The Caveats of the Online Date

by Anthony Stephens
October 28, 2015

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At a recent social gathering, there was a discussion about online dating. There were two distinct themes. One person had met their (now) spouse online. They had dated online, and then met in person. They liked each other. They married more than five years ago and are doing well. In contrast, a conversation sprung up among the single members of the group who swore by online dating services because they were expedient. It saves busy professionals the time spent “hanging out” to “pick up.”

There are at least three kinds of sites that fall in the online dating genre. First there is the “eHarmony” type. It is specifically marketed as a way to initiate and cultivate robust and deep relationships – with marriage always a distinct possibility. Second, are those that span the “quick date” continuum. On one end of this continuum are those sites that seek to put potentially kindred spirits together. Towards the other end of the continuum are those sites where it is not spirits that are being put together, but bodies. At this end are the “hook up” sites. The continuum extremity extends to the patently abusive or even criminal. The third type of site is the domain of the now infamous Ashley Madison (AM). Their purpose is to put married people together for the alleged purpose of initiating an affair.

While the research on the problems of these sites is quite sparse, not that one needs a degree in theology or psychology to recognize issues associated with the AM type site, there are two main areas where problems are likely to occur. The first of these areas is that online encounters frequently create access without genuine intimacy. Prudence would suggest that we do not let people into our houses who we do not know, much less trust. In the same way, granting access to bodies, minds and spirits without an underlying foundation of trust and confidence is risky. Of course, the risk of it all might be a thrill. The thrill may be an attempt to palliate adjustment issues such as loneliness, despair, marital discord, and an under-served spiritual life.

The second area, as with any online activity, is that it can become addictive. There are numerous similarities shown with online dating obsession and chemical addiction. The net result is that compulsive participation can make lives emptier and change the healthy into the unhealthy. Participation on a website may be an alternative to real life participation. Affair site participants may be there for the thrill, and, as a matter of practicality if for no other reason, will not enter into an affair.

There is no panacea for the potential problems. There are however some general remedies. First, genuine intimacy cannot be made instantly. It requires inter-personal experience and the generation of trust and confidence. Second, the more nefarious the purpose of a website, the less prudent it is to be there. Third, if life is revolving around waiting to see if someone has sent an online flirt, as with any addiction, stop and engage in harm reduction strategies.

Lutheran Counseling Center counselors hear stories with great frequency of those negatively impacted by participation in online dating and are well prepared to assist and offer individually tailored support to such clients.

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The Rev. Anthony H. T. Stephens, PhD, Esq, counsels adults and couples at LCC’s LCC—Paul Qualben site located at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Bay Ridge.

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