By Jason Whitney
Years ago, online dating had a reputation that was less than desirable. But today, that stigma is quickly passing. Thousands of single Christians are currently finding friends and establishing relationships through online dating. Major websites like Eharmony are running huge advertising campaigns with great success. Online dating is becoming more and more mainstream, and the Christian singles community is jumping on board with both feet.
So you've been thinking about it too? Great! But before putting your "feet to the fire", here's some tips that will help make your online dating experience a pleasant and fulfilling one.
Your Secret Identity
Unfortunately, there are those who lurk in online dating sites (yes, even Christian ones) to prey upon unsuspecting victims. That's why it's so important to remain anonymous. Personal information, such as email addresses and phone numbers, should be kept under wraps until after you meet the person and feel you could trust them. Set up a free account through Juno, Hotmail or Yahoo specifically to communicate with online dating prospects. Never offer any info that could be traced online, such as last names, employers, addresses, etc. You'd be amazed at what someone can find out about you with a tiny piece of info. And if someone tries to pressure you into revealing something, RUN! Many cases of identity theft (as well as stalking) have been born through an online dating experience.
The Father Knows Best
So you're chatting with someone online and things seem to be going well. But there's a creepy feeling in your gut that just won't go away. Chances are it's not the leftover Chinese food you had for dinner. It may be the Holy Spirit ringing a warning bell.
The Lord knows what's best for us, and He wants us to obtain it. That's why the Holy Spirit is here. To guide us into situations that are good and lead us away from situations that are bad. It's the still small voice, your conscience, the gut feeling that either says, "Oh yeah, that's great" or "Ick, I don't want it". And in the Christian online dating game, it's your most important tool.
So in the first stages online dating, be skeptical. Don't buy into a message, profile, or something you've been told (the old saying still holds water--if it's too good to be true, it probably is!). The anonymity of the internet lets people be anything they want and often it's a completely false persona. So take your time and get to know someone. Don't rush things. Don't get into intimate conversations. And most importantly, if you get that yucky feeling, don't argue with it! Just quickly retreat from the situation and thank the Lord for His guidance.
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
Looks may not be everything, but in the online dating game, a picture can save you a big headache down the line. If there's not a photo on the website already, always ask for one before setting up a meeting. It confirms what the profile tells you and gives you an idea of what they look like (important to some, not so much to others). If the person balks at this for any reason, don't get involved any further. They're obviously trying to keep something hidden from you, possibly a spouse. How would you feel if you showed a picture of your new beau to someone and they said, "Oh, that's so-and-so's husband." Talk about embarrassing! Caution is key here. Use it in abundance and again, listen for the voice of the Lord.
Time to Make the Call
So you're feeling comfortable enough to exchange phone numbers? One word: STOP! If you're ready to talk on the phone, that's fine--just don't hand them your home or cell number quite yet. Remember, you're only going by what you've seen and read in the incredibly anonymous world of the internet. Your best bet is to make it a pay phone. This way you can still get to know the other person better while keeping your identity secret. Plus, a pay phone gives you an excuse to cut the conversation short if things aren't working out the way you had hoped. And again, if the other party tries to pressure you into something you're not comfortable with, take a hike!
By now, you're pretty comfortable about things. You've had long conversations online and by telephone, you feel like the Holy Spirit is giving you a thumbs-up, and you're ready to meet face-to-face. That's great! But there are still a few things to think about before getting together.
. First of all, always always ALWAYS plan to meet in a public place. This is extremely important. Make sure plenty of people are around--there's safety in numbers. The last thing you want is to be some place secluded if things start getting uncomfortable.
. Let a trusted friend or family member know exactly where you're going and when you'll be back. Give them all the information you have on the person you're going to meet.
. Park your car a few blocks away and walk to the meeting place. Or better yet, take a cab or bus. Remember, your secret identity is still precious. License plate numbers can be easily traced.
. Either bring a friend with you or have a friend remain close "on the sly". If things get too weird, you can always duck out together. Someone would be less prone to pursuing you if you're not alone.
. Don't make your date an all-day affair. An hour or two is sufficient. In fact, you'll probably know in the first few minutes if you want to see them again or not.
. Look for any strange behaviors. Someone who's disrespectful, inappropriate, or angers at the drop of a hat is not the type of person who exemplifies Christ, or is pleasant to be around. Also, watch for any discrepancies in what they've already told you. Is there a question they keep dancing around? A story that keeps changing? These are huge warning signs. Lastly, if you suspect that something's not on the up-and-up, try this: look at the ring finger of the left hand. If there's a tan line or indentation where a wedding band usually lies, get out of there--FAST.
Remember, if at any time during the online dating process you feel uncomfortable, you can turn around and walk away. Don't worry about hurting feelings or embarrassing someone. Your safety is much more important than that. Believe me, they'll get over it.
Listen to Your Heart
My nieces sing an adorable song that says, "Listen to your heart, pitter pitter pat. Your heart will tell you this and your heart will tell you that." No truer words have ever been said. And that brings us to our last tip. It's one that I'm repeating because it's so important to Christian singles: Listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit throughout. If something's wrong, He'll tell you. And if He does tell you something, don't ignore it. Christian singles can get so caught up in the whirlwind emotions of a budding romance that other things get drowned out. Again, God knows what's best for you and yes, He wants you to have it. Trust in Him, and he will guide your path.
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