The year was 2001 and Catholic Match was still in the early stages of its development. My member # was 2874, as proof of just how much growth has happened since then, as the site has grown into the most-trafficked site in the Catholic world, including even the Vatican. Like everyone else, my intention in joining the site was simple—find a wife and get out of Dodge. Those goals were achieved. But the purpose of this article is not to write another success story, or to rehash the growth of CM. Instead, I’d like to use my own experience as illustration of two points. The value of the community-oriented features of CM and the importance of not putting CM in a box.
In the course of the six years I spent as a member seeking their special someone and the other year that was spent as a member while dating my wife, I adopted virtually every philosophy or approach to using the site that existed. One of them, perhaps the most prominent, is this—“I’m on here to find my spouse. I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t lead to that.” There’s a certain surface logic to that, but it doesn’t account for the fact that in the realms of human relationships the best path to somewhere isn’t always the most direct and that the Holy Ghost sometimes leads us along a different route. And members who subscribe to this approach may shun the community-enhancing features of Catholic Match, namely the message forums and the events because it doesn’t fit into the “box”.
The message forums offer the chance to meet an array of people and to do so in the electronic version of a group atmosphere. There’s no need to try and think of something to say to start an email dialogue with another member you know only from the limited information on their profile. You can get a better feel for what a member is really passionate about and also see how they interact with other people, even in a very limited context. Just like meeting someone in a group can ease the way into a first date, so too can the forums ease the way into first communication.
It does have to be emphasized that the forums and online interaction generally, remain a very one-dimensional way of meeting people, as CM columnists Mary Beth Bonacci and Stephanie Wood have both reminded readers in recent months. Here is where the events come in. The Catholic Match events make it possible to meet members in person in a pressure-free and relaxed environment. There’s safety in numbers and the odds of meeting friendly people is increased exponentially.
There are certainly downsides to community interaction. Meeting up with members from a dating website—even a Catholic one—is going to inevitably be filled with the same disappointments that exist in group interaction anywhere else. The message forums can be a source not only of community-building, but acrimony, as misunderstandings over sensitive topics arise. I can’t count the number of times I logged off the forums fed up with something or another. I attended several CM events and would be less than candid if I didn’t say there were some that I left disappointed and met people I’d prefer not to see again.
But the good from community interaction far outweighed the negative. I didn’t meet my spouse through an event, but I met people I would consider lifelong friends. After marrying, I had relocated to the Baltimore area and was able to pick up the phone and call one of them to spend a day in nearby Philadelphia, halfway between where we both lived. Meeting a new friend in a new area of the country might not have been what I signed up for, but it was a great benefit to me as I start married life.
And the forums? I met my wife on the forums. Here again, though, was an example of thinking outside the box. She spent time in the Tobias Room, thinking the singles room was the place to be if you wanted to meet someone. I spent time going into the rooms where the people I was interested in would be at. But we met in room where we were being ourselves. We’re both big baseball fans, and we each just piped into the middle of a thread in the St. Christopher’s Room. That’s how we met and it grew from there.
Engaging the community in any sphere involves a modest degree of risk-taking. It can be tempting to visit the forums and lurk, but never post, lest you engage the wrath of one or two people. And it can tempting to stop at participation in the forums and never take the next step into meeting people in the real-life flesh-and-blood world. Putting yourself out there means taking some chances and experiencing some disappointments. But it’s well worth it, and makes the arrival at your ultimate CM destination—a happy marriage—all the more fulfilling.