All three of my most serious romantic relationships...and a plethora of other flings, friendships, and fiascos....were the result of the internet. The first was the result of a combination of Facebook and a regional church event, the second two were the result of Mutual (a dating app developed specifically for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Needless to say I am all too familiar with the crossroads of the internet and dating. So, I want to take a moment on this day of singles awareness to share a few tips, debunk a few myths, raise my mother’s eyebrows, elicit a few laughs, and most of all remind those of you who are still looking for love that the Lord works in mysterious ways. My first foray into internet dating was Tinder. I am not proud of it, but it is what it is. It was the second summer after my mission, most of my friends were gone, I was working three odd jobs, and I was about to be shipped off to help take care of my great-grandparents for a few months. I had given traditional dating methods an honest shot for a year and a half and the results had amounted to; one “we have been on two dates, you seem nice, we should get married” type proposal; one nice but painfully bland relationship; one drawn out, complicated, and heartbreaking relationship; and one too many invitations to “take a drive to the Point” (BYU-Hawaii code for ‘let’s go make out’). Not to mention an intermittent sprinkling of ambiguous invitations to ‘hang out’. I was disillusioned, frustrated, bored, and (even though I wouldn’t admit it at the time) lonely. I had fished, and in some cases overfished, the pond of 500 or so eligible bachelors that was accessible to me through school and church and for the most part I was not enchanted with what my little puddle had to offer. Resultantly, as is all too often the prelude to my ill fated adventures, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to make a foray into larger waters.
It only took a glance at traditional dating websites for me to know that I wasn’t even interested in dipping my toes in those generally stale waters. The only other option I knew of at the time was Tinder. I knew its reputation as a propagator of loose morals and STD’s but I had also heard hushed accounts of friend’s seemingly passable Tinder dates. I also (naively?) assumed that the hook-up culture outside of my protected Christian school bubble wasn’t really ‘that’ bad. It only took a few dozen swipes for me to realize that apparently shirts are an optional item of clothing, bathrooms and car interiors are considered sexy settings for badly framed selfies, drinking craft beer is a legitimate hobby, ‘entrepreneur’ was code for unemployed, and what I had thought was dating rock bottom was merely the sandy bottom of a tide pool. Like a perfect model of B. F. Skinner’s theories on effort and intermittent reward, I kept swiping... hoping that maybe the next guy would 1) have a decent shirt on 2) actually have a real job and legitimate hobbies and 3) against all odds be a member of my church. Believe it or not I eventually found a small handful of men who fit that description. One of them actually went on to marry one of my best friends who I introduced him to...while he and I were on a date together. (Don’t worry everyone was happy with how that ended.) For the most part though I fostered a morbid fascination with the depravity of my generation and unfortunately learned first hand what sexting and dick pics are, but I also had a good handful of fascinating conversations with traveling academics or eccentrics (one perk of living in Hawaii), and developed one very meaningful friendship. After jumping into the pox ridden global puddle that is Tinder, and discovering that while I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of its format, I utterly despised most of its content, I began searching for alternatives. Right about this time Mutual came to the scene and the all knowing Facebook algorithms presented it to me. It was glorious. It was as if Tinder had met the missionaries, cleaned up its act, gotten baptized, and become the matchmaking Relief Society (our women’s organization) president of the world. Granted some of the cultural glitches like car interior selfies and ‘entrepreneurial’ careers still remained, with the addition of a few region and religion specific ones such as fishing trophy shots (I get it you can feed a family), and dorky MTC flashbacks. But overall it was a massive improvement.
