One of my favorite features of the Catholic Match Magazine has long been the Success Stories. Reading about how God has brought so many couples together – sometimes across great distances, despite large obstacles, almost always to the shock and surprise of the couple – has given me hope. In fact, I must attribute at least a few of my decisions to renew my CM membership “for at least one more year” to the testimonies of couples who’ve shared their success stories with the rest of us. It reminds me of the story of the paralytic in the Bible – who was healed by Jesus on the faith of his friends, not on his own inner strength. There certainly have been many times in my life when I didn’t have the patience or the faith to believe that God had someone waiting for me on a Catholic singles website.
That all changed when I met my husband on Catholic Match. Thanks to God’s grace and CM, my whole life has been changed and blessed beyond my wildest dreams. Peter and I were married on July 3, 2009, and I am so excited to share our Catholic Match success story with you. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I tell you our story, I want to share with you a little of my own.
World’s Worst Holiday…for Single People
It was New Year’s Eve 2004. I was in exactly the same place I had spent most New Years prior: sitting on my parent’s couch in my pajamas, watching old movies and babysitting my younger siblings while my parents went out for the night. I must admit, New Year’s Eve has always been my least favorite holiday for single people – for me, even worse than Valentine’s Day. Many of you might agree with me – this particular Eve is just MADE for couples – it’s all about sharing a bottle of champagne and watching Dick count down the seconds as the ball drops…singing Auld Lang Syne and kissing the one you love at the stroke of midnight. The experience isn’t remotely as wonderful when you’re single.
Up until that night, I had been very “anti” anything to do with online dating. My father is a national speaker and author on marriage and family topics, and he even titled a chapter in one of his books “Romeo Online,” encouraging singles to use the internet as a medium for meeting marriage material. Whenever anyone mentioned my Dad’s “Romeo Online” chapter to me, I just rolled my eyes. I had absolutely convinced myself that singles websites were only for desperate people and old people, and I considered myself neither desperate nor old. On one occasion, when a friend asked why I hadn’t joined any of the Catholic dating websites, I answered: “I’ll join one of those when I turn 65 or when hell freezes over – whichever comes first.”
I wasn’t just a skeptic. I was a die-hard disbeliever that online dating was “normal,” and I was absolutely certainly that it would never work for me.
However, in a moment of weakness on that frosty New Year’s Eve, I signed up for a one year membership to CatholicMatch.com. I sheepishly admit, I was extremely surprised by what I found. There were TONS of single Catholics on the website, and from my initial browsing around, it appeared that my fellow CM members weren’t all four decades my seniors, as I had feared. All age groups, ethnic groups, geographic areas, etc. etc. seemed to be amply represented. And to top it all off, these people seemed oddly normal! I felt the prejudices and fears I had built up in my mind about online dating begin to topple like Joshua’s walls in Jericho.
Out of My Prejudices and into the Community
Over the next several years, God poured numerous blessings into my life through Catholic Match. The first was the gift of friendship. Through emotigrams, emails, chats, and forum discussions, I have come to know many wonderful people whom I honored to call friends.
The second was the gift of a sharpened, strengthened faith. I’ve had fascinating discussions (and yes, some debates – gotta love the Forum debates!) with fellow CM members that have drawn me into a deeper knowledge and love for my faith. I have learned so much from so many of you.
Thirdly, I learned a lot about life and relationships from my CM dating experience, and from the shared experiences of others. I learned how difficult (but still worth it) long distance relationships were. I learned how powerful and how necessary good skills in communication could be when you’re meeting someone new on the internet. I learned how to be more discerning, how to listen better. I’ve experienced my own share of heartache, disappointment, and heartbreak over CM relationships – but even in hard times I learned so much about myself and what I was looking for in a husband.
