Are dating apps merely an inevitable product of our romance-obsessed culture? Or can we, as followers of Jesus, use dating apps in a way that leads to greater connectivity while also protecting and cultivating our spiritual, mental and emotional health?

The dating landscape has undergone something of a transformation in the last 20 years. With the creation of online dating websites in the early 2000s, the way people date changed forever and, today, meeting somebody on a dating app is the norm, especially if you are a millennial. Research even suggests that the UK will reach a tipping point” by 2035 with more than 50% of relationships starting online.

Love them or loathe them, dating apps are an incredible invention. Not only are they convenient – you can enter a world of possible dates whenever and wherever you like – but they offer the chance to connect with people you might never meet in your day-to-day life. And, on the face of it, something designed to foster greater connection is surely a positive thing, right? 

As somebody who has dabbled in using dating apps, I’d love to share some reflections on the joys and struggles of navigating the complex world of modern online dating. 

Dating apps and connectivity

God, in His very nature, is relational. And, as His children and image-bearers, we are also wired for connectivity. In John 15, we are told to Love each other as I have loved you”. We love others because God first loved us; it is what God intended when He created His people. 

It is not surprising, then, that our society is built on connection and relationship, promoting romantic relationships more than any other type of connection. We need only look to the popularity of reality TV shows like Love Island, Married at First Sight and Love is Blind, which are built on the premise that you are not a whole person until you are coupled up. 

And, into this context, enter… dating apps. 

Undoubtedly, the endless swiping through a shopping list of potential partners drastically reduces the human element of dating. From my experience, it is easy to no longer see the individual behind each profile, but instead an assortment of physical traits and interests that may or may not meet our expectations. Rather than cultivating meaningful connections, this shopping list culture leaves people less likely to commit to a relationship when there is always the chance of finding somebody better”. This is often referred to as the paradox of choice”, where too much choice ultimately leads to no choice being made at all. 

For for those on the receiving end, ghosting and rejection can lead to low self-worth and a feeling of disconnection from others.

Alongside this, the anonymity behind dating apps has given us the freedom to behave however we wish to without consequences. The rise of ghosting’, which refers to suddenly and without explanation ending all communication with somebody you are talking to or dating, embodies this.

For the conflict avoidant amongst us, disappearing can seem like the ideal way out of a potential relationship, made all the more possible by never having to see that person again. But, for those on the receiving end, ghosting and rejection can lead to low self-worth and a feeling of disconnection from others. Are dating apps to blame for this inability to have honest conversations about how we are feeling, or indeed, not feeling? Probably not, but they are certainly not helping.

Stewarding dating app experiences well 

Having said all this, dating apps can be amazing tools for building authentic relationships, and there are things we can do to steward our own dating app experiences well. 

Have fun with it 

It is important to date intentionally, to have a sense of purpose, communicate well and behave respectfully. But it is also important to have fun. Dating in the church can become pretty intense pretty quickly, but when did asking somebody out for a drink become a marriage proposal? As Lauren Windle puts it, Just go and get some coffee. Don’t tell your life story or ask whose family they want to spend Christmas with. Just get coffee.”

Don’t create a shopping list 

It is really important to establish your non-negotiables from the outset, but can you also set aside the shopping list and look beyond your own preconceived notions of what you think you want? Can you start to challenge yourself by hanging out with somebody who doesn’t necessarily tick all of your boxes”? You never know, you could surprise yourself. 

Set your own boundaries 

Dating should be a valuable addition to your life, alongside friends, family, church and work, rather than the sole focus. Can you consciously set boundaries to how much time you spend using dating apps so that you do not fall into the trap of endless and meaningless swiping?

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Jesus, the restorer of connection 

More important than all of this, however, is the need to bring it back to God, the creator and restorer of connection. 

While dating, as a modern day concept, is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there is still lots to say about it. When God first created His people, He made us for relationship with Himself and one another. This is why we, the church, are referred to as the body of Christ, indicating identity, oneness and unity. Because of all that happens in Genesis 3, we were separated from God, but through Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, we have been restored to relationship with Him. 

And, when we are confident in our relationship with Him, we can also be confident in our identity in Him. One of my favourite verses in Psalm 139 says, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Using dating apps from a place of need, where somebody’s approval has the power to determine your value, can be damaging. You are not how many right-swipes your profile receives on a dating app. You are fearfully and wonderfully made; you are a work of God. 

Dating apps are definitely not going anywhere. So talk to your friends about those bad dates, those great dates, and everything in between. Let’s open up the conversation around dating while also remembering that, ultimately, your identity is and always will be found in the most important relationship of all, your relationship with God. 

You are not how many right-swipes your profile receives on a dating app. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

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