Online dating 101: understanding that it’s different from traditional dating

There are a lot of different places where Americans meet their significant others. School, work, church, social organizations, through friends, just to name a few.
But one commonality in these organic means of meeting someone is that you don’t generally pursue a relationship from the start of getting to know them. A relationship or friendship marinates, it grows.
If you meet someone online, it gets the whole process reversed. Instead of getting to know someone and later seeing if a relationship could blossom, with online dating, the start of the conversation is often aimed at screening someone to see if a relationship could be possible.

A lot of people have succeeded in finding relationship and spouses in both settings, so neither way is superior to the other. But they are different.
Yet, some people are uncomfortable with online dating.
Online dating often has more intentionality than organically meeting someone. It’s almost like online dating starts a couple steps ahead, but the disconnect is that you don’t know the person. For people who take dating slowly (or who have less experience dating), I think online dating can be especially intimidating.
I think it’s essential in online dating to understand that it’s different.
There are some advantages to online dating. It allows you to meet someone who you might not have ever met otherwise. I think it allows you the chance to find out more about a person more quickly and have a sense of compatibility. There’s less to lose if a relationship doesn’t work because you don’t know the person.
I’m pretty confident that I never would have met my wife had it not been for eHarmony (I was living in Minnesota and she was in Atlanta when we met).
But the approach needs to be different online. In football, you wouldn’t call the same defense against a passing team as you would against a running team. You can’t try to force online dating into the organic dating box. It’s worked for a lot of people. It’s become more and more common. There’s no stigma to it. You didn’t fail at “real” dating.
It may be tempting to idealize “real world” dating over online dating. But people are people. There’s plenty of great people in both domains of dating. And there’s plenty of losers in both. There are no pitfalls of online dating that don’t also exist in organically meeting someone.
If you’re trying your hand at online dating, and you still think the whole thing is weird, maybe do some soul searching on why it bothers you. There’s nothing wrong with it.
If you are going to try online dating, I do think you owe it to yourself to make sure you’re in a season of life where you actually have time to talk to people, have conversations, go on a date. I believe one of the biggest things that can help your success with online dating is…going on dates. Some people do online dating, and it’s almost like they want to defy people to get to know them. Once again, online dating and organic dating are different. It might take months of knowing someone int he real world to go on a date. You don’t need to impose that on online dating. You have candidates who are telling you they’re interested in you!
That’s not to say that you should feel pressured to just jump into a relationship with online dating. That’s not to say you should ignore your instincts about dating. If someone clearly isn’t your type, don’t waste your time. If someone is disrespectful, don’t waste your time.
But if you strike up a conversation with someone online, and they seem to value a lot of the same things, and you like talking to them, and think your personalities align, then meet! That doesn’t mean there’s a commitment or a relationship. Just have a coffee. It isn’t a big deal. If they live locally, I’d suggest doing this relatively quickly. It doesn’t need to take weeks of pre-screening (although also keep safety in mind: meet in a public place, look them up on social media, Google them to make sure they’re not like a notorious criminal).
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 
Josh Benner  has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.
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