Are You Online?

The pressure is out there, and under it, some are venturing online. As I looked around and asked questions, I started getting the impression that maybe people weren’t just signing on as a last ditch effort. From the looks of it, they have some good reasons and a few bad ones.

First off, we’re more spread out. The Church is everywhere and so are singles. For one, BYU alumni take their “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve” call pretty seriously. After graduation, they go forth. Students leave the dating mecca that is the Wasatch Front, landing in New York, D.C., Chicago, all over California and everywhere in between. Not to mention all the students who never went to BYU to begin with. And while there are decent concentrations of LDS singles in metropolitan areas, sometimes up to four wards, there are still areas where options are, well, let’s just say limited.  

Secondly, singles get busier as work, grad school, and other options mount. And if the singles are divorced or widowed with kids, you can forget about the same active social life you enjoyed when you were in college.

And, just like any other social scene, you’ll find those who aren’t really interested in settling down. Some sign on to find a mass of people to date, which can be good or bad, depending on whether or not you want the same thing.

One strong caution: It’s rare, but sometimes predators sign on. Nearly each site advises you to take precautions you would take in traditional dating situations.

Just like any other social scene, there is some good and bad, but it appears the top reason LDS singles sign on is to find someone to love and eventually marry.

How It Works

LDS singles sites break down into roughly two categories: picture and profile or compatibility matching. There are pros and cons to both. With picture and profile you set the parameters and scroll through pictures, looking for someone who sparks your interest. Compatibility matching sites offer various personality tests, then match you with a given number of compatible options. The tests are usually based on psychological research and endorsed by the doctor who conducted the research.

Ben Chase, CEO of LDS Promise, uses compatibility tests on his site. “We built the site based on the idea that it would be a safe place,” he says. “The idea is that the time and effort is takes to fill out a test, then be matched, then wait to see if the match chooses face to face or step by step takes too long for a predator to go through it all.” Chase says he’s a little leery of picture and profile sites because a predator can get faster results. “With compatibility, it’s possible to fake the test, but it’s a great deterrent for a predator.”

Most LDS sites also monitor communication and dismiss a member who is behaving crudely or inappropriately.

So how big is it? Pretty big. One site, LDS Mingle, hosts over two hundred thousand singles. There are over ten LDS singles sites, each with a different plug.

LDS Mingle is aimed at adults looking for a real relationship and has a zero tolerance policy for vulgarity and inappropriate content. They target the thirty to forty-five age bracket and their subscribers are approximately fifty-five percent women and forty-five percent men. Another site hosts the student age group and has around twenty thousand members.You probably know someone who thinks online dating sites are only for the desperate, but according to Ben Peterson, founder of LDS Mingle, the online community is reflective of the real world. “When you have twenty thousand single people, there are obviously some bad apples,” he says. Some—not all. Even with the bad apples, LDS Mingle averages twenty to thirty marriages a month. And that’s just one site.

Some people see their friends get married to someone they met online, or sign on and find friends “just like themselves,” and the trend becomes a little more accepted. Rebecca, 44, and George, 46, met online and married after two years of dating; George is comfortable, but Rebecca is still a little embarrassed to admit how they met. Either way, chances are you know someone online and they’re making new friends.

If you’re thinking about signing on, here are some dos and don’ts to help.

Be Comfortable

If you don’t feel comfortable dating online, don’t. On the other hand, if you feel the method may be advantageous to your situation, you can give it a try. Just like other dating scenes, it works for some and not for others. Do not be scared into thinking the Internet is your last chance.

In a CES fireside May 1, 2005, Elder Dallin H. Oaks counseled young single adults to seek out someone to pair off with and date, not just hang out. After describing the requirement of an actual date, namely that it is “planned ahead, paid for, and paired off,” Elder Oaks told the saints, “My single brothers and sisters, follow the simple dating pattern and you don’t need to do your shopping on the Internet through chat rooms or dating services—two alternatives that can be very dangerous or at least unnecessary or ineffective.”

Never look at online dating as your last resort. If it isn’t a method in which you’re interested, don’t use it; just keep trying the more traditional methods.

