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Guess who just met a potential date-significant other-future spouse online? You probably know him or her. It could be your neighbor, colleague, your single daughter, widowed uncle, the sweet old lady from the 7 AM Mass crowd. It could be someone you’d least expect to use an online dating service.
Online dating services, or online meeting tools, are portals that match applicants with each other by analyzing responses to questionnaires and pairing people with a high level of analogous responses.
In many circles using a dating service used to be considered taboo or at least tacky. It was only for desperate people, those who couldn’t find a suitable partner on their own. Obviously, lots of people were using these services, but no one wanted to admit to it.
Case in point: I recently attended the wedding of a young couple, both of whom came from extremely conservative Catholic families with high standards. I’d witnessed their chaste courtship, admired their all-the-bells-and-whistles ceremony, and was astounded when I went through the receiving line and discovered that they’d met online. They were the last couple I’d ever have expected to use an online dating tool.
After the wedding, I thought about what other couples I know who used an online dating service to meet. I came up with a good number of them, all of whom married their match. I’ve also recently met a few people—young and middle aged—who are currently in relationships that began online. This made me wonder who’s using dating services now and why. The results surprised me.
A web search brought up dozens of online dating sites geared toward a wide variety of demographics, both secular and religious. I interviewed a representative of CatholicMatch.com, the largest and most active website exclusively for single Catholics. Since its founding in 2004, CatholicMatch.com—whose clients range in age from 18 to 80—has seen thousands of couples marry as a result of meeting through their site.
And that’s just the ones they know about, said Robyn Lee. She is managing editor for CatholicMatch Institute, which provides dating and marriage resources for singles, couples, and church leaders. According to Lee, the objective of online dating sites is to get a snapshot view of a potential spouse to get an early indicator of compatibility.
“Many Catholic singles have trouble finding like-minded Catholics and are tired of the club and bar scene,” she said. “Since the internet and social media have become part of our daily lives, extending the reach of online technology into the dating sphere helps Catholics meet faith-filled people that they wouldn’t normally meet,” Lee added.
John and Mary Hathaway met through Ave Maria Singles in 1999 while John was living in Georgia and Mary in Virginia. John is a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Mary was considering the convent before they met.
“The great thing about Ave Maria Singles was the detailed profiles,” John said. “We both knew plenty about each other before the first email.”
John’s first email really impressed Mary, and they subsequently exchanged a series of long emails during December, followed by their first phone conversation just after New Year’s Day 2000. It lasted four hours. After another four-hour conversation, them met in person and became engaged the same day. They married in July 2000 and now have four children.
The Escobedo family offers another online dating site success story. “I always wanted to marry and have children,” Cecilia Escobedo said. “I knew I wanted to marry someone who was a true Catholic in all senses, but I was having no luck meeting that person.” Cecilia and her husband, Gonzalo, met through Ave Maria Singles in July 2001.
Cecelia was impressed with Gonzalo’s online profile. After emailing for a few weeks, they spoke on the phone over the course of 3 months, and then met in person only once. Cecilia lived in Florida and Gonzalo, a doctor, lived in Delaware. “I am not making this up, but when I saw him, I knew it was meant to be,” she said. They were married in December 2001. Cecilia now homeschools their eight children.
For Elizabeth Boyle-Contreras and her husband, Bobby Contreras, meeting online was an answer to months of prayer. They met through CatholicMatch.com while both lived in the same Texas city and started talking on the phone every night for several hours.
“We broke all the rules on our first date,” Elizabeth said. “We talked about religion, our pasts, marriage, children, and what we were looking for in a spouse. I came home from our date and told my mom that I was going to marry this man.”
They married in January, 2008, exactly one year after their first date. Their wedding was unique in that, when they met, each had a child from a previous relationship. The children participated in the marriage ceremony, and witnessed their parents consecrating their marriage to Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the ceremony, the couple also took part in the Hispanic tradition of a “wedding lasso,” in which a long string of rosary beads is placed around the couple after their vows. Nine months after the wedding, the couple welcomed their new son into the world.
“He was the ultimate wedding gift,” Elizabeth said.
Online dating has changed considerably, especially in the past few years. It’s no longer something people do in secret. Now, it’s becoming a common means of finding a potential spouse and the happy matches are often eager to share their stories so that others can experience the same blessings that they’ve had.
Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker and a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life, including Strengthening Your Family: a Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Find out more about Marge at www.margefenelon.com.