Like any dating site, Catholic Singles users can search based on height, or location, or whether or not there’s a picture. The format is much the same as Match.com, eHarmony or other non-religious sites, though those sites feature more profile and search options. Catholic Singles offers other resources to build community among its members: users can talk on chat rooms, check out events coordinated or plugged by Catholic Singles, even go on a Catholic Singles cruise. But while the community and friendships they develop along the way might impress some members, it’s love they’re really after. According to Johnson, each month more than 100,000 unique visitors come to the CatholicSingles.com and primarily use it “to try and find their soulmate.”
Sometimes they do. Nicole Whitfield said she chose CatholicSingles.com “because Catholicism was important to me… I was 25… I was getting to the point when I knew I was looking for somebody to settle down with. It wasn’t playtime anymore.”
Claire (last name withheld) says the internet ultimately made dating a lot easier. “There’s a lot to be said for exchanging emails ahead of time,” she said of her experience at CatholicSingles.com, where she met three guys before her husband Jim. “You can get a feel for the person and see if you wants things to go further… At least you both have that one common ground — you’re both Catholic.”
Of course that religious component can also be a hindrance. Carly M. (name has been changed), who used to frequent Catholic Singles, says, “Catholic sites can be limiting because you only have, generally, Catholics looking at that site… If I hadn’t expanded my search to other sites, I would never have met the guy I’m currently seeing. So in as much that I first turned to Catholic Singles to find someone with similar values/background, I found that on another site just as well.”
In truth, certain features on CatholicSingles.com would most likely seem a bit “churchy” to some. Links to sites dealing with Catholic doctrine, and the opportunity to ask either a religious sister or priest advice, are certainly not standard at other dating sites. A lot of the material online about Catholic dating hearkens back to an old-school courtship model, with undertones of “protecting women” and the appropriate roles of the genders.
CatholicSingles.com columnist and Catholic Thrive founder David Sloan suggests, “Dating (as we’re using the term) is simply the beginning phase of courtship.” He goes on to advise women not to ask men out, but instead wait for a friendly fellow to notice their fancy. Certainly these aspects of CatholicSingles.com would be out of step with most contemporary dating services.
But despite the apparent orthodoxy of the site’s resources, plenty of the members at Catholic Singles aren’t applying litmus tests to potential mates — they’re just looking to meet someone who shares their faith. “We like that we have a place for everyone to feel welcome,” says Johnson about their membership. “The honest-to-God truth is that we’re all Catholic, we all share the same values.”
The first thing Brian Barcaro wants people to know about his online Catholic dating site, CatholicMatch.com, is not that it’s run by Catholics. “The number one thing,” he says, is that “we are a technology company and a technology company owns and operates Catholic Match.” Everything else about the site — its community vibe, its Catholic identity, even its aggressive marketing — flows directly from its roots as a tech-savvy business that knows how to thrive in the internet marketplace. (Its parent company is the internet consulting agency, Acolyte.)
Compared to CatholicSingles.com and AveMariaSingles.com, Catholic Match has the best technology and web design, hands down. The layout is both visually appealing and user-friendly, and members can modify their searches in a host of useful ways; they can send people birthday cards, find out who has read their profiles, even send smiley faces to whomever they want. And while free membership allows users nearly all the features, paying members can use instant messaging, take advantage of two-way matching, and post messages in online forums.
Catholic Match’s focus on technology and marketing appears to be paying dividends. The site is always in the top ten most viewed Catholic sites online — along with heavy hitters like the official Vatican site, EWTN and Georgetown University — skipping in and out of the top five. Its high volume results from a strategy to advertise not only at typical Catholic destinations like Catholic Online or Catholic Exchange but also much more popular (and pricey) sites like Yahoo, MSN, and AOL. Barcaro is interested in building numbers, and knows that he’ll reach past the regular crowd at larger, secular sites. “We’re trying to reach out to Catholics that wouldn’t go to a Catholic newspaper or website but might be interested in Catholic material.”
But many of them are clearly interested in finding a Catholic mate — or at the very least, finding friends who share their faith. Barcaro makes clear that plenty of the folks on his site “aren’t faithful churchgoing Catholics,” but a quick survey of the site’s nearly 500,000 member profiles reveals a fairly consistent conservative bent to the typical Catholic Match user. To become a member of Catholic Match, prospective users have to indicate if they agree or disagree with seven elements of Church teaching that are pretty standard liberal/conservative divide questions like women priests or papal infallibility. Nobody gets kicked off for disagreeing with all seven — indeed, even non-Catholics can join — but members can search for other users based on whether they agree with some, most, or all of these teachings.
That sort of service is handy for someone like Jenica Tromontana, who identifies herself as a pretty conservative Catholic. “I’ve seen profiles of many different types of Catholics with a wide variety of beliefs,” she says about her experience at Catholic Match. “For purposes of possibly finding a future spouse,” she says, “I’ve limited my encounters to those who share my position.” She also appreciates that, unlike at secular dating sites, Catholic Match’s users are a self-selecting group who already have certain essential beliefs in common. “It is much more difficult to find a person who agrees with the [the teaching authority of the Catholic Church] in the dating world, so people of that position are searching for alternative ways to find a potential spouse.”
After seven months on Catholic Match, Tromontana encountered a guy with a lot of similarities. After a few e-mails, they began chatting online and recently started speaking over the phone every night, talking for as long as three hours a call. “He’s extremely intelligent and his faith is inspiring,” she says of her new beau. “Just by talking to him these past few weeks, I have seen my faith grow and be strengthened in ways it hasn’t before. Most importantly, [he] wants the same things out of life that I do. We agree on all of the really important issues that I’m not willing to compromise.”
And though finding a special someone is clearly the reason most people join, Catholic Match also offers a service similar to Catholic Thrive called CM Get Togethers, gathering people for weekend-long events around similar interests. Unlike Catholic Thrive, CM Get Together conference topics can extend beyond relationship issues.
When asked why she would recommend Catholic Match in particular, Danielle Marie Ford, who met her husband Matt there, said, “The people at Catholic Match are wonderful; not only did I meet the man of my dreams but also a number of great friends who I will probably keep in touch with for many, many years to come.” Barcaro says that a lot of people come to his site looking for a spouse, often petrified they’re all alone: “We try to orient it so the pressure to find someone is not there… we try to focus on the community aspect.” Tramontana agrees: “It’s nice to know that there are Catholics of like mind searching for the same things I’m looking for.”