages….because there would be plenty of true Catholics to begin with.

      Because parishes prefer to build parish centers, bingo halls,and school gymnasiums, for millions of dollars and immense organization and effort, and won’t spend $10,000.00 per year for freely distributed Lives of Saints, Writings of the Fathers, and Bibles, etc…for the parish, we have this huge deficit of true catechesis and religious knowledge today. It’s like the ‘stone rejected by the builder’ that was the most important stone in the building, but was rejected in favor of basketball hoops, Sunday donut get-togethers and Catholic sports programs. And nothing ever seems to be left over for funding projects for evangelization and essential theology.

      Frustrating to say the least!

    2. Demographic cliff? Says who? I travel throughout the central US and I’ve not seen the empty pews that I was accustomed to seeing in the 60’s. That was a time when Time magazine was ringing the death knell for the Catholic Church. Most of the Churches I’ve attended are full and vibrant.

      1. The numbers in the pews mean little if these same Catholics know little or nothing about the orthodox Catholic faith. One example of the very poor condition of solid catechesis in the US Catholic Church can be gathered from just 1 small survey by the Pew Research Center as of June 17, 2015, inquiring into the current religious and moral beliefs of American Catholics:

        “3. Among all U.S. adults who were raised Catholic, half (52%) have left the church at some point in their life. This includes some whose departure was only temporary: 11% of all people raised Catholic left the church but later returned. But about four-in-ten of those raised Catholic now do not identify as Catholic by religion, including 28% who do not identify as Catholic in any way (“ex-Catholics”).

        4. Even among those who identify as Catholic, many disagree with church teaching about what constitutes a sin in some family-related areas. Roughly half or more of U.S. Catholics say that using contraceptives, living with a romantic partner outside of marriage and remarrying after a divorce without an annulment are not sins. And about four-in-ten (39%) say homosexual behavior is not a sin.”

        1. awlms says:
          September 12, 2015 at 3:23 am
          The numbers in the pews mean little if…

          Big if.

          …these same Catholics know little or nothing about the orthodox Catholic faith. One example of the very poor condition of solid catechesis…

          One has nothing to do with the other. I remember getting solid catechesis. I was catechized by priests. I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t want to learn. I fell away from the Church.

          …in the US Catholic Church can be gathered from just 1 small survey by the Pew Research Center…

          I don’t trust surveys. I’m a former auditor who took many samples and conducted many “statistical analyses”.

          I remember a time when all the surveys said that the Catholic Church was dead in the water. Then Pope John Paul II died and there was a seemingly never ending parade of Catholics from all over the world who traveled to Rome to view his body. That was just the ones who could afford to go.

          I remember a time, when Catholicism did seem to have passed away. There was a time when pews were empty, everywhere. However, shortly after Pope JPII announced the “new springtime”, numbers swelled. New Catholic Churches were being built in every town that I visited. And old churches were being enlarged.

          Just because things appear dismal in one person’s experience or in one small sample, or even in many, doesn’t mean that they are truly so, nor that they will remain so.

          Keep the faith. God knows what He is doing.

          1. I look at it differently. I think that many Catholic priests look at their congregations with rose colored glasses, and ignore the fact that so many of them don’t believe the most basic of Catholic doctrines. And because of this rosy outlook, they don’t think of supplementing their flock with very important faith stimulating materials such as good Catholic books, or encouraging them to tune in daily to the local Catholic Radio broadcasts.

            Anyway, this is my experience here in Northern California. And in all this time, and visiting very many parishes, I have only heard a few priests encourage the parishioners from the pulpit do these two things, read great Catholic books and listen to Catholic Radio. And, I always wonder why, considering we have such an abundance of this most excellent ‘sheep food’ available.

  5. I’ve never liked online dating simply because it really does feel like you’re shopping… for people. Like they’re pieces of furniture or something. It just doesn’t seem like a good way to look for a relationship to me. I know there are plenty of “success stories” of people who met their spouses on there, but I think those are outliers and not the norm.

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