Unfortunately at first it only allowed regional searching, and when you live on an island that is barely 40 miles wide and in the middle of the largest ocean in the world it severely limits your options. Of the five profiles that appeared when I first downloaded the app, one I had previously dated, two I had known since high school and if they hadn’t asked me out yet there was no way they would now, one was too young for me, and one gave off creepy vibes even over the interwebs. Over the next few months Mutual continuously improved, both in its functionality and in its participation base. I went on a handful of dates with great men who I would have had a hard time meeting otherwise, either because they attended other schools, were working professionals, or were on vacation in Hawaii. One of them, a flamboyant young Chinese Canadian doctor from NYC, became one of my best friends and later a big brother figure when I lived in NYC for the summer. Finally the ‘unlimited’ search option was introduced and suddenly a whole planet of eligible men were at my fingertips. It didn’t take long for me to find one whose love of music, classical literature, non-profit work, and curry sucked me in. We’ll call him Aaron. For the first time in almost two years, genuine romance blossomed and grew. We texted, called, FaceTimed, emailed, wrote letters, and sent packages for three months, but he ultimately decided the timing wasn’t right for him and asked to take a break for an indeterminate amount of time. I decided I only had enough emotional space in my life for one love, my art. So I swore off dating and spent the next four months completely absorbed in my BFA thesis work and ballroom dancing. The following six months were a blur of graduation, my 23rd birthday, a summer of wild and amazing art and adventures in the Big Apple, a brief reunification with Aaron, another break up, a transcontinental move, and the beginning of graduate school. September 2017 found me living thousands of miles from home, almost 100 miles from the nearest group of young adults from my church, and completely single again. After a brief fling with Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel, I found myself back with the ever reliable Mutual. A couple hundred swipes later I came across a profile; Name: Steven, Mission: Lisbon Portugal, Education: BYU PhD Candidate Biochemistry. At a glance I gave him a 7 out of 10 (I later learned this was just due to whoever was taking the photos not knowing how to highlight his fantastic bone structure) but his profile sounded interesting enough, he had a very nice smile, and his additional pictures, though far from professional, seemed to show a zest for adventure and travel. So I swiped up. A few days later I received a message from this Steven guy. It was a cheeky and somewhat non-sensical answer to a conversation starting question I had on my profile, “Guess what ethnicities I am.” I wasn’t particularly impressed but it was better than ‘hey’ or ‘you’re cute’. So we started chatting. Over the course of a few weeks chatting evolved to calling and then FaceTime. Then one fateful evening about a month and a half later I sent him a talk (sermon) I was writing and asked him to proofread it. I woke up the next morning to fresh flowers, a love note, and a plane ticket. We had already been planning on meeting up for a date or two when I went to Utah in November for a friend’s wedding, but the plane ticket was for Christmas and came paired with an invitation to spend my month long winter break with him.
I was in shock, I didn’t know what the right path was, and a day of prayer and soul searching didn’t provide much clarity. I did know one thing though, this man exhibited a combination of intellect, passion, commitment, and good communication that I had never seen before and I would regret it if I didn’t at least give him a chance. So I did. Long story short, by the time we met up in person for the first time on Temple square on November 17, we knew we had found our ever after. The first time Steven held me in his arms I felt a sense of safety and belonging that I never had before. It was the memory of that feeling that got us both through seven months of long distance dating and engagement. Unfortunately telling my somewhat old fashioned parents that I had a boyfriend/soon to be fiancé that I met online didn’t feel so natural. Luckily they had met Aaron and so were not completely unfamiliar with the idea that not all products of internet dating are creepers or catfish. Part of the awkwardness was their hesitation about the unorthodox nature of our dating situation and part of it was my own disappointment at not having a “classically romantic” story to tell my children. But as my love and appreciation for Steven has deepened and as I have had time to reflect on the inception of our romance the more I have come to see how romantic it was. I have also realized how much of the stigmatization of internet dating comes from the fact it is such a new invention that there is little structure and very few stories to create a societal schema for what ‘internet romance’ looks like. No, our ‘how we met’ story doesn’t involve any cafes, a church group, or a chance encounter on public transportation, but it does involve a whole lot of patience, faith, commitment, and trust. The truth is, technology is changing and the way humans meet, communicate, and romance each other is changing with it. Thanks to a few ingenious app developers, in the course of less than a year Steven and I went from being two complete strangers separated by 2,056 miles and an almost complete lack of mutual acquaintances, to best friends, lovers, and eternal soul mates. Now that's what I call romantic.
Now for those of you who were hoping to get a little bit more out of this than an epistle on my love life here are a few tips from experience. Don’t worry men, Steven helped with this part so there is something for everyone.
How does it work? - Most dating apps follow this basic outline. 1) Download an app onto your phone or mobile device 2) Create a profile based on your facebook account for a basic level of verification. Each app varies as to what you can include. If an app is created for a specific demographic like Mutual it will contain slots for demographic specific information such as which mission you served in. At minimum most apps require your first name, at least one photo, your age, sex, and general location. 3) Set your parameters for potential dates such as age, sex, and distance 4) Start ‘swiping’. Swiping constitutes opening the tab designated for this and viewing the profiles of potential ‘matches’ one by one. If you aren’t interested in a profile you swipe left or down and it will disappear revealing the next profile. If you are interested you swipe right or up and if/when that individual swipes up/right on your profile you will be enabled to chat with them via the chat room feature of the app.
