Matchmaking Amid Pandemic: Catholic Dating Apps
Singles weigh in on the success and challenges of using modern technology to find love and marry.
In his new biography of Pope Benedict XVI, Peter Seewald relates how, long before the internet, Catholics found ways to enter into sacramental marriage and raise children with people who matched their interests but who were not already part of their established social lives. Indeed, the future pontiff’s mother and father met through the personal ads.
Seewald describes how a small-town Bavarian policeman named Joseph placed a notice in a popular Catholic weekly on July 11, 1920. It read, “Mid. Civ. Serv. Sgl. Cath. 43 y, clean past, from the country, seeks gd Cath. Pure girl, gd cook & all hswk, loc. Exper., with fur., to marry asap [translation: Middle-ranking civil servant, single, Catholic, 43, clean past, from the country, seeks good Catholic, pure girl who is a good cook and does all household chores, experienced in homemaking, with a view to marriage as soon as possible].” Joseph had previously advertised unsuccessfully for a young woman with a dowry. On this occasion, Maria, age 36, became a successful match. The pair were married less than four months later. In time, their union would produce three children who distinguished themselves in the service of Christ and his Church. As a result of this union, on Holy Saturday in 1927, 43-year-old Mrs. Ratzinger gave birth to the future pope.
Like Joseph and Maria Ratzinger, not everyone gets to marry their old high school sweethearts. And during these strange times, tools of the digital age, whether their users stick with them for long or not, may provide a sign of hope that young Catholics who believe they are called to marriage want to figure out how to fulfill their vocations, settle down and have traditional families, despite current events.
During the global pandemic, which has brought long periods of confinement at home for most people, Catholics have continued to meet people, date and marry over the last year.
Mark DeYoung at the Catholic dating site Ave Maria Singles said via email that his company had seen a 30% increase in new sign-ups during the pandemic, as people turned to online dating “more deliberately during the COVID crisis.” He elaborated, explaining that “the quarantine has both increased people’s interest in finding a spouse and given them more online access to seek him or her.”
Chuck Gallucci, the owner and developer of Catholic Chemistry, a site founded in 2018, tells the same story. He explained via email, “I know many industries have unfortunately been negatively impacted in 2020, but we haven’t seen a negative hit in our service. Our site and app are set apart in that we believe we’re providing a more modern approach to dating for Catholics. A good example is that we’re the only Catholic dating site with video chat, which has many benefits, especially during the 2020 situation.”
There are more than half a dozen Catholic dating apps with tens of thousands of clients or more. Each has its own unique approach. Ave Maria Singles, for example, states on its website that the site is particularly for “devout” Catholics who are looking for “not just a dating site,” but “a marriage site.” Unlike other services, Ave Maria charges an unlimited lifetime membership fee to join. Catholic Chemistry claims it is particularly suited to what today’s singles are looking for, adding that “many Christian dating sites seem stuck in the ’90s.” They are endorsed by leading Catholic media influencers, including Matt Fradd and Tim Horn. Catholic Match claims to be “the largest Catholic dating site in the world” and is endorsed by Danielle Bean, Drew Mariani and other Catholic speakers and personalities. Catholic Match uses a questionnaire to ask about levels of agreement with Church teaching on various matters. Catholic Singles and Catholics Kiss are other faith-specific services; however, some Catholics find more general Christian sites or even secular sites to be just as useful for finding a faithful spouse.
Some Catholics on Twitter shared stories about their use of dating apps, both before and during the pandemic, for this story. There were many agonies and ecstasies — and everything in between.
Katelyn Greenlee from Vancouver, Washington, is a committed Catholic who was looking to meet a Catholic husband. Now age 32, she met Kevin, 33, on OkCupid. She explained, “I wanted a serious Catholic who had similar interests and seemed ‘normal’ to me.” She did not make any strong connections with Catholic men on the site, so she started to consider Protestants. Then she encountered Kevin, who “was already 9/10ths of the way toward becoming Catholic when I met him, but I didn’t know that initially.” She related that many of the men who touted their Catholicism in their profiles either seemed to “lack the confidence or go too far … which is a huge turnoff.” She credits the secular dating site for giving her “a wider pool to pull from,” but concluded that her successful match with Kevin “was clearly grace.” The couple married in the Catholic Church in 2018, and they now have a son together — a success story on God’s terms, with the help of modern technology.
Dawn Wyant, 36, from Nashville, Tennessee, met William during the pandemic on Catholic Match. She liked the “sort” feature that allowed her to look at potential matches in relation to specific Church teachings. She explained, “By the time I sent William our first message, I already felt like we had the most important things in life in common.” Being confined at home in different states provided ample opportunity for the couple to spend time together online, and they moved quickly to discussions of marriage and family. Wyant described her experiences of COVID quarantine as “actually delightful” because she was so focused on her online relationship. Dawn and William soon met in person, but William changed his mind. “Instead of following through with our betrothal and engagement plans,” Wyant said, “he ended our relationship.”
What seemed like a Godsend quickly turned into a nightmare scenario. Wyant lays some of the blame at the feet of the same technology that made the match so easy in the first place: “I do think that the marketplace mindset of online-dating sites gives people an easy out. He didn’t have to stay committed to me or fulfill any of his promises because he knew that there were dozens of other women waiting in the wings all available at his fingertips.” She now says that she no longer participates in online dating, desiring instead for “someone to value me for more than my best selfie and how I answer a bunch of form questions.”
Francisco Videla is an Argentinian who says he “dabbled” in secular sites “during quarantine,” but he found his experiences “dehumanizing and demoralizing.” Having struggled with pornography addiction in the past, Videla said flipping through “really provocative” pictures proved to be “anxiety-producing.” After a date with a Christian woman that turned into a friendship rather than romance, he decided to “stick to in-person meetings,” or to try to meet a future spouse “through mutual acquaintance.”
Michelle McDaniel from Texas is a self-described “Gen Z” who no longer uses Catholic or secular dating apps after a range of experiences on a few different sites. She says she “could never get vibes from peoples’ profile pictures or texts, and it always seemed like someone would be great and then be completely different in person.” During the pandemic, McDaniel began dating a man she has known in person for some time. She said, “I didn’t feel like a product, but our friendship grew until it was natural for us to start a romantic relationship.”
Chris Allen from Texas met his future wife on Catholic Singles, which he describes as a “middle way” between different services that match people according to beliefs. As Allen said, “I didn’t have much experience on other sites because I was a convert. Catholic Match seemed to have too many cafeteria Catholics” who cherry-picked which Church teachings they would embrace. He says that he found Catholic Singles to have more people than other sites and found that “people were more interested in practicing their faith” there. The Allens now have one child and are expecting a second in September 2021.
Andrew Petiprin is fellow of popular culture at Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Institute.
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