Adventures in online dating, part one: Why I’m trying it & how I chose a platform

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
-- Isaiah 55: 8-9

If y’all are wondering how on earth I intend to link a passage from Isaiah to the subject of online dating, then sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show, my friends!

As I’ve said before, I never really planned to talk about dating or relationships on the blog. Despite my desire to be authentic and vulnerable with my readers, these topics have felt…a little too authentic and vulnerable. But lately, I’ve been feeling a tug to share my experiences while I’m still in the messy middle of it all, to say all the things I wish someone would have said to me before, and if nothing else, to let others who are single and searching know that they are absolutely not alone. (Despite what your social media feeds may suggest, not everyone you know has found his or her One True Love.) And based on your feedback thus far, it seems like this stuff resonates. So today, I’m tackling a hot topic that’s become even more sizzling since the pandemic began: online dating.

It should be noted that I’m still very new to this world — in fact, I downloaded my first dating app just seven weeks ago in a lively series of events now known as The Great Bagel Mix-Up of 2020. But more on this rollicking tale in a bit — first, let’s start with the “why.”

Why I started using dating apps

Prior to this year, I simply hadn’t felt a need or desire to try online dating. My first serious relationship started the summer after I graduated from college, and since then, I have dated pretty consistently just by meeting people the “old fashioned” way: at a party, at an event, or even at work. And for a hopeful romantic like myself, this is exactly how I’ve always wanted it to be! I often joke that my dream would be to meet someone in the produce aisle at H-E-B when we both reach for the same apple at the same time, but…I’m not entirely joking. I’ve always dreamt of a great story complete with all the humor and whimsy of a 90’s romcom, a “meet-cute” that feels a little like chance and a little like destiny. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, I had become so attached to the desire that I had essentially closed myself off from meeting someone via any other route — especially when that route felt as contrived and superficial as the internet.

Enter 2020.

After taking a yearlong dating hiatus, I finally found myself ready to get back in the game — amidst a global pandemic. Impeccable timing! H-E-B suddenly went from my ideal place to meet that Special Someone to the only place I got any human interaction at all — and even then, from 6 feet away and with masks covering most of our faces.

This meme pretty much sums it up:


Furthermore, I was starting to realize that even though I have lots of friends and am involved in a variety of activities and ministries (“adult extracurriculars,” as I like to say), I have largely exhausted the dating options in my existing social circles. I needed to expand my horizons, and with COVID-19 greatly reducing the possibility of meeting new people IRL, it seemed that online dating was a logical next step.

I knew this in my mind, but I really struggled with it in my heart. Perhaps one too many Taylor Swift jam sessions are to blame, but my desire to meet someone in person was so strong. Plus, online dating seemed to produce such mixed results. For every person who found a lifelong partner, it seemed that there were several more who endured a series of ghosting and dead-end dates — along with the occasional creepy stalker — to no avail.

This is where the above scripture passage comes in. I started realizing that I was limiting God to my own ideas of what a love story should look like. As I mentioned in my recent post The Truth About Singleness, I don’t believe that I’m guaranteed to find a husband simply because I desire to get married. However, I do believe that if I find a husband, our love story will be beautiful — because real, lasting, sacrificial love is what makes stories beautiful. It’s not about the meeting — it’s about the thousands of times both of us continue to show up after that. Furthermore, how many times have I been wrong in determining how my life should look? How many times have my ideas not been the best ones? Too many to count. God’s ways are not my ways, and praise Him for that. They are SO much better.

And yes, I might have to endure some painful or awkward dates along the way. But if I feel called to marriage, then my duty in this moment is to be open to dating, regardless of the outcome. I think this is an important part of vocational discernment — seeking God right where we are and taking the “next right step” as appropriate, rather than focusing obsessively on the destination. So these perspective shifts, along with some gentle encouragement from my friends and spiritual director, helped me to put aside my pride and preconceived notions and give online dating a go.

How I chose a platform

This part was simple. Starting out, I knew the following:

  • I wanted a platform that would allow me to filter/search by religious beliefs; however, the site didn’t have to be designed solely for Christians or Catholics.
  • I wanted a platform where the majority of users were looking for long-term relationships rather than casual dates or hookups.
  • I wanted to start with a free service rather than commit to a paid subscription right away.

I had heard the greatest number of positive reviews — and the fewest number of horror stories — for Coffee Meets Bagel, so I decided to start there.

The Great Bagel Mix-Up of 2020

My original intent was to wait to date until I moved back to Houston and got settled in. However, about a week or two before the move, I decided that it “couldn’t hurt” to start laying some groundwork. (Famous last words.) So one night, I downloaded Coffee Meets Bagel and began entering some basic demographic information. Somewhere around the “upload photos” stage, I drifted off to sleep, and when I woke up the next morning, I had largely forgotten about my evening escapades.