Why is online dating/a dating app a good option - It works well with a busy hectic schedule like that of young working professional or grad student. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of potentially romantic social interactions. It allows you to meet people that you might not meet otherwise. It allows you to more easily refine your search, much like online shopping.
How do I select which app to use - Rule #1: Don’t use Tinder. Beyond that it depends greatly on where you are and who you are looking for. Ask around, see what your peers are using. Read some reviews on Google. Try out a few and see which fit your dating style. For members of the church Mutual is hands down the best.
Things you should NOT do while creating your profile:
1. Use shirtless photos, or cleavage shots, or bathroom shots...have some class people...
2. Use very generic descriptions of yourself.... what does "likes to have fun" even mean...well on Tinder I know what it means... but still...
3. Try to be basic and fit it. ONLY use professional/retouched photos... we all know you didn’t wake up like that.
Things you SHOULD do while creating your profile:
1. Take the time to get a few nice photos. Ask a friend, maybe even pay a professional, or steal photos from your cousin’s wedding album where you were the best man/bridesmaid.
2. ALSO include candid shots of you doing things you love.
3. Be honest about who you are.
4. Share a fun quirk or hobby, but keep it to just enough to peak someone’s interest.
Things not to do while swiping/chatting:
1. Introduce yourself with a monosyllabic message like ‘hey’ or a shallow complement like ‘you are pretty’.
2. If you live close enough to go on a date easily, message for days or weeks without any clear plan
to meet up.
3. Send a message to start a conversation when you don’t have time to actually chat for a few minutes.
Things to do while swiping/chatting:
1. Send a message that relates to an aspect of their profile, i.e. “I see you like hiking”.
2. Swipe up/right even if the profile isn’t 100% your type. My general rule was a minimum of 50%.
3. Profiles a are far from complete view of someone and sometimes people surprise you. This isn’t marriage or even a date, just an initiation of contact.
How to stay safe and not get catfished:
1. Don’t share your personal information all at once. The app provides them with your first name and a way to talk to you, and if are careful with what you put in your profile and make sure your other social media accounts have good security, the dating app will initially be the only way they have to contact you or know who you are. Start with that. If you like where it is going, share a phone number and ask for a call. If that goes well then ask for a video chat.
2. It is nearly impossible to be catfished if you are video chatting a couple times of week at scheduled and unscheduled moments.
3. When you decide to meet in person, meet in a well lit public place, maybe bring a friend with you.
A little bit of sense and caution go a long ways. Sadly there will always be evil people in the world but with the proper precautions online dating is just as safe as, if not in someways safer than, traditional dating.
How to manage a long distance relationship, especially if your relationship starts that way -
3. Established Goals
Communication: Obviously this is an essential aspect for ANY relationship but it takes extra effort when you are long distance. Especially starting out. It is essential that you make sure you are on the same page, to use a missionary phrase, “Use questions to check for understanding”. Don’t be afraid to ask, “You texted me a heart emoji, what does that mean to you?” “We have been talking on the phone every night, does this mean you want to be exclusive?” Also don’t hesitate to state your intentions, feelings, hesitations, or fears. I know this can be terrifying but since you don’t have the advantage of reading a lot of body language cues you have to be very explicit with your verbal communication to avoid miscommunications.
Set up a schedule, plan specific ‘get to know you’ activities, if you are exclusive, find an activity or something that is just yours. For example something very effective I did with the two guys I met online and exclusively dated was to create a shared google Doc with a list of ‘get to know you’ questions divided into four or five main topics and on varying levels of intimacy (i.e. surface level, something my friends know, something only my mom knows). As for scheduling, just because you don’t go on physical dates it is still very important to have regularly scheduled and well planned activities. The frequency of these should vary depending on your relationship status.
Established Goals: Really a lot of this relates back to Preach My Gospel (our missionary guidebook). Even if you are at the very beginning of getting to know someone, making a distance relationship productive and healthy it must include structured and well communicated goals. For example; we should decide in the next month wether or not we should make the effort to meet in person, we should meet in person on ‘x’ date, we should decide if we are going to push towards marriage after ‘x’ amount of time.
At the end of the day, enjoy the ride, and take screenshots of the unforgettably weird moments because they will just get funnier with time.