The Dark Days
In the fall and winter of 2007, I experienced some of my darkest days as single person. Earlier in the year I had gone through a painful breakup, and I felt very very, very single…and very lost when it came to knowing what God wanted of me. I know that my vocation was to the married life, but I couldn’t understand what was taking God such a long time. I felt ready – and I was getting tired of waiting. My nightly prayers for God’s will, and for my future husband, were becoming slightly more desperate and much less faith-filled.
On November 23rd, my birthday, I decided to re-activate my Catholic Match membership. Earlier in the year I had let my account expire. After almost 3 years as a site user, I felt I had given God more than adequate time to find me someone online. On my birthday, CM sent me an email advertisement to re-activate my account at a special “birthday price.” When I read the email, I had this vision in my mind of standing before the throne of God someday after I had died, an old single spinster, and asking God what had I done wrong in the area of relationships? Why didn’t He fine me a spouse when I was trying so hard to do everything “right” to be available for the right person? In my mind I saw God smile at me and say “Steph, I had him waiting for you along for you on the Internet – but you wouldn’t help me out by activating your account.” I decided I wasn’t going to give God ANY excuses – I whipped my credit card out of my wallet and re-activated my account right then and there.
A Soldier Returns
I received my first emotigram from Peter Weinert on December 18th, just three weeks later. Peter had spent the previous 17 months overseas in the deserts of Iraq, serving our country. December 18th was his first day home, a civilian permanently done with deployment. The Lord had placed a strong conviction in his heart that it was time to settle down, enter his vocation and build a family and a home. Because of his extensive military service and work with the government overseas for much of the past decade, Peter did not have a large community of single Catholic friends to re-assimilate into. His older sister suggested Catholic Match, so he signed up, hoping to meet someone in the D.C. area where he now lived. He put in his profile that he would travel up to a 60 mile radius – he really wasn’t interested in a long distance relationship, especially after all the travel that had consumed his life for the past several years.
Later that day, Peter somehow came across my CM profile. In his words, he says that something about my eyes and my smile captured him, and he “just knew” that he was supposed to write me. If I responded, he was determined that I was the one he wanted to get to know better…
…even though I lived over 500 miles away.
I feel like an idiot admitting it now, but when Peter first started writing to me, I almost completely ignored him. From my quick perusal of his profile I saw an adorably handsome guy in a military uniform that couldn’t possibly be interested in any of the things I was interested in. I also saw how far away he lived, and with my anxieties about LDRs combined with my preconceived notion that Captain America in D.C. couldn’t possibly be “the one” – I wrote brief, non-committal, non-interesting replies to Pete’s emails, for about a month.
Towards the end of January, I’m not sure what happened, but something inside me sort of “woke up” when it came to my disinterest in Peter. I realized that this guy was still writing me occasionally – always kind, super respectful, and, if I admitted it, really funny emails. And I also realized that I paid him next to zero attention and hadn’t taken the time to ask him any questions about himself.
As a self-professed bibliophile, I started with a topic that’s my classic “litmus” test for a guy. I asked him if he liked to read, and if so, what topics. Peter replied with a huge “YES!!!” and said he loved to read a wide range of topics, but his top favs were theology and philosophy.
I was a theology and philosophy major in college. I thought to myself, “Perfect! This will be interesting…” and I asked him to tell me about some of his favorite theology books. “Well, Hahn and Kreeft are great. I’ve been reading some of the early church fathers, and I’m in the process of reading the Summa – all five volumes cover to cover – great stuff!”
I was shocked. I had never heard of a Captain America who read the Summa. I had to know more. Emails started flying up and down the Eastern seaboard as Peter and I discovered worlds of similarities and common interests.
