g05 4/22 pp. 16-18 "Should I Try Internet Dating?" **Young People Ask . .
"We E-mailed each other every day. We made plans regarding a place to live and work. I was supposed to take care of the engagement rings. We had not even known each other a month and had not yet met in person."—Monika, Austria.
YOU would really like to meet someone—someone you can get to know, someone you might want to marry. But, thus far, none of your efforts to find someone like that have worked out. Attempts by well-meaning friends and family to set you up with someone have done nothing but embarrass you and have left you more discouraged than ever. So you are wondering if maybe you should turn to technology for help.
In this age of the computer, finding a compatible mate may seem to be just a few clicks away. All you have to do, some say, is log on to a Web site, chat room, or bulletin board that has been specially designed for singles. TheNewYorkTimes reports that in one month in the United States alone, 45 million people visited on-line dating Web sites. One Internet matchmaker claims to have more than nine million people using its service in 240 countries.
Are you shy, and do you find it difficult to meet people? Do you fear rejection? Or do you simply feel there is a lack of potential marriage mates in the area where you live? Then computer dating may appeal to you. For one thing, on-line matchmaking services promise you control over your "dates." Search boxes that display age groups, countries of residence, personality profiles, pictures, and anonymous screen names are provided. Armed with the power of choice, it may seem that dating on-line is more efficient and less stressful than face-to-face encounters.
What is the reality? Does dating in cyberspace really lead to lasting happiness? Well, consider this: During a six-year period, one matchmaking service had 11 million subscribers. Yet, only 1,475 marriages took place among them. Another dating service with over a million members listed only 75 confirmed marriages! What is wrong with this trend?
A True Picture of Each Other?
"On the Internet," said one newspaper article, "everyone tends to be attractive, honest, and successful." But how realistic is the information people provide about themselves? Another news article put it this way: "It is taken for granted that everyone lies a little." An editor of a popular teen magazine did some personal research into this claim. She joined three of the most popular dating Web sites and shortly received a number of responses. These led to dates with several men. The result? Real failures! The men had blatantly lied about themselves. She warned: "Based on my experience, they lie."
Misrepresenting one’s height or weight may seem like a little thing. ‘Looks are not that important,’ some may argue. True, the Bible itself says that "charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain." (Proverbs 31:30) But is lying about seemingly little things a good way to begin a relationship? (Luke 16:10) How confident can you be about other things the person might say about more serious issues, such as personal goals? The Bible says: "Speak truthfully with one another." (Zechariah 8:16) Yes, honesty provides the foundation for a relationship that can grow.
Dating in cyberspace, though, often involves unrealistic fantasies. A report in Newsweek makes this observation: "Users can carefully edit their e-mails and present themselves in the most flattering way. . . . The result is a positive-feedback loop: they seem nice and interested in you, so you’re nice and interested in them." As a professor at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies on-line relationships observes, a strong attachment may form very readily in such circumstances. Yet, as often noted, this can’t be counted on to lead to a happy marriage. One man wrote about his experiences with on-line dating: "It’s a trap. Your imagination fills in the blanks with exactly what you want."
Some may believe, however, that the lack of personal contact has distinct advantages. They may feel that on-line dating allows couples to focus on what a prospective partner is like on the inside without being distracted by personal appearance. True, the Bible encourages us to focus on a person’s inner qualities. (1 Peter 3:4) Yet, the problem is that in a computer relationship, you cannot observe gestures, smiles, or countenance. You cannot see how he or she treats others or behaves under pressure. And such things are critical in determining if he or she is someone you can come to trust and love. Read the Bible’s description of love found at 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5. Notice that love is defined by behavior, not words. You must therefore take the time to observe a person to see if his or her actions and words match.
