When we started this little series on self-awareness, specifically on dating, we were really thinking about in-person interactions; but I think we’d be remiss not to take a quick look at internet communications and online dating.
Sidenote: I am beginning to think it was a good thing for Pastor Terry to go out of Country and leave me unleashed. Hopefully, I haven’t offended any of you. So, here we go …
On the men’s side, over the past few years, we have seen multiple instances of Christian men on social media getting unmasked as total creeps. Sorry, here we go again. Women have come forward with frankly bad stories about how they’ve been approached by Christian men on the internet. Unfortunately, the internet still has the feel of anonymity, so you can be a bit freer with your words.
We’ve seen Christian men make weird comments on women’s selfies. We’ve seen them ask these women intensely and inappropriate personal questions. We’ve seen cases of them reaching out privately to complain about their own marriages. And this is just the extreme stuff. We don’t have time to talk about the unnecessary oversharing, the trauma dumping, the DMs of things that you should be sharing with a therapist and just general “how do you do, m’lady” energy that women know all too well. Pretty much every community out there seems plagued by men who just can’t keep it together around women on the internet.
I am 63 years old. I regularly get the “you have a beautiful smile and I think we could be good friends.” Yikes!
What cannot be stressed enough here is that this is basic stuff. We are not talking about advanced levels of understanding rapidly shifting social dynamics between the sexes, nor is anyone suggesting that men should never engage with women in conversation. The only thing anyone is asking of Christian men here is to please be normal.
So, to make it very plain, here are some extremely simple internet rules. It is by no means exhaustive, just some things to think about.
- Be Respectful: This sounds basic, and it is, but it is something an incredible number of Christian men are bad at around women, so let’s start here. Being respectful simply means seeing any woman you encounter online as an equal, worthy of the same kindness, courtesy and decency that you’d expect from her. This holds if you disagree with her politics or theology. This holds true if you find her attractive. It holds if you find her unattractive. It is the absolute bare minimum. Remember, she is God’s daughter. He is listening. Even if you are typing versus speaking.
- Be Careful: Just because a gal is posting some PG-13 memes online doesn’t mean she wants private messages. Men tend to assume familiarity online more easily than women do, but you’ve got to remember that her every post is not a coded message about how she wants strangers to act around her. Also, she may not know Jesus as well as you do. This is a great time to show her how a Jesus follower acts (or should act).
- Don’t Comment About Her Body – Ever: Really can’t stress this one enough. Let’s make this simple: You should be able to see a picture of a girl at the beach, in the gym or lounging around the house without abdicating control of your frontal lobe. You think women shouldn’t post flattering pictures of themselves if they don’t want attention? Too bad. You can’t control what the rest of the world deems appropriate for their timeline. You can only control your reaction. And if you can’t control your reaction, Jesus had some ideas about what to do with your eyes. And, if you really can’t control it, get off social media. Harsh, I know.
- Don’t Overshare: Missing your ex-girlfriend? Feeling a little down and need some positive affirmation? These are all real problems that deserve to be addressed … by a therapist or other trusted mentor. A pretty girl you met online is not qualified nor is she responsible to deal with these issues.
- Respect Her Boundaries: If she tells you she’s not interested in any more messages, STOP. You don’t need a reason. If she tells you she’s uncomfortable with any line of questioning, you’ve probably messed up and need to apologize and get out. If she just stops responding, take the hint. There’s no need to protest, complain or get defensive. Just be respectful.
Given that women are generally more relational than men, it is not surprising that women make up 64 percent of Facebook users, 58 percent on Twitter, and a dominating 82 percent on Pinterest. Additionally, women under 40 take more selfies than men – this is not a shock.
There are two sides to look at here. First the straight-up negative effects. Do women feel the negative effects of social media more than men simply because they use it more or because they are more prone to critically compare themselves to others?
Overall, women are more avid users of any communication tools: phones, texts, face-to-face. They are just more oriented to connecting with others through whatever means are available. At the same time, there is a culture of comparison that exists on social media. We all know this by now and have hopefully struck a balance.
There is an inherently narcissistic nature of social media as well. There is the show-off. There are those of us who like showing the best parts of our life. And, there are a few oversharers. Of course, as Christians, we are called to care about really knowing a person. That’s an authentic community. I can’t have that if I am only focusing on the positive. We might see a woman constantly snapping the most idyllic pictures with her boyfriend or husband, but we aren’t seeing the arguments, brokenness, maybe addiction, maybe abuse … but we know that happens too.