So imagine my surprise when, at exactly 12 pm, I received a notification on my phone announcing, “Your bagels are ready!”

It took my brain a few moments to register what was happening. My initial thought was, Bagels? Did I order Panera online and not remember?! It seemed like a reasonable explanation, since it was lunchtime, I have the Panera app on my phone, and online ordering has been my go-to ever since the pandemic began. But then I noticed the CMB logo and realized with horror that I hadn’t just downloaded the app and started exploring — I had also set up a publicly visible profile! And now I had bagels! (In CMB speak, “bagels” are simply potential matches that the app suggests for you at noon each day.)

So obviously, I did what any reasonable person would do in this situation: I panicked, deleted the app, and posted about the incident on my Instagram stories. But then I started getting a lot of encouraging responses from friends and followers: “Go for it!” and “So happy for you!” and “Don’t wait!” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said. So I paused and reconsidered.

I realized that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to start finding some matches and striking up a few conversations. And besides, knowing me, I would probably get to Houston and find other excuses as to why it still wasn’t the “right time.” So later that day, I re-downloaded the app, finished setting up my profile, and decided to see what bagels I had in the toaster — er, queue.

In the interest of capping this post at a manageable length, I’ll pause here. (Ha! The suspense!) In a future update, I’ll share my actual experiences with the app as well as what I’ve learned so far. In the meantime, I’ve created a fun little Spotify playlist to capture all the ups, downs, and adrenaline rushes that come with this wild world of online dating. I’ve been jamming to it whenever I get ready for a date, and I can personally attest that blasting Taylor Swift’s ME! after you get rejected or ghosted helps at least a little. Enjoy!


The freedom of healing, part one: Choosing to be healed

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Beth-za'tha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.
-- John 5:2-9

Last February, I showed up at the doctor’s office with a laundry list of mysterious symptoms. It seemed that the emotional rollercoaster of the past year had finally caught up with me — that the more my life felt like it was falling apart, the more my body followed suit. So when I finally couldn’t take the pain or the uncertainty any longer, I begrudgingly booked an appointment and rode the Hot Mess Express all the way there.

As a public health professional, I would never advise anyone else to wait until they “couldn’t take it anymore” to see a doctor. I’m a huge advocate for prevention and early detection, but alas, I’m also human, and I don’t always practice what I preach. I have a complicated medical history and knew that this appointment would mean sharing my story all over again with a total stranger — a process that would inevitably trigger some not-so-pleasant memories from my childhood and teenage years. So, although I wouldn’t recommend it, I waited until my need for answers was stronger than my desire to avoid rehashing the past. I’m sure many of you can relate.

When my new doctor walked into the exam room and asked what had brought me in that day, I took a deep breath and gave my usual spiel. With each additional detail, I noticed the crease in her brow grow a bit deeper, but she let me continue uninterrupted. When I got to the end and motioned in her general direction as if to say, “Take it away, doc! Diagnose me,” she offered an encouraging smile and began addressing each point in turn. She took the puzzle pieces I had rapidly hurled at her and thoughtfully laid them out, sorted them by color, and fit them neatly into place, and as I sat and watched a coherent picture begin to take shape, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. 

When she got to my anxiety — the last item on the list and the one that had made her brow crease most deeply — I largely brushed her off. By that point, I was feeling encouraged enough about everything else that I felt I could live with the constant worry in the pit of my stomach. After all, I’d dealt with it my whole life, hadn’t I? But she persisted.

“How do you feel on a daily basis?” she asked. “Does your anxiety affect your daily activities?”

“Oh yes,” I replied without missing a beat. “I wake up every morning with a feeling of dread and unease, which steadily increases throughout the day, especially when I’m at work. And occasionally I have panic symptoms. I had been panic attack-free for several years, but lately the symptoms have started creeping back in.” I said all of this matter-of-factly, as if she has merely inquired about the day’s weather.

“And…is that how you want to feel every day?” she asked gently but pointedly.

“I mean…” I paused and let out a defeated sigh. “No, not really.”

She pointed out that my anxiety was likely causing or contributing to the majority of my other issues, especially the throbbing headaches that seemed to crop up almost daily, and she encouraged me to give medication and therapy another try. And although I knew she was right, I still managed to offer a handful of halfhearted excuses — I didn’t have time for therapy, I didn’t want to deal with the side effects of medication, etc. — before finally consenting.

