Which Way to Swipe?: a Christian Experience on Tinder

Forget Relevant Magazine, we about to have some real talk.

I couldn't resist the clickbait intro. Let me give you some context and diffuse the risqué undertones ASAP.

Striped Socks and the Consternation They Inflict

As I take stock of my life 8+ months out from moving to Boulder, I see in myself a young man with a good job, a good home, good hobbies, good friends, and no girlfriend. Now, the absence of a girlfriend does not disqualify the merits of these other qualities (in fact, I’ve seen men with girlfriends who quickly lose the hobbies and friends). However, as someone who has made little to no effort romantically in the past two years, I figured it’s high time I get back into the game.

But here’s the kicker: I’m a Christian.

This kicker always gets a quizzical reaction from my friends outside the faith when talking about girls and dating. The Bible, our holy book, has some pretty clear, straight forward scripture that spells out Christians should marry – and therefore date – within the faith (most famously 2 Corinthians 6:14). It’s actually led to many comical conversations where I have to explain to my friends that while YES I am attracted to a girl and YES I may have chemistry with her, NO I am not dating her, because she's not a Christian. Which leads to laughter on my part and on my friends – from the outside looking in, it makes very little logical sense.

To my friends out there that aren’t under these rules, here’s a metaphor demonstrating how frustrating this can be for a young guy to follow. Imagine you were told you can date and marry any girl you want to – like, literally any girl, no questions asked by parents – except she needs to wear striped socks. Specifically striped socks. Not polka dot, not argyle, but striped socks. As long as they are striped, you are golden.

But you can’t exactly go around staring at people’s feet (or asking them point blank as soon as you enter a conversation what their religious preference is). So instead, when you meet a girl it’s a guessing game. Is she wearing striped socks? How do I get her to tell me if she is wearing striped socks or not? If I mention I only wear striped socks, will that speed up the conversation by letting her know where my opinions lie? What if she’s not wearing any socks, does that change the rule at all?

And then as soon as she makes it clear she’s not that into striped socks, you have to move on. No workaround, no loophole. Maybe you will still be friends, but dating is a no go.

Therefore many young men, once realizing the restriction means their statistical odds for success are lower in typical dating scenes, make the smart choice and start looking around places that are known for being stocked with people who wear striped socks (*cough* the church *cough*). But then once you arrive there, you realize it’s an environment that is not conducive for dating. There are striped socks all around you, literally waiting for someone to ask them on a date or at least to coffee, but being forward is socially frowned upon.

So in all the places where dating is seen as socially acceptable, striped socks are sparse – and where the striped socks are the most present, dating is awkward and strange. End metaphor, welcome to the frustration – it’s real.

Now that context is established, let’s move forward to the actual experiment before this turns into a soapbox. I’ve been annoyed by the fact that 1) Christian women are sparse in Boulder and 2) Christian women are sparse in my home church. So I decided that instead of continuing in this annoyance, I would do what I do best – throw stuff against the wall and see what works. That’s right. I downloaded all the major popular dating apps on my phone, including Tinder, and gave myself one week for an experiment.

It is time to diffuse the tension yet again in this article. No, I did not seriously consider I would find a meaningful, interesting, Godly relationship on a dating app with a reputation for hook ups in 7 days. Nor was I really into the idea of changing those standards - meaningful, interesting, Godly.

What I did think I would find is a better understanding of dating culture, how people are trying to “market” themselves to the opposite sex, and get a more crystalized understanding of what I want in comparison to the mainstream. (And don’t worry; I also go to a new church later in the experiment, so I’m not completely playing with fire here).

Here were the rules of the experiment:

  1. Download the three most popular apps I could find for dating/meeting people.
  2. Put serious effort into putting an accurate, attractive representation of myself on the apps.
  3. Give it seven days.
  4. Force myself to read every person’s bio. Do not swipe right or left based on just appearances.
  5. Do not interact with any girl on the app. Period. (Sounds counterintuitive, but I’m here to simply learn from observation – I don’t want to lead on / commit to anything when it’s simply an experiment)

Since I was going stealth mode on the app, I wanted to add an interactive part to the experiment – so I found a second church that I was interested in attending that has a reputation for a big young adults population. This church, coincidentally, happened to be teaching about dating at the exact same time as the experiment. Perfect for a full compare and contrast. (And I had been wanting to try out the church recently as well, so it was perfect dovetail.)

And so, after downloading the proper apps, dropping $15.99 on expansions and premium features (hey, if we’re doing this, let’s do this all out), and clearing my Thursday night schedule to try out the new church, I was set up to begin the experiment.

(Note: I know there are many respectable forms of online dating, many of which fall in the long term categories that require subscriptions. Due to the brevity of the experiment, I passed on interacting with these options.)

Dating Apps: the Gamification of Dating* (*awkward one liners, sexual innuendos, vague claims about how so-and-so person really loves “adventure”)

If you can read the tone in that title, you already got a pretty good feel of where this is going.