When Mind Meets Mind
We discovered bucket loads of things in common. We both came from large Catholic families. We shared the experience of being homeschooled by our mothers when we were in grade school. Our parents had been involved in the same pro-life activist organization when we were kids. Peter’s dad grew up not too far from where my own father was raised in Pennsylvania. Our parents raised us and disciplined us in similar ways when we were growing up. We shared the same two favorite authors (Lewis and Chesterton). We shared the same favorite Bible verse. I chose it as my favorite when I was 13 and a new convert to Catholicism. Pete wore a cross with the verse engraved on the back during his military career (Proverbs 3:5-6). I found that a bit eerie, but the pièce de résistance was that we shared the same favorite brand and flavor of ice cream: Bryers mint chocolate chip. No substitutes, none of that green stuff – just Bryers. When I learned that, I figured either Peter had hired a detective to learn my quirks, or this guy was my soul mate.
We met in person three weeks later, and life, for either of us, has never been the same. When I picked Peter up at the Greenville, SC airport and we went out on our first date, we both knew we had a long road ahead of us and lots to learn about each other. At the same time, I think we both knew that this was the real thing – that this was finally, wonderfully, incredibly “it.”
The weekend after our first date, Peter surprised me yet again by driving all the way from D.C. to Greenville for the sole purpose of taking my Dad out to lunch on a Monday afternoon and asking his permission to “get to know me better.” I had no idea about the trip until after the lunch, when Peter showed up at my office with flowers for my desk and an invitation to take me out to dinner. I knew that a guy who was willing to drive over 1000 miles roundtrip to take my Dad out to lunch was one in a million.
The Best Birthday Present Ever
I’ll be sharing some of our dating stories and the lessons we learned together in subsequent CM columns. But I must tell you here about the birthday present I received one year to the day after I had reactivated my Catholic Match profile.
It was Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King. After mass at St. Mary’s Church in Greenville, with my entire family kneeling down to offer a prayer of thanksgiving, Pete leaned over and whispered in my ear “Let’s go offer a prayer to the Queen Mother.”
We walked up to the front of the church, lit two candles at the Blessed Mother’s altar, and knelt down to say a prayer. As soon as I closed my eyes, Peter started whispering to me again. I opened my eyes to see his beet-red face and knew this was it. He pulled out the most beautiful ring I have ever seen, and asked me to be his wife and best friend forever. It was perfect!
During our afternoon of celebrating with family, we discovered that 28 years earlier, on a cold Sunday evening in Stoneham, Massachusetts, I had been born on the Feast of Christ the King. Since my family was Protestant when I was born, we never knew I was born on that Feast, which is a rotating feast day, until after we were engaged. Peter and I considered it just a little extra “confirmation” that we were meant for each other on this special day.
My Fairy Tale Come True
Peter and I were married on July 3rd, just over a month ago. He took me on a fantastic honeymoon trip to Greece, Turkey, and Italy. Not only my wonderful husband, but also our trip, was truly a fairy tale dream come true. I think back to those early days as a Catholic Match member, struggling with thoughts that this “online thing” could never work for me. How very glad I am to admit that I was wrong. I’ve learned in the most profound way how much BIGGER God’s plans and God’s ways are compared to our own. And when our faith is weak, He makes up for what is lacking and takes care of us anyway.
Over the next several months, I’d like to share in my monthly column some of the things Peter and I have learned about dating, discernment, and marriage preparation – particularly as it applies to Catholic singles, online meeting, and long distance relationships. Probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned is that there is a tremendous lack of support networks and tangible community for discerning and engaged couples. It’s a time in life when there are so many stresses, so many questions, and so many decisions to be made – it helps immensely to have others to learn from and journey with when embarking on this great adventure. Peter and I hope that we can encourage many of you by sharing our story and the lessons we have learned.
Back to Where it Started…
On that cold December day in 2004 when I first joined Catholic Match, I picked a username for my CM account that would help me remember the reason I joined, no matter what happened in my life through my involvement in the website. It was an important reminder to me each time I signed into the website. My username was “Romans828.” It’s a reference to a Bible verse, where St. Paul says:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
Whether the Lord uses Catholic Match to introduce you to new friends, to help you grow in your understanding of our rich Catholic faith, or to lead you to your soul mate, never forget that His work in you is good, and his purpose is faithful and true.