Living in a digital age, there are few problems that can’t be fixed with a smartphone. Trends over the past few years indicate that singles have been finding this to be true even of finding a date—nearly half of young adults say that they have tried to get hitched using a dating app or site. Thanks to mediums like Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Hinge, and many others, linking up with a potential partner is only a swipe away.
As our age becomes increasingly digitized, it should be no surprise that Christians are among those trying to find partners online. But while it is commendable to desire marriage and we can rejoice that technology can aid the search for a spouse, the way these services are designed can be problematic. Christians searching for a spouse on these mediums should be cautious of these potential pitfalls:
1. Dating apps can be consumeristic and individualistic
Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge work by having the user browse through a plethora of profiles, hoping for matches by “liking” or “disliking” the countless individuals that come through their feed. The apps’ algorithms tailor the sample of profiles to the user’s personal fancies, promoting potential partners based on the number of preferences they meet. This creates the possibility of turning one’s search for a date into what is essentially an internet shopping experience, where the “items” that are ultimately meant to fulfill the user’s wants and needs are real people. Individuals that have been secured as matches become comparable to objects in an online shopping cart.
While there is nothing wrong with preferring some qualities in potential partners over others, the seemingly infinite sample dating apps give us makes it easy to imagine that there is someone out there who is more perfect than the one currently right in front of us. Under this assumption, the search for one’s spouse is individualistic and self-centered—the goal of marriage becomes not how we may serve God and our spouse, but how a partner may fulfill our own desires.
2. They can perpetuate lust
Christians who are prone to lustful thoughts upon visual triggers should be aware of the ways dating apps can perpetuate this form of sin. Because of the relative inability to use one’s personality to attract likes, a profile’s images are what drive matches—both men and women listed a person’s photos as the most important indicator of their like-worthiness. Men are advised to strategize their profile photos, and women are incentivized to draw attention with sexually suggestive images.
While lust is just as prevalent offline as it is online, dating apps present a unique challenge to purity. Because of the distinct role photos play in earning and issuing likes, coupled with the sheer volume of images users are able to swipe through, it is not difficult for one to get carried away scrutinizing the physical attractiveness of one individual after the other. To be clear, the issue is not the act of liking a person’s profile because of his or her appearance, but the enticing effects the alluring photos on these apps may bring about. Lust that can arise from the unchecked use of these services is harmful for the person who has been tempted into adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:28), and it is also dehumanizing for the countless individuals who have been objectified and evaluated solely on their physical qualities. Christians should keep this unique nature of dating apps in mind as they use them.
3. Dating apps can be addictive
Dating apps are deliberately addictive. Psychology Today notes how programmers intentionally work “to ‘gamify’ dating so you’ll become addicted to the experience of ‘playing’ it and will soon come back for more.” On top of the hooking nature of swiping through profiles, the rush one receives upon finding a match or receiving a like gives validation and boosts confidence. These dopamine spikes urge the user to get back to swiping, looking at more advertisements, or paying more fees for the service, generating more revenue for the developers.
These addictive tendencies may also reinforce a consumeristic disposition toward dating and could habituate the objectification of people of the opposite sex. The obsessive nature of dating apps demands that singles use them with caution and moderation so as to avoid these destructive patterns.
How should Christians use dating apps?
The first and most important thing to note about these dangers is that all three make one’s own personal fulfillment the center of relationship-finding. But to place one’s own wants or needs as the object of a relationship or marriage cuts directly against biblical teaching. Paul describes the profound mystery of marriage as an image of Christ’s oneness with his church (Eph. 5:31-33). It is for this reason that husbands are called to give themselves up for their wives as Christ did for the church (5:25-29), and wives are likewise called to devote themselves to their husbands as the church does to the Lord (5:22-24). Contrary to the sentiments that can easily be perpetuated by dating apps, Scripture describes an individual’s relationship with his or her spouse as a self-giving endeavor (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-5).
Because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.
But what can the foundational principles of a biblical marriage weighed against these possible pitfalls inform us about how Christians should use dating apps? I encourage singles using or considering signing up for a dating app to consider these three points of advice:
Know yourself. This requires daily prayer and meditation on the Word. Earnestly examine your heart and ask God to do the same (Psa. 139:23-24). Be aware of what sins you are naturally drawn to, and be diligent in fighting them. Do you become addicted easily? Are alluring photos a constant source of temptation for you? If so, it may not be wise to download a dating app. Prayerfully consider your weaknesses and whether or not your use of one of these mediums will exploit them.
Monitor yourself. As you use dating apps, continually observe the effects it has on your thoughts and attitude, and adjust your activity accordingly. If you find yourself becoming addicted or if you notice lustful tendencies arising, consider setting time limits or periodically remove the app from your device to take breaks. To combat consumeristic dispositions and objectifying others on the site, strive to be more intentional in your interactions with the individuals you match with—take steps to get to know them as people and fellow image-bearers by loving and encouraging them.
The most effective way you can monitor your heart for this purpose is by immersing yourself in a rich, gospel-centered body of believers who will lovingly hold you accountable. Find members within your local church who will disciple you, exhort you to purity, and encourage you amidst singleness. Sin cannot be adequately fought in isolation, and fellow members of a local congregation are indispensable to guard against temptations that may arise with the use of dating apps.
Comfort yourself with the gospel. Whether or not you are able to use a dating app in a healthy manner, as you pray God will provide you a husband or wife, pray most of all that he will provide you contentment in his Son (Phil. 4:11-13). Remember also that marriage, as beautiful as it may be, is merely a foretaste of what is to come when Christ returns. If you are in him, you will one day experience joys that far outshine even the greatest blessings of marriage. As you wait and hope for a spouse, wait and hope for that day even more.
Do this through constant prayer and devotion. Share with your neighbors the hope you have within you (1 Pet. 3:15). Commit yourself to a local congregation, and serve it dutifully. It is within these assemblies of saints that we are given a glimpse of that future day when we are all gathered around the throne. Such actions may not fill the hole left by singleness, but they will point you to the One who does.
Taking into account God’s decrees for humanity to have dominion over creation (Gen 1:28) and for man to leave his parents to be united to his wife (2:24), we can infer that it is quite human to cultivate the Earth through innovation and use such advancements for the purpose of finding a spouse. But because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.