So after a week on Tinder, I can attest that dating apps are (in my subjective opinion) a time sucking, mind numbing, emotionally exhausting way to go about approaching meeting people.

Main Insights:

  1. Want to increase the number of people who are attracted to you? Put a picture of yourself with a dog on your profile. It doesn’t even have to be yours.
  2. Key words for Colorado women: “craft beer” “hiking” “adventure” “fun loving” “make me laugh” “bike rides are my favorite”
  3. Some folks will write an honest bio. Some folks will write a funny one. But you will find some people who make it very clear they are looking for only a one-night stand with no emotional attachment.
  4. Guys list their height on the app. I was surprised they don’t also list their weight and Body Mass Index.
  5. There are some Christians on the app. Like 1 out of every 75 swipes.
  6. Swiping is emotionally exhausting. Each time you swipe, it’s a new face with words saying, “Hey, here’s why you should like me, and here’s the best five pictures of myself I have!”
  7. Playing dating apps (yes, playing is the appropriate verb to describe it) has a similar effect on me that video games used to have – it dulls my energy, makes my eyes listless, and after I am done I think, “well, there’s an hour I’m not getting back.”
  8. It became really difficult to keep up Rule No. 4 (read every girl’s bio). The app puts a lot of emphasis on pictures by putting those at the forefront and making the bio separated from you by a couple clicks. After awhile, I started just swiping based on images.

So what did I discover? I learned that for me, speed-focused dating phone apps don’t cut it. It’s not a space that encourages authentic conversations, but rather pushes forward self-marketing, peacocking, and a lot of silly games. I know Christian folks that are using the app - doesn't make them better or worse Christians. Just means they are having a better experience on the apps.

The New Church

And here comes the third time I feel compelled to dispel tension/misunderstanding in this article (this happens a lot when you talk about hot button issues from a Christian perspective). I did not try the new church so that I could speed date through the pews. I wasn’t interested in going to a new church solely for meeting women – I wanted to find a place with girls and guys my age that are Christian because, again, not a lot of those hanging around Boulder.

So for the end of this experiment, I found a church that I was interested in checking out that wouldn’t conflict with my home church's schedule – and that new church turned out to be Flatirons Church in Lafayette. And they also happened to be teaching about dating the night I came. Boom. Slots right in the research.

For my time here, my goal was to contrast the teachings from Flatirons and any observations I made of the people there to what I saw on the dating apps. I went for two weeks and also went to a weekend retreat (and, full disclosure, I like it there and will probably continue to go).

Main Insights:

  1. “Stop wishing you were somewhere else, and enjoy the season you are in.” Common advice in a church, but I think it checks out. While there’s nothing wrong with seeking a relationship, those efforts shouldn’t come at the cost of enjoying where you are at in life right now.
  2. “Romance leads to reality.” This is one that I think doesn’t connect with a lot of people. If you track romances just on Facebook, you only see highlight pictures that crescendo in proposals, engagements and weddings. But for every couple you see have a Facebook happily ever after, there’s another couple that is six months, six years, 15 years into a marriage and struggling. Romance leads to reality, so don’t rush it, and make sure you know who you are getting into this thing with.
  3. “Relationships should progress in four stages: Relational, Emotional, Spiritual, Physical.” I’m not a big fan of the church’s tendency to categorize and box people by relationships (single young adult? Go to this class. Dating? Go to this class. Newly married? First door on the right.) But this sticks out to me – because if I were to order this, my knee jerk reaction would be to say Spiritual, Emotional, Relational, Physical (to all the women who have had to deal with me in the past – now you know why I tried to get deep in conversation on, like, the second date). Don’t take things out of order. Build a solid base, and grow it slowly. Grow the relationship naturally, don't GMO it.
  4. “You are practicing now how you will be in life later.” This one really hit home as I looked around my disorganized room that was about two weeks past needing a good vacuuming. Maybe there are a few habits I need to kick to the curb before I move much farther forward in life, yet alone start dating.
  5. The couples I saw there were good friends. This sounds like bland and banal advice, but hearing it is one thing – seeing it is another. The couples I saw and met during my first few times at Flatirons Church had the friendship or “Relational” thing down really well. It’s encouraging. It’s a reminder that I don’t need to have some deep, mutual, intimate connection the moment I meet someone – that comes with time. It’s totally okay to be dating someone and not be in that phase immediately. It's more authentic to acknowledge that's not there immediately, but know that it will come with time.

Conclusions

So, after throwing many things against the wall, I find my opinions unchanged: online dating is not my style, meeting people in person and preferably in churches is how I like it. However, I did:

Learn some new Tinder-specific jokes that I can use in conversations.

Go to a really cool retreat in Winter Park, Colorado.

Met a lot of cool people, guys and girls, at my new second church.

Realized my room was messy, and vacuumed it (see point 4 under insights from Flatirons Church).

Total Cost: $65.99 ($15.99 for apps, $50 for retreat)

Total Time: 3 Weeks (1 week apps, two weeks church)

Satisfaction: 8/10

Stay strange, stay unreasonable, and stay curious my friends.

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