Lacking such vital information, couples often start sharing intimate feelings and thoughts early in the courtship. Throwing caution to the wind, some couples hastily make serious romantic commitments, even though they hardly know each other. An article entitled "On the Internet, Love Really Is Blind" tells of two people 8,000 miles apart who met on-line. Three weeks later they met in person. "She wore heavy eye mascara," said the man. "I don’t date women who wear mascara." The relationship quickly ended. The results of another in-person meeting were so disappointing that the man, who had paid for the visit, canceled the return portion of the woman’s airline ticket!
A young woman named Edda recalls her own experience with on-line dating. She says: "The relationship was too good to be true. We were planning on getting married." But when they saw each other in person, the relationship completely flopped. "He was not what I expected but was critical and a complainer. It was just not going to work." One week later the relationship broke off, leaving Edda totally disillusioned.
In the fantasy world of computer dating, emotions can become intense prematurely. This can leave you vulnerable to emotional devastation if the relationship does not work out—as is likely. "He that is trusting in his own heart is stupid," warns Proverbs 28:26. Yes, it is unwise to make serious decisions based upon fantasy and emotion. The proverb thus continues: "But he that is walking in wisdom is the one that will escape."
The Dangers of Haste
Rushing into a relationship when you know little about each other is certainly unwise. The English writer Shakespeare is quoted as saying: "Hasty marriage seldom proveth well." The Bible counsel is more direct: "Everyone that is hasty surely heads for want."—Proverbs 21:5.
Sadly, many of those engaging in Internet dating have found that to be true. After corresponding with someone for just one month, Monika, quoted at the outset, hoped that she had found the answer to her desire for a partner. Despite making plans for marriage—even arranging to obtain engagement rings—her hurried relationship ended in "great sorrow."
You can avoid heartache by heeding the Bible’s counsel: "Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty." (Proverbs 22:3) However, disappointment and hurt feelings are not the only dangers you might face in computer dating. A future article will consider additional problems.
Some names have been changed.
[Picture on page 17]
When on-line, people often exaggerate or lie about themselves
After many romantic E-mails, a face-to-face meeting often proves disappointing
PeopleAsk . .
"On the Internet, you may not actually know who the other person is."—Dan, 17.
"People can lie on the Internet. It’s easy to put on a front."—George, 26.
INTERNET dating continues to grow in popularity worldwide. As the preceding article in this series discussed, Internet romances may blossom quickly, but they often wither when reality sets in. Still, there is a greater cause for concern than mere disappointment. Dating in this fashion may put you in serious danger—whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.
How can something that looks so innocent and safe—a computer terminal right in your own home—actually present a danger to you? Some of the dangers are related to an important Bible principle. The apostle Paul wrote: "We wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things." (Hebrews 13:18) Now, this is not to suggest that it is dishonest to use the Internet or even that using the Internet will make you dishonest. However, we must recognize that other people often are not honest and that as the quotations at the outset of this article illustrate, the Internet seems to make certain kinds of dishonesty easier to practice and harder to detect. And when it comes to romantic attachments, dishonesty presents terrible dangers.
For example, note the kind of dishonesty described in this Bible verse: "I have not sat with men of untruth; and with those who hide what they are I do not come in." (Psalm 26:4) What is meant by "those who hide what they are"? Some Bible translations here read "hypocrites." As one reference work notes, this expression can be applied to "those who hide their purposes or designs from others, or who conceal their real character and intentions." How is such dishonesty practiced on the Internet? And what dangers does this present to those who are looking for romance?
A father named Michael was alarmed to learn at a seminar that a large proportion of children disobey parental rules against visiting dangerous Web sites. "What troubled me even more," he says, "was the shocking realization that pedophiles can use the Internet to lure minors into debased sexual activities." When youths use the Internet to meet new people, they can be in far more danger than they realize.
Indeed, there have been news reports of adult sexual predators who pretend to be youths as they prowl the Internet seeking to prey on young ones. According to one study, "one-in-five kids who uses the Internet has been solicited for sex." One newspaper also stated that 1 child in 33 between ages 10 and 17 were "aggressively stalked" through computer conversations.
