Not long ago, Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke of what he called “the real vocations crisis” — the vocation to marriage.
“Only 50 percent of our Catholic young people are getting married,” he said in a 2009 interview with the Catholic News Agency. “We have a vocation crisis to lifelong, life-giving, loving, faithful marriages.”
Fourteen years ago, Brian Barcaro, along with his partners Jason LaFosse and Michael Lloyd, wanted to help address this crisis. So, the three founded CatholicMatch, an online service to help Catholics find their spouse. Now, CatholicMatch is stepping up its game, looking for ways to better prepare Catholics for marriage.
One of those ways is their new online dating guide, “Catholics Are Meeting Their Spouses Online: What About You?,” compiled to help searching Catholics better navigate the online dating world.
Recently, Our Sunday Visitor spoke with Barcaro about the guide, as well as the ins and outs of looking for a spouse online.
Our Sunday Visitor: What fears hold people back from online dating services?
Brian Barcaro: Some make the mistake of thinking that you only resort to online dating when every traditional avenue for meeting a spouse has failed. Almost like it’s a last, desperate attempt. It’s not, but when people think of it that way, they hold back from using it. There’s a fear that going online means they’re down to their last option. Maybe the most common fear is of finding themselves in a long-distance relationship. If they can’t find someone within five minutes of their house, they’re not interested. But if you want your search to be successful, you have to be open to that.
OSV: Do you find that there are a lot of myths circulating about online dating?
Barcaro: Most myths about online dating are not myths in themselves. They’re exaggerations of things that are true. One myth is that everyone using an online dating site is desperate. Well, yeah, some people online are desperate. But is everyone? Not even close. It’s just like real life. I can walk into any bar in America and find some people who are desperate and some people who are anything but. Another myth is that everyone lies about themselves. Does it happen? Yes. Does everybody lie and when they do, is it always egregious? No. Again, when this happens, it’s not unlike the real world. On the first few dates, people tend to talk about themselves in the most positive light. As you get to know a person, that comes out. Most of the time, if people aren’t being completely honest online, they’re doing something similar.
OSV: Over the past 14 years, how has online dating changed?
|Catholic Match’s new online dating guide. Catholic Match
Barcaro: First, there’s much more acceptance in the culture. When we started, a lot of people saw it as the online equivalent of weird, seedy personal ads. The integration of social media into everyday life, however, has changed that. Meeting people online — through Facebook for example — has become normal for most of us. I think that’s why you’re also seeing more older people try online dating. In the beginning, it was mostly young people in their 20s and 30s. But as the 50-plus crowd moved on to Facebook, online dating was the natural progression.
There’s also more acceptance from priests and the Catholic community. You still find pockets of resistance though, much of it fueled by an overly romantic attitude, that this isn’t the way God intended for people to meet. But, as I point out, there never would have been a Pope Benedict XVI if his parents hadn’t used the “online dating” of their day ( a personal ad in a Catholic paper).
OSV: Why do you think online dating has become so popular? It’s more than just social media making it more acceptable, right?
Barcaro: A lot of it has to do with the voids created by cultural shifts. Community and parish life are no longer intertwined like they used to be, and there’s a greater diversity of values in the culture. More often than not, the people who surround you at work or in your neighborhood don’t share your values. As a result, the pool of potential spouses is smaller. Online dating gives people a way around those problems.
OSV: It’s not a panacea though. Problems can arise.
Barcaro: Of course. Online dating is a tool, and like other tools — cell phones, cars, computers — it can be abused. For example, too much choice can be a bad thing. We’re all good when we have two or three things to choose between. But the more choices we’re given, the harder making a decision becomes. So, online, if you’re not careful, you can fall into the trap of always feeling like there’s someone better out there.
It’s also easy to dehumanize people online because you have such a limited view of them. You’re looking at photos and descriptions, not the wholeness of a person. That means people quickly make judgments based on a flat and incomplete view of the person. Online profiles are a great pre-screening tool, but they can never take the place of getting to know the whole person. God gave us this tool, and it’s doing a lot of good. But, if you’re being overly picky or refusing to make choices, it’s not going to do you any good.
OSV: For someone preparing to try online dating for the first time, what’s the best attitude to take?
Barcaro: Moderation and patience. In the beginning, people can spend so much time online — reading profiles and running searches — that they quickly get sick of it. Or, if they don’t immediately get the instant gratification of responses from the right people, they get discouraged.
OSV: What other tips would you offer for someone either getting started or who has been online for a while but with no success?
Barcaro: The most important thing is to invest time and effort in your profile. When people go on first dates, they put their best foot forward. Putting together a good online profile is the virtual equivalent of that. You don’t have to complete it overnight, but you should thoroughly answer the questions and post photos. You also don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking of your profile as a static thing. It’s something that should grow with you. As significant changes happen in your life, you should incorporate those. Photos should be updated to reflect changes in age, weight or hairstyle. It also helps to have realistic expectations. Ask yourself, if I met this person at a party, would I go up and talk to them? If the answer is yes, you’re probably contacting them for the right reasons. If not, there’s a chance you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
OSV: What’s next for Catholic Match?
Barcaro: One of the areas we want to get more involved with is marriage preparation. In this culture, pre-Cana classes aren’t enough to prepare couples adequately for marriage. The Church has to reach people at an earlier point to help them date in a marriage-minded way. Pre-Cana classes should be a reinforcement or a refresher of what they already know, not the first time they’re hearing about the Church’s teachings or what makes for a healthy marriage. So, we’re looking at ways to use our website to help people start thinking about these issues from the start.
Basically, we want to offer a service that’s about more than bringing people together. That is one of the reasons this guide is so important. Although it is written for a single person, it can be helpful to those who work in marriage and family life by making them aware of the issues singles face. It also provides an inexpensive resource.
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.