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.