There are a couple of times of the year when as a single person, you might be feeling particularly low. One of these times is coming up. Valentine’s Day. Now you might be dreading this day for the fear of seeing loved-up couples all over the place (and wondering where they disappear to after this date), feeling alone, lost and unloved, or you might just hate the day because you don’t like the person that you are with (that’s a different issue that I won’t be talking about today). But is swiping right always right?
I used to hate Valentine’s Day. That and Christmas both made me feel alone. They were the times that I was most likely to join an online dating site in the desperate hope of meeting the ‘one’, or to be honest, sometimes just anyone who would make me feel less lonely.
My love-hate relationship with online dating first started about 14 years ago. It had been a few years after my divorce, and I thought I was ready to find a partner. The first site I tried was Christian Connection. Surely, I could meet a godly man on there? My tentative ‘waves’ turned into conversations with men from all over the UK. Some conversations were too odd for me. One man told me he was on a 40 day fast and then photographed his bowel movements! Another one tried to enter into a theological debate about whether my divorce was authorised by scripture. One gave me a lot of unwanted attention in real life (he lived locally; I did not give my address out). I have a fair few stories to tell, as I am sure many of us have who have ventured into the world of online dating. I subscribed to these dating sites periodically, usually at the times when I felt the loneliest. As I learnt the hard way, this was not the right time to launch your dating profile into the intricacies of the world wide web.
Our brains release endorphins as a natural ‘happy mood booster.’ Endorphins are released when our bodies feel stressed or anxious. One of the ways that our bodies can stimulate endorphin release is through exercise. I am a bit of a reluctant runner. The hardest part of a run is having to put on my running shoes. I have a bit of a self-motivational talk knowing that the run will release my natural happy mood booster and I will feel so much better for it.
There have been studies done around the release of endorphins when we interact with social media (of which online dating is a form). It has been proven by many scientific studies that social media interactions release not only endorphins into our bodies, but also oxytocin and dopamine. Yes, I said dopamine! It is the main chemical involved in addiction and usually comes from activities such as food, sex and finding clothes. But it can also come from social media. All those ‘waves,’ ‘likes,’ and chats with the opposite sex releases dopamine and if you are not careful, can become addictive. One study done by the Addiction Center in the US states that phone addiction changes a person’s grey matter in their brain. Grey matter is the part that is connected to the central nervous system and controls movement, memory, and emotions. So, to alter such a central part of a person is utterly devastating. If we are entering a world of online dating when we already have a low mood in general, the chance to become addicted to potentially harmful conversations with the wrong people is high (just for the record, I did not get addicted to poo guy).
My online dating journey is one of highs and lows. I have met some amazing people who have become friends for life. I dated a few good, and bad people, and realised that being alone was okay for a season. And finally, I met a man who is perfect for me, and we are getting married later this year. There have been many successful stories of people meeting online and getting married (if marriage is a marker of success of course). But in a world that feels like it is becoming harder to meet someone in the Christian OR secular world, what is the secret?
Cultivate your most important relationship first.
God calls us to be in a relationship with Him first and foremost. Matthew 22 says that we are to love the Lord your God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. God only wants the very best for you, and He can and will, give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37). After all, God has placed those desires inside us first. I used to remind God of His word just in case He had forgotten. ‘God your word says that you do not intend me to be on my own – I'm on my own here Lord!?’ Of course, that verse does not necessarily mean that we will all be married. I cultivate my relationship with God by setting aside time to read and study my Bible, go to church once a week, pray all the time (the car is one of my favourite places to pray) and journal. What works for you? Making a habit out of it soon becomes something that we do naturally and then becomes part of who we are. When I don’t make time to do these things, my relationship with Him struggles and I feel like something is missing.
2. Be honest
I have had years of good Christian counselling. I needed to work through a lot of traumatic relationships with both men and family. When I was honest with myself and my failings and then learnt how to forgive both myself and others, it felt like a real weight had lifted. Be honest with yourself. Why is it that you are seeking a relationship? What is it that you want out of a relationship? If it is anything other than to have someone alongside you, to adventure with and share life with, then you need to go back to number one again.
3. Meet people in the real world.
We are at a time in history when people are the most connected virtually but the most disconnected in the real world. If you cannot hold a conversation with a real person, how are you going to meet a stranger and go on a first date? Think about where you meet people during the week. How do you engage with them? Can you build good relationships with them?
4. Pray and be prayed for.
This should probably be number 2 on the list, as it is so particularly important. Prayer is just talking to God about everything and anything, but also listening for His voice. Some people hear God speaking through reading the Bible, talking to other people, dreams or through other ways. Not very often do people hear the audible voice of God. Invest in prayer. Find a trusted friend who you can confide in. Ask them to pray for you. Become accountable to them. It gives you a safety net when you go on a first date as well knowing that you are being prayed for and that you have someone to contact if things go wrong or right.
5. Be careful who you listen to.
There are lots of people who are ready to give you all sort of advice about dating, marriage, and sex. Lots of it well-meaning, lots of it tainted with a piece of their own pain and trauma. Choose who you allow to speak into your life well. Proverbs 18 says ‘one who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ A good friend lifts us, encourages us, and challenges us when needed. Find some good friends.
6. Get hold of some great resources.
Apart from the Bible, one of the most helpful books that I read during my online dating season was a book called Sacred Search by Gary Thomas. It really helped me reflect on my past, present and future. It helped me think about what my deepest desires were for a partner, which helped me to be very specific in what I was asking God for. Instead of pleading for God to help me find ‘the one’ I started praying for a man with exact heart traits that I was looking for. On an aside note, there is no such thing as ‘the one.’ God has not put aside one perfect person just for you. He has, however, got people who would be an excellent match for you. The joy can be in finding that person and then growing old and adventuring together.
So, wherever you are on your online dating journey, be patient. It took me 12 years to find a man that I happily said yes to. Will it take you as long? Maybe not. Maybe so. Walk close with God. Be honest. Heal well before you are ready to move on. Praying for you and for those who are supporting you.