My husband and I met online. By accident. Yes, we were two strangers 10,000 miles apart connected by a comment on an accidental blog visit.
Not only did that happen, but it also happened at an age when online dating was taboo, and meeting anyone you accidentally got to know online was considered a huge risk.
It was considered so out of this world back then that a stranger-turned-friend videographer approached us to make a video about our story that went viral, causing us to be spotted by passers-by in three different countries.
The story made catchy headlines – I married my online stalker who lived 10,000 miles away, and we decided to marry just a week after Cliff flew from Canada to Singapore.
Now nine years into our marriage, the rest is history.
Yes, we are still married, now with two children. Since then, we’ve also been invited to speak at relationship-focused events from time to time. And our talks often begin with the video.
But as time went by, I began to realise the point of our story could be easily misconstrued.
One could totally misunderstand the plot and leave concluding online dating is safe! Stranger danger is over-rated — dating a stranger can even lead to marriage, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. This is where my heart lurches. The truth is far from it.
Today I explain why, even though Cliff and I “met online” by accident, this in no way means spending your time online on dating apps and services is necessarily the way to go.
Signing up for a dating app is not wrong in itself — I do believe God can weave some very creative love stories!
I’ve had young people ask me if they can do so, as if to get a stamp of approval. But that’s not the right question to ask.
Let me share the top three questions I ask in return.
1. Are you happy single?
While it is not wrong to increase one’s social circle, what lies at the heart of downloading an online dating app is one’s motive.
Do you have a healthy community of same-sex friends whom you can find support and joy in, or do you already have a pattern of daily texting a non-romantic friend of the opposite gender to feel affirmed by?
When Cliff and I crossed paths, it was at a time when many of my friends had gotten hitched.
Two lonely people do not make for good companions.
Having had a call to long-term, frontier missions, I knew it would be hard, nearly impossible even, to find a life partner given my hectic schedule and small social circle in medical school.
As social media became more popular, the sting of seeing friends get attached became real. Tears on my bedroom floor became a regular occurrence, as I cried to God for relief.
I had three suitors: a senior medical student and award-winning writer, a triathlete training to go pro and a pharmacist. All loved the Lord but had no call to missions.
When my heart wavered, and I was tempted to settle on less, I felt God asking me: “Are you happy single?”
Unless I was ready to consecrate my desperate need to be attached, I realised that getting into any relationship would only be a temporary fix for my heart’s deep hunger. God was wooing me into a romance with Him, first.
As hard as it was, I had to commit to finding contentment as a single.
This was far from easy. Almost after every wedding I attended or Facebook post I saw of friends getting attached, I found my desire for marriage reawaken with excruciating hunger. But each time I cried to God for grace and help, God called me deeper to Himself.
As time went by, I was victorious a little more often. Then, Cliff showed up.
In short, there is nothing wrong with going on a dating app. But we should be aware that many there might be looking for a relationship out of loneliness, instead of earnestly seeking God for grace to find contentment in their singleness.
If you look deep inside you and realise you’ve downloaded a dating app to ease your loneliness, you might be in for a rough ride. Two lonely people do not make for good companions, long-term.
2. Are you willing to go slow?
From time to time, I receive notes from young people asking me for advice after they think they’ve found someone on dating apps. But by that time, they’ve already jumped headlong into weeks of intensive one-on-one dating.
When I ask if they’ve met one another’s friends or family, the answer is that the recent COVID-19 restrictions have made group gatherings hard, and inviting someone of the opposite sex into one’s home to meet one’s parents so quickly is just downright awkward.
So, a casual chat on a dating app moves quickly into frequent, in-depth texting, which leads to one-on-one face-to-face meetups, and before you know it, two strangers are convinced of their suitability for each other, even if no one else is part of their universe.
By the time any mentors are invited to weigh in, the relationship has already gone fast and furiously deep.
But wasn’t it worse for Cliff and me? After all, Cliff was 10,000 miles away in Canada when he first wrote to me. How could it be possible for us to know one another’s circles?
The upside was that we had the gift of time. Writing over a long period of nearly two years gave us the opportunity to be prayerful about each other, to pray for mentors, accounting our journey to them and, most of all, to take things slow.
Unlike dating apps which somewhat gamify the experience and speed up the hitch-up process, our writing and physical distance from each other gave us the gift of prayerful reflection before responding to the other. Time could be heavily invested in prayer about the relationship, before taking things too far, too quickly.
The gift of time helps us grow as individuals to discern the hand of God.
At every point, Cliff reiterated that he was ready to drop the relationship if my mentors were uncomfortable. In other words, while he liked me, he was eager to surrender our friendship to God and take things slow.
When he wanted to take a holiday to Singapore just to meet me, and my mentors said “no”, he respected their authority. Who would have thought my mentors would say “yes” a year later when he offered to “swing by” Singapore after a mission trip to Cambodia?
Who would have expected that the international agency he had signed up with 65 offices all around the world would pick Singapore for him, even when it knew nothing about me?
The gift of time helps us grow as individuals to discern the hand of God.
3. Are you game to know the truth?
When Cliff started writing to me after I had left a comment on his blog, the first thing I thought was: Is he for real?
After all, with just an online persona, anyone can be anything one thinks up! Photos could be deceiving.
In fact, I had assumed Cliff was married, since I had seen a photo of a Caucasian woman kissing his cheek as he collected a gold medal. It turns out she was just an over-excited athlete who had likewise won a medal at the World Transplant Games!
When complete strangers gain momentum from a dating app and progress to face-to-face meet-ups without the context of first being friends, a great deal is lost in objective assessments.
Without seeing someone else interacting with our friends and family, it is easy for us to paint the rosiest picture, especially when we already have tinted glasses on.
Even though it felt awkward, I let Cliff know he should speak to my pastor and parents first if he wanted to explore a dating relationship.
His first meal upon touchdown in Singapore was with my parents, and right after his first Sunday service, he introduced himself to my pastors. In the few days he spent in Singapore, he was open and willing to meet my friends, mentors and loved ones. That showed me his willingness to be assessed.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counsellors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14 ESV)
If you got to know someone through a dating app, would you feel brave enough to include each other’s communities into your lives before being in an exclusive relationship? Would you be intentional enough to ask if he/she would meet your parents and your mentors before going one-on-one?
If you don’t have mentors in your life, that would be a good juncture to start intentionally praying for them and seeking them out.
If anyone were to ask me if I supported the use of a dating app, my first response would be to say, it doesn’t matter what I think.
The next three questions I would ask back would be:
- Are you happy single?
- Are you willing to go slow?
- Are you game to know the truth?
If you can intentionally do the hard work of saying “yes” to all three questions, while keeping an intimate relationship with God and staying accountable to your mentors early on, then go ahead.
But until then, I would say, you might discover that dating apps like Coffee Meets Bagel might just not be your cup of tea.
This is the first in a series of articles that Wai Jia and her husband, Cliff, are writing to share their views on singlehood, dating and marriage.
- Have you tried out dating apps? What have you learnt about yourself/dating through that experience?
- What does it mean to be content being single?
- How open are you to what God/your family/community has to say about the person you’re dating?