Some young people have found, to their surprise, that the "youth" with whom they shared a budding romance over the Internet was actually an adult prison inmate. Other young ones have unwittingly become involved with sexual predators. These vile people first "groom" a prospective victim, building trust through friendly on-line chat. In time, though, they seek to meet in person in order to carry out their perverted desires. Tragically, young people have been beaten, raped, and even murdered as a result.
Wicked people do, indeed, "hide what they are" in order to find victims on the Internet. Such predators might remind you of Jesus’ illustration about false prophets who "come to you in sheep’s covering" but in truth are like "ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15) Anonymous communication through the Internet can make it almost impossible to see through such deception. "When you talk with someone in person," says George, quoted earlier, "you may learn something from his facial expressions and the tone of his voice. But on the Internet you don’t get any of that. It’s easy to be fooled."
Wise, indeed, is the Bible’s advice: "Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty." (Proverbs 22:3) Granted, not everyone you meet over the Internet is a dangerous predator. However, there are additional ways in which people "hide what they are."
Not surprisingly, a common practice among those seeking romance on the Internet is to exaggerate or invent good traits and to minimize or conceal serious faults. Further, TheWashingtonPost quoted an author as saying: "Internet dating can be bad because people get deceived." It adds: "People often switch sexes. . . . Income levels, . . . race, criminal records, mental health histories and marital status often remain secret long into relationships." To warn others, many people have reported painful experiences of being misled by Internet dates.
Will people lie about something as important as their own spiritual side? Sadly, yes—some claim to be true Christians when they are not. Why all the deception? Again, one factor is that the Internet makes it easy. A young man from Ireland named Sean admits: "It’s very easy to pretend to be something you’re not when you’re typing onto a computer screen."
Many people take all this deception lightly, rationalizing that it is only natural to lie a little bit when embarking on a romance. Remember, though, that God hates lying. (Proverbs 6:16-19) And for good reason. Much of the pain and misery in this world stems from lying. (John 8:44) Dishonesty is the worst possible basis for any relationship, especially one that is intended to lead to a lifelong union. Worse, dishonesty is a spiritual danger; it damages the liar’s relationship with Jehovah God.
Sadly, some young people have fallen into another sort of dishonesty. They have pursued relationships using the Internet and have hidden the fact from their parents. For example, the parents of a teenage son were startled one day when a young woman who did not share the family’s Christian beliefs arrived unexpectedly at their home after traveling over 1,000 miles [1,500 km]. Their son had been dating her on-line for six months, but they knew nothing about her existence until that moment!
"How could this happen?" the parents asked. They thought, ‘Our son could not possibly have fallen for someone whom he had never met in person.’ In fact, their son had been deceiving them—in effect, hiding what he really was. Would you not agree that such deceptions are a poor foundation for a courtship?
Internet dating may present other dangers. In some cases, an on-line friend can become more real than the people whom you see each day. Family, friends, and responsibilities become secondary. A young woman named Monika, in Austria, says: "I started to neglect important relationships because I spent much time on the computer with people I met on-line." Troubled by this insight, she decided to quit using the Internet that way.
Of course, many are able to make balanced use of the Internet. Communication by E-mail can be a very helpful way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Surely you would agree, though, that nothing is quite the same as face-to-face contact. If you are "past the bloom of youth"—the time when sexual desires are at their peak—and are interested in marriage, you are facing one of the most important choices you will make in your life. (1 Corinthians 7:36) By all means, make a responsible decision.
The Bible advises: "Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps." (Proverbs 14:15) Rather than believing all that is written to you by someone you have never met, consider your steps carefully. It is far wiser to initiate meeting and making friends in person. Find out if you are truly compatible, especially when it comes to your spiritual goals and values. Such a courtship can lead to a truly happy marriage.
Some of the names have been changed.
See the article "Young People Ask . . . ‘Should I Try Internet Dating?’" in the April 22, 2005, issue of
Do you really know who is typing messages on the Internet?
When it comes to courtship, there is no substitute for meeting face-to-face