Isolated Online?


I went to a local Catholic Match event a few weeks ago. Ironically, the initial idea for the get-together came from some out-of-town members who were going to be visiting, and wanted to meet some local CM-ers. So they put the word out, and a whole lot of people showed up! And since I’ve been writing these columns for CM for the past four-plus years, I thought it’d be fun to go meet some of you in person.

And it was. A blast. I ran into some people I already knew, and I met a whole lot of really great people I didn’t know.

It also got me thinking – about singleness, about community, and about the difference between meeting people online and meeting people in person.

It was particularly clear to me that night what an incredible gift Catholic Match is to single Catholics. It’s not just about dating. In fact, I’d say that it’s not even primarily about dating. I think that, in practice, it winds up being about friendship. A lot of these people had been “talking” to each other on the forums for months or even years. They “knew” each other, in a way. Seeing their enthusiasm when they met face to face was really fun.

Meeting in person is different. No matter how often you chat with someone online, no matter how many deep thoughts you share, there is a certain “completeness” that is missing if you haven’t actually seen each other. People just have a “way” of being that can’t be discerned from the written word alone. It’s obviously true in dating relationships, where the element of physical attraction is so important. But I think meeting in person is also important in friendships. We’re embodied souls. Our “selves” can’t really be severed, or even fully understood, apart from our bodily existence. Our personhood has a bodily dimension.

I also think it’s more difficult to bring a friendship, or any relationship, to the level of face-to-face. Look, we all know the temptation to have a difficult conversation via email, or to break up with someone via voice mail. There’s a certain vulnerability that is implied when we’re in someone’s physical presence, as opposed to hiding behind a computer screen.

Look at Scripture. What did Adam and Eve do after they had sinned? They hid. They could no longer bear the scrutiny of seeing God “face to face.” They felt safer with a little distance (and a big fig leaf) separating them.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the various forum discussions. Many of which are fabulous, by the way. But how often do you run across a post and think “There’s no way she’d say that to his face.” It can feel a lot safer to speak our minds when we’re hiding behind a computer screen.

And thus, the danger of the relationship that never goes beyond the online, virtual world.

It’s easy, isn’t it? You hang around at home, in your jammies, “relating” to friends all over the world. You don’t have to leave the house. You don’t have to clean the house. You don’t even have to clean yourself. Halitosis is completely undetectable through the world wide web.

You feel like you’re “getting out there.” But you’re not. You’re still, essentially, alone in your house.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As I said, this on-line community is a great gift to us, bringing Catholics from all over the world together to share thoughts, to debate, and yes, to initiate friendships. What’s wrong is when this world of online friends becomes your primary source of companionship and community – when you’re spending more time online than you are out in the world of full-fledged interaction with the rest of humanity.

Relationships can suffer eventually when they exist only online. But when most of our relationships are online, we suffer personally as well. There is a certain set of “people skills” that are required when we interact with other human persons. Those skills, like any other, can atrophy when they aren’t exercised. “Use it or lose it.” What’s worse, people who don’t have those skills to begin with are probably more tempted to hide behind the monitor and avoid real human interaction.

I want to keep emphasizing that I think all of this online relating is a very, very good thing. But I want to encourage a couple of things:

First of all, don’t let your online friendships be your only friendships. Get out, socialize, volunteer. Do things in the real world. I think single people have a really dangerous tendency to base their socializing decisions strictly on the question “Where can I meet people to date?” Stop that. Get over the adolescent obsession with basing your life around meeting members of the opposite sex. See the image and likeness of God in everyone around you. Build friendships.

And second, keep making the effort to meet your online friends face to face. CM events are awesome. When you’re going to visit another city, do what Mary and Rob did when they visited Denver – ask around, put the word out, and get some people together!

I love CM because it brings like-minded people together who have the potential for very deep and abiding relationships – friendships and more. But those relationships will never become all they can be if they exist only in the one-dimensional world of cyberspace.