As I left the clinic that day, I was puzzled by my reaction. Personally and professionally, I’m a huge supporter of medication and therapy for managing mental health issues, and I have successfully used both to address my anxiety in the past. So why was I experiencing such hesitation this time? Why was I trying to avoid or delay getting the help I clearly needed?

It wasn’t until the following weekend that I started to unpack my resistance. I was helping out at my church’s high school confirmation retreat, and the theme was healing (because of course it was!). One of the other volunteers gave a talk based on the above passage from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus heals a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years. The volunteer read the passage aloud and encouraged us to reflect on Jesus’ pointed question — “Do you want to be healed?” — and the man’s roundabout response. Why did he make excuses rather than seize the opportunity to walk again? Could it be that he didn’t actually want to be healed, that he was afraid of change, that as much as he loathed being paralyzed, at least it was comfortable and familiar? Or that, after all those years, he no longer believed that healing was even possible

Um, ouch?

I was suddenly very relieved to be sitting in the back of the room, because I could feel my cheeks turning red and my eyes filling with tears as I realized this is exactly what had happened at my doctor’s appointment.

She had essentially posed the same question — “Do you really want to live like this? Or do you want to be healed?” — and I, paralyzed by anxiety, had made excuses. Because if I was being totally honest, I trusted God with a lot of things, but I had essentially stopped even trying to trust him with my health. It was too much of a mess, there was some damage that simply couldn’t be reversed, and anxiety was just going to be my “thing.” It seemed that I was always going to sit just at the edge of the water, so close and yet so far from the healing I wasn’t even sure was possible. But in that moment, I realized I didn’t want to stay there anymore. When Jesus asked if I wanted to be healed, I wanted my answer to be a resounding, “Yes! And I know you can and you will.” So I decided to trust Him, or at least try to trust Him.

When I returned home from the retreat, I started taking my new meds. Two months later, I scheduled my first therapy appointment. Throughout it all, I tried to imagine what it would look like to surrender to God even this area of my life that seemed hopeless and irredeemable. The transformation wasn’t instantaneous, of course — it took weeks to adjust my medication dosage and months to wade through some serious muck with my therapist, and trusting God with my health is still a daily wrestling match. But Y’ALL.

I had all but forgotten that waking up to feelings of intense dread wasn’t normal. I had all but forgotten that my heart wasn’t supposed to constantly pound, my stomach wasn’t supposed to constantly churn, and my head wasn’t supposed to constantly ache. I had all but forgotten that I am capable of dealing with the stresses of life, both big and small — sometimes I just need a little extra support. I can’t believe I almost let myself continue to live like that. Thank goodness for my doctor, who was truly imaging Christ to me that day — reminding me that I was made for more, but that I had to want it and believe it was possible, and take the necessary actions to get there. 

I had just started assuming that anxiety was my cross to bear and therefore I would always buckle under its weight to some extent. And while it’s true that the Lord doesn’t always miraculously erase our physical or mental ailments — more often than not, we end up living with them indefinitely — we can always trust Him with these things and know that He will heal and redeem them in His time. Anxiety may very well be a lifelong battle for me, but that doesn’t mean that the Lord won’t grant immense healing along the way, as He has proven over these past few months. Furthermore, He can use any suffering I experience for good. Already I can see how my anxiety has strengthened my faith and helped me to surrender more fully to His plans. Already I can see how my anxiety has helped me to better love and encourage others with similar struggles. How much more does God surely have in store for my mental health journey.

I was okay with living like a shell of my former self, but the Lord, like my doctor, wanted me to experience the freedom of healing.

The truth about singleness: Trading tired cliches for real talk (From a fellow single gal)

I put the SING in single
Ain't worried 'bout a ring on my finger...
-- Lizzo, "Truth Hurts"

Usually, I start my posts with a scripture passage related to the topic at hand. Often times, it’s the actual verse I was praying with when the idea for the post came about.

Today, I’m starting with a line from a Lizzo song, because that’s what inspired this post. I wasn’t praying at the time, but I sure was jamming in my car.

Let me start by saying that as a single person, I’m tired — not of being single but of the predominant narratives surrounding singleness. Despite the fact that the topic is everywhere — there are no shortage of books, blogs, magazine articles, talks, TV shows, movies, comedy specials, and awkward conversations at family holiday gatherings about it — I have found very few perspectives that truly resonate. I have heard very little advice that is actually helpful and very few reassurances that coincide with reality.

So I’m here — as your friendly neighborhood single gal, a 28-year-old practicing Catholic who is reasonably confident that marriage is her vocation — to drop some truth that may or may not hurt.

But first, let’s start by identifying common responses to singleness that, while typically well-meaning, are NOT helpful — and examine why. Below are a few examples of things people have said to me or my friends when they find out we aren’t presently in a relationship:

“You’ll find someone — just when you’re least expecting it!”