Research the Sites

“Every site out there has their own community environment, their own feel,” says Peterson. Get a feel for what the site offers, what age group it caters to, and what kind of people sign up. Trying to make friends online can take a lot of time, so be sure you don’t waste it on a site that caters to people who have different goals than yours.Check cost, too. Most sites charge, though they may offer discounts when you sign up for a few months at a time. Be prepared to pay a little more if the site offers features like video or the compatibility tests.

Be Aware of What it Involves

While the idea of a mass of possible new friends is exciting, it’s an activity that taxes your time. “It’s exhausting,” Rebecca says. “You work full time, you’re on the computer all day long, and then you go home and feed your kids. I logged on after they went to bed. You want to write and you want to be clever when you write so you want to put some time into your emails. It just took too long.

Don’t Form a Relationship with Your Inbox

While dating online can be one social option, remember that it shouldn’t replace face-to-face interaction. “I learned not to get caught emailing or to waste my time chatting,” said Jared, a 32-year-old from New York. “A lot say, ‘Oh, I don’t have to go out or put myself out there because I do it online. That’s a bad notion. Dating online should just be a supplement—you’re better going and doing, being involved in your ward activities and FHE.”

Claudia, a 29-year-old from Indiana, stopped using because she got tired of the long distances. “It’s exhausting sometimes. You can only be email buddies for so long and then it seems pointless. To me online sites were just a means to an end. It should be a means of meeting people and then meeting face to face. I got tired of the pictures and never the faces.”  

George discovered problems of faulty perception in prolonging face-to-face meetings. “When you email, that kind of builds up expectations, and then maybe you start talking on the phone and it’s completely different—maybe you find out they have a southern drawl or something. Then when you actually meet them in real life it’s completely different again. You’re better off not spending too much time corresponding but trying to meet somebody sooner rather than later.”

When Rebecca finally met someone she’d been emailing and talking to for three months, she was surprised at the idea of him her mind had created. “I learned that if he had been charming or the worst thing in the world, it never would have matched up to what my impression was at that point because I had fabricated what he was to be like. This is just a way to introduce yourself to somebody that you could go meet. You can’t actually try to create a relationship over the phone or email because real life is never going to match.” Be Decent to People

The horror stories tend to be along the same lines as stories traditional dating yields: rejections, hurt feelings, and overreactions.

Be respectful of others’ feelings and the things that are important to them. George had been through two divorces, the second because his wife had an affair. After some time talking to one woman online, she confided in him that she had cheated on her last husband. She asked him if it bothered him and he told her that yes, it did. The woman immediately ripped him apart, saying he was just being judgmental, without being considerate of the emotional weight that aspect had with him. “It’s a really scary thing, being an older single,” says George. “You feel out of place. It can be tough because most singles our age have a lot of baggage because of divorces and things.

Be Yourself

It’s one thing to take your time getting to know the site and getting comfortable, but don’t lie, don’t deceive, and don’t mislead. “I know some people worry about people not being who they portray,” says Claudia. “I think it’s a real concern. You do have to be careful but it has been my experience that people are honest and open—except about their photos. I was thinner when I was nineteen too, but that doesn’t mean I use that picture.”  

A man whose profile said he was a six-foot, two-inch forty-year-old turned out to be a five-foot, nine-inch fifty-year-old. When Rebecca found out he’d been lying, she immediately cut off contact.

“One woman I wrote to, she’d been a model and her picture was drop dead gorgeous,” says George. “But when I met her I couldn’t believe it was the same person; there was at least twenty years’ difference.”

Rebecca corresponded with another man for about three months, but she never saw a photo. “I felt like I’d be really shallow if I said, ‘You have to send me a photo,’ so I kind of let it go and he kept telling me he’d send one, but he didn’t.” He had told her he played basketball three nights a week with all these young kids. Then right before they met he told her, “I’m more of a football build than a basketball build.” As it turned out, “He was really heavy and not at all what I was expecting.”

When Rebecca and George met, they were open and honest. Both were impressed with the others’ candor, and they had the chemistry to back it up. This time, for them, it worked out perfectly.

It’s a pretty safe bet that lying is a big turn off. You may not get the same amount of emails as your graduation photo might bring in, but those that do look forward to meeting you will be pleased with your honesty.

My favorite English professor met a great guy online and got married last summer, and I’m happy for her. As for me, I just met someone at a party and it’s going pretty well, so I won’t be jumping online just yet, but I’m glad it’s working out for so many. 

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