I want to conclude by quoting two of my favorite philosophers. The first is John Paul II:
"Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion."

And the second is country singer Brad Paisley:

I'm a Sci-Fi fanatic

Mild asthmatic

Never been to second base*

But there's a whole nother me

That you need to see

Go check out MySpace

'cause online I'm out in Hollywood

I'm 6'5 and I look good

I drive a Maserati

I'm a black belt in Karate

And I love a good glass of wine . . .

I’m so much cooler online

You don’t need to be cool. Just real.




  1. Lisa-170636 April 5, 2009 Reply

    What if you don't have people skills to begin with? lol I'm an introvert and I barely socialize. I'm happy to see people around me, but it's harder to start up a conversation, plus, I'd rather just work out with a bunch of people in the gym then begin talking. I've been in a situation(s) where my online friendships were my only friendships, so I totally understood what you meant there. For right now, I find it best to stay away from online chatting, etc. because it gets in the way of my real social life.

  2. Jennifer-309886 February 17, 2009 Reply

    I'd love to go to a CM event but they all seem to happen in America!! Maybe I'll save some pennies and make the trip regardless!
    You guys State-side are so fortunate- in some areas, you have beautiful weather in your favour for much of the year and I'd say that typically, Americans are much more outgoing and less reserved than we are, here in Britain. I picture a Catholic Match event held here in London to be accompanied by lots of rain even during the summer, with few people showing up and those that do being too shy to talk to one another!
    However, if someone wanted to organise an event outside of the USA, what would be the best way to go about it? Does organising a CM event take a lot of time / cost a lot of money / involve a lot of work? Any good ideas are welcome- thanks!

  3. Rita-412067 February 13, 2009 Reply

    When you live in a less populated area, there aren't many events or invites. This makes it even easier to hide at home. So far I've seen very few members from our area. We all have cabin fever up here and need to get out!!! We love it here in SD, but we're ready for some serious sunshine!

  4. Anthony-412749 February 11, 2009 Reply

    Its always better to meet in person or at least by phone

  5. Kaene-341927 February 9, 2009 Reply

    Mary Beth,
    Thank you for this article. I love to socialize and need to meet people face to face. You have brought up a lot of great points.

  6. Mary-363093 February 9, 2009 Reply

    It's definitely a fine line one walks in the online dating world. The comfort of home can become crippling for many reasons, one being some people are afraid they won't measure up to their online persona.
    I agree with Mary Beth – just be real.
    Be true to yourself, and just get out there. Take the pressure off that you need to meet your soul mate, and focus instead on meeting some new friends. Step up and make a contact, plan an outing, emote some invites to promote it. It has worked well for me. And I can't tell you how many people have thanked me after the fact for inviting them – and getting them out. Sometimes gentle encouragement is all it takes.
    It's a meal. A cup of coffee. A few hours of your time. Not a proposal, or lifelong commitement. Keep it in perspective, and have some fun.

  7. Rita-412067 February 8, 2009 Reply

    This is encouraging – thank you for writing the article. The business of life makes it easy to not participate in friendship – to take the shortcuts technology offers instead. If we were all honest with ourselves, I think we'd find that we value friendship above romance.

  8. James-141787 February 8, 2009 Reply

    The online community is wonderful, but it can never be a substitute for real life. In fact, it can definitely be unhealthy if it is the only social outlet you have. Single Catholics have a double problem in that the online community is good but not enough. Meanwhile, those in the parish community think "all the 'kids' are online dating now," thus there is no reason for them to worry about creating a parish community that supports single Catholics in real life or that draws upon the resources of the community network to help isolated singles with no single Catholic friends to meet others and, with God's grace, become un-single as soon as God intends it for them. Another problem with online dating is that some people treat it as superior to real-world dating precisely because you are not meeting in person. A very prominent priest once told me he supports online dating because you are not "distracted" by the presence of a real person in front of you and you can concentrate on writing "letters". But the typical email, emote, or online chat is not letter-writing, and no letter writing can address the need to meet other people.

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