I’m not saying we need to emotionally streak on social media and hang out our dirty laundry. That’s even worse. I want to block those gals. But, also let’s be real with each other. Life can be hard. It is okay to say, “Hey, I’m showing by best self here, but I’m actually a hot mess just like you.”
And, in the world of self-awareness. Now, seriously this is a bit more in the world of millennials but ladies, we should have awareness as to what we post on the internet. If we can tell guys that they shouldn’t comment on women’s bodies, then it’s fair to say let’s not show it all in selfies. Some of the workout pics and bathing suit selfies could use some restraint. What we put out is what we get back. Yes, this is a bit of a rabbit trail, but it also plays into the dating world.
How a Christian woman should dress is one of the subjects of heated debate amongst Christians. How modest is modest? The Bible has a few things to say about what’s acceptable and what’s not. We’re not going to go into it here, but it’s important to recognize the effect our clothing has on the opposite sex.
So, back to self-awareness and communication. Things to think about:
Connecting with people online has two sides. It could be your worst nightmare or a dream come true. Choosing to date online means navigating a world full of predators, knuckleheads, and potential marriage partners. The problem is, you cannot tell the difference at first.
There are extremes. We read news stories of girls going missing after meeting up with men they met online. These men lied about their ages, their locations, and their intentions. Then, we have friends who met their husbands online. They met, married, and had children with stellar men of God.
There is no background check verifying all members on a dating site are top-quality men or women. If you are a decent Christian woman who loves the Lord, then there must be decent Christian men on there as well. Right? Yes, some. So, how do you proceed, either in online dating or just online communication? With caution.
Tips for Online Communication
- Pray. Get God involved on the ground level. Ask for His guidance, His intervention. It is much easier to make unwise decisions when you are making them rashly. If you do not have peace at any point, stop.
- Be Yourself. If you are seriously considering marriage, there is no point to lie, exaggerate, or mislead. Lying about your likes, interests, goals, and passions might seem like a nice way to get someone interested, but no one likes being tricked. Also, close Photoshop. It is better to have no relationship than one built on sand.
- Do Not Be You. Yes, be yourself, but do not be you. Confused? Do not freely give away personal information. Limit the number of pictures you use. Use a screen name that you do not use elsewhere. Guard your personal information carefully. It’s not paranoia; it’s smart.
- Make Safety a Priority. Drive separately. Meet in a public place. Tell people where you are going and what your plans are. Give a friend Find a Friend on your phone. Have a friend hang at a table in the restaurant across the room. Give them whatever information you have. The reality is, you are meeting a stranger, and as much as you hope this stranger has been as truthful as you have been, there is always that chance they have not. Put yourself in the safest environment possible.
- Make your Profile Clear. Make sure you’re very explicit upfront about what you want. It’s better to attract a fewer number who are serious and match you better than to attract a whole lot who won’t work at all. It’s okay to scare people away, it avoids wasting your time and theirs.
- Red Flags are Red for a Reason. Pay attention to red flags. Seriously, they do not go away with time. Look for someone with the same values as you. Be true to yourself. You won’t find someone who will be a good match for you if you’re putting up a front.
- Talk Like Crazy. Whether it’s in person or text – talk! Ask questions back and forth. Be specific about topics: religion, marriage, family, work, goals. If the conversation is purposeful, intentional and meaningful, and there is chemistry, keep going. Sidebar here: if they don’t make you laugh, run!
- Set Boundaries. Set your boundaries. Know what you will allow and what you won’t allow. What conversation works and what is a red flag? Example: your profile clearly says you are a Jesus follower and maybe even spells out no sex before marriage. And then, inappropriate conversational pops in – questions about underwear, sexual preference, or anything that makes you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. Done. Over.
- Trust Your Gut. Finally, trust yourself. If something is making you feel ill at ease, especially to the point you have to ask someone for advice, then listen to that. And trust your instincts. If something feels off, LISTEN TO YOURSELF. You do NOT need to have any more reason to not match with someone or to break things off. Sometimes bowing out gracefully is good, other times straight-up blocking is necessary.
Okay, there you have it. We return to regularly scheduled programming with Pastor Terry next week! 😊
For God and You