Jeff Whitfield shouldn’t need any help meeting women. When he talks in his calm, Kentucky drawl about his past rambunctiousness and the salvation his faith provided him, he sounds charming, self-possessed, and likable — not the kind of guy who would need an online dating service. In fact, he wouldn’t have expected it ether. Jeff’s initial impression of the people who use internet dating sites was characteristically blunt. “They’re losers,” he used to say.
The problem is, the people he kept meeting weren’t exactly winners. Jeff was tired of the bar scene but wasn’t sure where else to go, so he thought he’d give CatholicSingles.com a try. After a few fizzles he met Nicole, who worked at a Starbucks out in California. They agreed on everything from natural family planning to the greatness of Braveheart, and felt an intense connection that grew stronger with every email and long distance phone call. Their first meeting occurred about a month after they had started talking, when Jeff paid for Nicole to visit him in Indiana — where he was working in student affairs at the University of Southern Indiana. He asked her to marry him the weekend she arrived. They married on August 16, 2003, and about a year later they celebrated the birth of their first child.
Jeff and Nicole are not alone. More and more people are going online to find a date or meet the love of their life. According to Online Dating Magazine, the number who have participated in online dating in the United States is now nearly 40 million.
By the numbers, internet dating just makes sense. “One hundred sixty million people have internet access and 80 million people are single, and it only stands to reason that people don’t want to have to introduce themselves to strangers at strange places to meet someone” says Evan Katz, an expert on online dating and the author of I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book: A Common-Sense Guide to Successful Internet Dating, “Lots of people are looking to fall in love and [the internet] is in fact the safest and easiest way to meet people.”
A subset of the folks looking for love online, however, are looking for people with very specific common interests, from a vegetarian on the hunt for someone who doesn’t hunt, veggiedate.com, to a country guy or girl just looking to lasso a pardner’s heart, countrysinglesonline.com. Many internet daters are, of course, interested in meeting people who share their faith. If you’re looking to meet a nice Jewish boy or girl, jdate.com has over half a million members hoping to do the same thing. In a nation where too many folks still think Ramadan is a hotel chain, Muslim singles can choose from a diverse group of fellow believers at muslima.com. Christians have even more options: at christiancafe.com, they can buy that special someone some virtual coffee; and at bigchurch.com, they can search for a potential match or their favorite scripture passage (or, presumably, both.)
Catholic dating sites
According to Brian Barcaro, cofounder of Catholic Match , people come to his site because they are looking for a person with a specific characteristic: faith. “I would say that the only thing unique is that the Catholics that come to our site put a higher priority on their faith — they’re specifically looking for other Catholics.”
Actually, Catholics have plenty of options, though some sites are a little more about the dating and a lot less about the Catholic. Web surfers would be hard pressed to find anything Catholic at catholicintroductions.com besides their name, and executivecatholicdating.com seems more concerned about a potential partner’s pedigree and income potential than their faith. Other sites, like catholicmatchmaker.net, are just fronts for much larger matchmaking engines. In fact, a prospective dater at Catholic Matchmaker, in just two quick links, can “meet lonely housewives” or place naked ads on sites that would make porn star Jenna Jameson blush.
Three Catholic sites, however, proclaim themselves as the only authentic Catholic online singles services in the United States: the oldest and the most diverse is Catholic-owned CatholicSingles.com, while CatholicMatch.com has the biggest numbers and the most aggressive web presence, and AveMariaSingles.com boasts a more focused and targeted approach.
Each approaches its Catholic-ness differently, but for all three, it is the selling point and market niche, not to mention the spiritual reason for being. “Don’t be fooled by others,” warns Catholic Singles, “Join a true Catholic community!”
Catholic Match makes the same distinction: “Catholic Match, unlike many websites which target Catholics, is faithful to the teachings and values of the Catholic Church. As such, we provide a service which allows our members to be guided by their values and relationship with God — not with scientific formulas.”
While these two sites are looking for the Catholics in the crowd, Ave Maria is looking for a specific crowd within the Catholics, touting “a service solely dedicated to helping faithful, practicing Catholics find their future spouse and help them become a better follower of Christ.”
Tens of thousands of Catholics are creating community and meeting their future spouses online at sites like these. Here, we look in depth at these three sites and share the stories of those for whom they’ve worked and those for whom they haven’t. For Catholics like Jeff and Nicole Whitfield, these sites are as much about encountering God in both quiet and dramatic ways as they are about meeting their mates. “In the way that [I used to meet guys] — how would I meet anybody from Kentucky?” Nicole asked. “When I hugged him for the first time, I felt like I was at home. I felt at peace. In subtle ways, we see God every single day.” Jeff says finding Nicole through Catholic Singles was God’s reminder to him that his life was not over. “Right when I said I was gonna quit, He was like: No you’re not, you’re gonna quit when I tell you to. You’re gonna quit when you meet her.”
“Face it,” it says on the CatholicSingles.com, “you are here because sharing your faith is one of the most, if not the most, important criteria in looking for friends or a soul mate.” Catholic Singles is a Catholic-owned and operated internet dating site founded in 1997 where, for a fee as low as $9.95 per month, members can search for a mate. To single men and women who use non-religious sites like Match.com, and who don’t list their faith as one of their primary criteria in meeting someone, the premium Catholic Singles places on religious beliefs might seem strange. But for the site’s members, the issue of faith is essential — it goes beyond a person’s occupation or hair color and reflects one’s deepest values.
As the oldest of the three, Catholic Singles boasts “more Catholic singles than anyone.” In 2008, it added a Spanish language version of the site.
Catholic Thrive, an offshoot of CatholicSingles.com, hosts conferences for singles to meet in person, alongside workshops and presentations on Catholic teachings concerning not just dating but also other relationship issues. Participants in their Singles Serving Orphans mission trips to places like Nicaragua receive discounted conference rates. Catholic Thrive launched with its first conference in Anaheim, CA, and is hitting New York City this Labor Day weekend.
Catholic Singles’ members are an impressively diverse crowd, not easily categorized, who are unified only by their faith — even if their experience and practice of that faith varies widely. Two recent Catholic Singles “members of the month” are a 23-year-old white male from Delaware who describes himself as a conservative Catholic and lists The Passion of the Christ as one of his favorite movies, alongside a 41-year-old Latina woman who says she’s looking for a “non-conservative Catholic” guy “with a big heart who is also politically and socially conscious.”
The success stories of people who have found love — even marriage — from a contact made through CatholicSingles.com, reflects the site’s diversity as well as its commitment to giving single Catholics a forum to meet kindred spirits. Whether it’s Kierstin (last name not listed) celebrating “finding a ‘nice Catholic boy'” or Tom and Michelle Fox’s assertion that “We know God brought us together through this venue,” the users of CatholicSingles.com run the gamut from culturally Catholic to intensely religious. There are even people like Roger, who met someone on the site and writes that “thanks to CatholicSingles.com, we feel well on the way to a partnership that can stand the test of time, blessed by Our Loving God and based on that same love that was shown to us through His Son.”
“There really are different types of Catholics” says the site’s marketing director Tom Johnson. “We have the entire range — those who are cultural and those who are passionate about being Catholic.” Johnson says Catholic Singles does not try to attract a certain kind of Catholic, nor discourage anyone from singing up because they don’t fit a certain profile. On CatholicSingles.com, users can identify as a progressive, moderate, or conservative when filling out a member profile — an option that’s unavailable on the other two major Catholic dating sites. “We try to make sure everyone feels comfortable and feels safe to express their Catholicism as they want to,” says Johnson.