After my last blog post, “The Church Has Not Forgotten Singles” which generated a lot of vigorous discussion, I received a message from a fellow CatholicMatch.com member asking me to comment on some issues he has experienced with online dating. He was concerned with the fact that we are only “virtually” meeting people online, which should never take the place of encountering someone in person. He pointed out that it’s much easier to view other people as “objects” instead of “persons” when encountering them online.
Before you start fiercely objecting that you never objectify people, let me explain.
When I first joined CatholicMatch, I admit I still thought it was for “desperate” people. And the idea of meeting someone online seemed so “unromantic.” But a friend of mine insisted it was just like meeting people at a party, and that I could use the site to meet local people whom I hadn’t yet managed to meet at church or the local young adult group. That advice may have helped me sign up, but I soon found out that it is certainly not “just like meeting people at a party.” Why not?
For several reasons:
1) Have any of you been to a party that has hundreds of thousands of people at it (except perhaps for World Youth Day)? Realistically, there are too many people on the site to actually interact with any but a minority of them in one’s limited time.
2) Most people specifically sign up because they want to find a spouse, whereas one doesn’t normally go to parties only to meet potential spouses.
3) When you meet people at a party you encounter the whole person, including that twinkle in the eye, the winning smile, and all of the non-verbal communication. The internet, for all its amazing technology, can’t possibly transmit all of that.
One is limited when meeting people online, and so when one goes “searching” it’s easier to look through the list of photos as one would look through a catalogue. After all, you’re not exactly looking at the person, but a glimpse of who that person truly is. This can contribute to what the gentleman who wrote me was concerned about. He said that “when it comes to online dating you have to have thick skin to do it, and because of that it dehumanizes us. We forget that the other person has feelings and we treat the avenue like a meat market because of that.”
Do we want to view others only as items in the “potential spouse” or “non-potential spouse” categories? Or dismiss the possibility of friendship simply because they seem to fall into the latter category before we even meet them? Of course not! But, if you are part of an online community which of its nature has certain limitations, I think there are some things we can do to at least help to “humanize” our interactions with each other.
I often think about what St. John Paul II said in his book Love and Responsibility. He talked about how we are all unique, unrepeatable persons. If I’m tempted to view someone as a “problem,” I try instead to remember that he or she is an unrepeatable mystery and a gift from God, made in His image. Even if I don’t really have the time or interest to carry on a conversation with a particular individual, at least I can word my replies in such a way that they communicate respect for him and best wishes for his future. (Obviously, one has to recognize that the “online dating” world has its own etiquette. A casual conversation at a party doesn’t necessarily convey interest, whereas it’s easy to regard any communication online as indicating interest in something more than friendship. Hence, we will more likely give others a chance at a party, whereas it’s easier to disregard them immediately online.)
So next time you are contacted by someone who takes the time to send you a personal email indicating that he or she has really read and appreciated your profile, before you send an immediate “no thanks,” or nothing at all, at least think twice about whether you’d at least have a conversation with the person if you happened to meet casually at a friend’s party—and if not, then remember he or she is a child of our same Heavenly Father, and, if you can’t converse, at least wish them many blessings from our one “Daddy” in heaven.
In the meantime, if you are looking for ways to meet lots of great people, and not just the online “version” of themselves, then join us at the 13th National Catholic Singles Conference in San Diego next month!
We’ll be having fun with more than 500 other single Catholics, listening to some great talks, being inspired in our Catholic Faith, and enjoying lots of opportunities to socialize, not only during the conference but at the pre/post-conference events!
It’s not too late to register at NationalCatholicSingles.com! Hope to see you there!