“God has a great guy out there for you, and He will bring him to you when the time is right!”

“You just gotta put yourself out there more! Have you tried [insert obvious strategy for interacting with other humans]?”

“I thought I’d never find someone, either, and then I finally met so-and-so when I was X years old!” (Doubly offensive if X < my current age)

“I can’t believe some great guy hasn’t snatched you up yet!” (See also, “Any guy who wouldn’t want to date you is an idiot!”)

“Enjoy this time of being single! Now that I’m married/have kids, I’d kill for that kind of freedom again.”

“Take advantage of this time of preparation! Use this opportunity to discover who you are, grow in your faith and friendships, etc.”

And the Emmy for Most Horrific Remark in the Comedy That Is My Life goes to…

“You still have time before your eggs get too old!”

Some of these responses are obviously more problematic than others, but all are flawed in at least 2 ways:

  1. Each statement is predicated on the assumption that I will find someone — that it’s not an “if” but a “when.”
  2. Each statement implies that at best, singleness is an uncomfortable step in the journey toward love, and at worst, it’s a problem that needs to be solved, sooner rather than later.

Even the statements that seemingly point to the “benefits” of being single undermine themselves because of the sheer fact that they have to be said at all. When something is widely accepted as good, no one has to make a concerted effort to tout the benefits. This is the same reason I hesitate to eat anything with “Delight” (or worse, “Delite”) in the name. If the tuna were really so terrific, then ya wouldn’t need to say so, would ya?

There’s also the fact that when taken together, all of this well-meaning advice contradicts itself. I’m supposed to put myself out there, but also try not to fixate on meeting someone so it’s “unexpected”? I’m supposed to think guys are idiots for not wanting to date me while simultaneously wanting to date one of these so-called idiots? It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

Instead of all of these tired cliches, my heart longs for someone — anyone — to simply speak the truth. But no one seems willing to say it, perhaps because it initially sounds a little cynical. So, at the risk of playing Debbie Downer, I’ll say it myself:

It is completely possible that I can deeply desire and feel called to marriage and never find a spouse.

I don’t say this because I’m hopeless and have given up on the idea of finding love. I don’t say this because I have low self-esteem and don’t think I’m worth loving or committing to. I don’t say this because I have too little trust in God. I say it because it’s true. And the truth is freeing, even if it hurts a little.

Because it is also true that I can deeply desire and feel called to marriage, never find a spouse, and still live a happy, meaningful life full of love. In fact, if I stay close to the Lord, it’s impossible for my life to be without love. He is Love itself.

This is the kind of abundance that Jesus is referring to when He says in John 10:10: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” I don’t have to wait to start living a great love story. I don’t have to let Snow White’s “Someday My Prince Will Come” be the theme song of my 20’s and 30’s (and beyond) when the King of the Universe already thought I was special enough to die for. I don’t have to frantically search for love when Love comes looking for me every single day.

Instead, I am free. I am free to “put myself out there” without focusing all of my time and energy on meeting someone. I am free to enjoy going on dates when the opportunity arises without feeling like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is blaring in the background and I have to lay all my cards on the table within the first ten minutes. I am free to accept rejection when men aren’t interested and to politely turn them down when I’m not feeling it. I am free to keep my standards high and my hopes higher. I am free to grow in my faith, advance in my career, take care of my mental and physical health, spend my free time on hobbies and travel and loving my friends and family and serving my community — all for the sake of glorifying God and living a well-ordered life and not solely for the sake of preparing for marriage. I am free put the SING in single, as Lizzo would say.

I know what some of you might be thinking. Paige, this all sounds nice, but I truly long to share my life with another person. All of my friends are getting married and having babies and it’s getting increasingly hard to watch. My eggs really are nearing their best-by date, so to speak. And I hear you. I’ve been there. I am there. And I hope that makes my statements about remaining hopeful and living an abundant life all the more powerful.

To be honest, I never really wanted to talk about singleness, dating, or relationships on this blog. I’ve always wanted to keep that part of my life fairly private.* But a consistent theme in my prayer lately has been that single people need to hear these things from a fellow single person. There’s nothing wrong with married folks offering advice — that’s good and beautiful, too! But when the only perspectives on singleness come from those who “survived” it and “came out on the other side,” it kind of feeds into the narrative that we’re all going to end up with somebody and just need to be patient. This might initially sound comforting, but I’d rather rest in the sometimes difficult — but ultimately freeing — truth.

*But now that we’ve gone and opened the can of worms, there’s a lot more where that came from. Stay tuned! 🙂