reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

You may have stumbled upon this little corner of the internets because of columns I used to write for dating apps. Yes, I am divorced and annulled and have never actually dated. Those who can’t do, teach. Right?

About a year and a half ago I suddenly stopped writing for dating apps. I tried to write. My gracious editors tried to offer me topics that I could write within my wheelhouse. However, this perverse sense of integrity stopped me in my tracks every time. I just couldn’t do it anymore. It took some time to sort out all the whys about being absolutely done. Now that I have some distance on it, here is why I am no longer writing for dating apps. But first a disclaimer:

Yes, I am aware of the many success stories of people who have met online. In fact, some of my closest friends met each other online through an app. I am happy they found their happily ever after. My take on the dating app approach is not a judgement in the least on those who have met their partners online. Just like I have friends who have met their spouses in college, in middle school, through Bible studies, at work, in bars, at parties and hook-ups, and on blind date set-ups by nosey relatives, I am happy for them all. I can hold that happiness in one hand and still hold the idea that I don’t think their method of getting together should be trademarked and marketed as THE method of finding a spouse. My grandfather proposed to my grandmother after 3 weeks and they were happily married for life. But, I wouldn’t recommend marrying someone you met three weeks ago, despite the obvious lovely success of my grandparents. Let me say this again very clearly, I am happy you found your Love, however that came together whether through an app or not, and I will not judge how you got there. The following then are generalities, not specific to your situation. [end disclaimer]

People Are Not Commodities

In the industry of dating apps–whether secular or Christian–the single unattached person becomes a commodity. It is in the apps’ best interest to keep you coming back. It is not necessarily in their best interest for you to settle down. They need repeat customers for their business model. The individual person is a commodity to be traded. And while most (all?) capitalist ventures treat the individual person as a number to be exploited, dating apps take literally the most personal area of your life to exploit. They aren’t selling you a lawn mower or a water bottle or a hamburger. They are selling you sexual satisfaction, which bleeds into your future as a potential spouse, parents, grandparent. It’s a deeply sensitive and intimate thing to commodify.

And all apps, regardless of how they try to trick the algorithm to match you with someone compatible, end up fostering a very consumeristic mindset in the user. Whether you are swiping right and left, refining your search parameters, saving profiles for later, or just mindlessly scrolling through photos, you are shopping. Shopping for a spouse. Shopping for a person. The dating app is the new Sears Catalog we used to flip through as children to pick out school clothes and Easter dresses.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Maybe. Maybe. Nope. Yes.

Only to attempt to place the order and find out they are sold out of our size and we have to start shopping again with the maybes becoming yesses and the nopes becoming maybes.

But people are not patent leather shoes. They have hearts and fears and passions and are vulnerable.

This soul shopping causes us to make snap judgements, a habit I have been trying all my life to break. I joke that I am Judgey McJudgykins when I meet someone, sizing them up and making assumptions about their inner lives based on really trivial things. We all do it right? Within a matter of moments in meeting someone you assume things about their intelligence, income, religion, background, health. None of the assumptions may be correct at all. People of good will with a minute amount of self-awareness try to break this habit, hence the adage about not judging a book by its cover.

But what do the dating apps teach us to do? Reduce people to a profile picture and maybe a couple line bio. Make assumptions and swipe. At the same time it fosters in us the idea of “If they would only give me a chance, they would like me” all the while saying “I could never date them because look at that poorly lit photo.”

C’est la vie.

What About Vocations?

I believe it was St. John Bosco who said that one out of every three people was called to religious life. If that is true (and who am I to question St. Bosco?) the current crisis in vocations means a lot of people are ignoring the call. The blame cannot entirely be blamed on dating apps, but I think they do not help. In the olden days (do I sound like a granny or what?) a person would come of age and look for a spouse in their general area–their parish, their village, the surrounding regions, perhaps. But there was a limit. Not finding someone in their limited scope one could perhaps look inward a little more and consider, “Do I have a vocation?”

However, these days there is no limit to our scope. Through the magic of postmodernity, we are just as likely to find a spouse on the other side of the world as we are in our neighborhood. In fact, we may be more likely to do so. There are no limits on location, class, education, religion, interests. You have half the population to choose from! Now go find that spouse. There is no excuse!

Except….now hear me out….maybe we aren’t supposed to spend our lives in search of a spouse in the far corners of the world. Maybe a life dedicated to prayer and good deeds would go a lot farther in the view of eternity than finding that needle of a spouse in the haystack of all humanity.

The world of singleness–particularly those of the single Catholic–is so dang noisy. All the advice and conferences and small groups and apps can quickly drown out the still small voice of the Holy Spirit who may indeed be calling one to the hermitage, the cloister, the altar. We are so small and weak that we often won’t even consider it until we have exhausted our feeble resources. But in the 21st century, there is no limit to those resources.

Our pastor showing the children of the parish pictures of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land

The World I Want To Leave My Children

Maybe I traffic in ideals and maybe they fall flat. Who’s to say? But I don’t want to leave my children the metaverse as their inheritance. I like it best when we get to know friends climbing mountains and sharing a flask at the summit. I like to invite new people to sit around my fire in the backyard and bring their guitars. I like to host six course dinners where we laugh until we cry, lingering over the digestif, reluctant for the night to end. I like to introduce myself to new people in Mass and invite them to the church hall for muffins and coffee. I like to invite strangers over for burgers. I like to gather families once a month to pray the Rosary and have a potluck where in one corner kids are playing with legos and in another some moms are shedding a few tears over some recent heartbreak and the men are standing around the kitchen island solving all the world’s problems.

In short, I like connection. I want to touch people, mirror their expressions, listen to them overshare about their traumas, offer them another cuppa, sneak outside into the dark under the stars to smoke a clove, hug people a little too long, hear them laugh too loudly.

I don’t want my default connection to people (if you can even call it connection) to be through the screen of a phone. If social media replaces cocktail parties and playdates we are done for. If people stop going to Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts and parish picnics, what will become of us?

We have already lost so many things to the internet. Kids don’t get snow days anymore, because they can just hop on Zoom. And sick days and personal days just become WFH days where we ignore the kids and take over the dining room table. Even the young adult group in my diocese meets online, rather than in person. And how many people stopped going to church during the pandemic, opting to stream worship while sipping their coffee and eating the breakfast sandwich that DoorDash dropped off. I weep.

I don’t want the default way my kids meet their spouse to be through the cold screen of their phone and their breakups to happen via text messages. Everything inside me that remains true, good, and beautiful rejects that idea. I want them to have real relationships with flesh and blood and tears and hugs and kisses. Not emojis of broken hearts or yellow round kissy faces.

Why I Stopped Writing For Dating Apps

So to sum up this already too long post, I couldn’t be true to myself and my core values at the same time writing for dating apps. Because people are not things one shops for, vocations are in crisis, we have to silence the noise, and I want to give my kids a world where they can still have a meet-cute in the produce section of the grocery store or in the parish hall sharing a glazed donut and bad coffee.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

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