Online Relationship Maze
By Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd
Relationship navigation has become a maze of live interactions, online networking, and social media socializing. Which are the safe places? What grid should someone use to discern where to go, whom to hang out with? With technology, there are guiding principles that we as leaders can pass along to help singles navigate the ever-changing landscape of friendship, dating, love, and marriage. In our book, Single Men Are Like Waffles, Single Women Are Like Spaghetti, we look at how God forms relationships to gain wisdom on how singles can be savvy socializers:
God knows us by name, we should know others by name.
- Malachi 3:16: Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
- Matthew 10:29-32: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered . . .
God is personal. He not only knows our name, but every hair on our head. We are the apple of His eye. In our dealings with people, we should seek to follow His example of personal treatment of people. The goal online or in person is to be cautious and courteous.
Caution: Use a screen name for personal safety reasons. Everything in cyberspace should be vetted with care to ensure its truthfulness and accuracy. Online, don’t reveal your last name, address, or phone number. Picture your self-revelation like an onion, peel back the layers one at a time observing how the person you are communicating with handles each precious piece.
Courtesy: Any words you place in cyberspace are still judged by the same time-tested golden rule used in live, in-person relationships: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31). Post any message with a few questions in mind:
- How would I feel if my grandmother, mother, or pastor read this post? (Remember God sees everything!)
- Would I post this message on a billboard in my home town and still be able to hold my head high?
- Does this message match the standard of goodness in Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
God values a good reputation, we should have a way of knowing a person’s reputation.
- Proverbs 3:4: Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.
- Proverbs 22:1: A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
- Ecclesiastes 7:1: A good name is better than fine perfume …
- Luke 2:52: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
God proclaims that a good reputation and solid character is to be highly valued. Hold yourself and others accountable. Get to know their friends and family early. Meet his or her pastor, small group leader, and coworkers. And if you have any red flags because you are sensing you are getting half-truths or you aren’t getting the whole story about someone put some distance between you and the other person. (If you get any red flags about a person’s honesty, you may decide to seek out a simple background check.) The cyber world is only as reliable as the person using it and you don’t want to risk or waste vital years God has given you being in a relationship that is not based on honesty.
No matter if you met at church, the coffee shop, or in an online community, the higher the accountability, the safer the meeting becomes. We noticed that those matchmaking sites that had the resume and contact information of the site’s developer seemed to also have higher accountability for the people using the sites. Check out all online services carefully. Do you know who owns the site, what the corporate values are, do they have a Board of Directors, a Board of Advisors, and what are those leader’s resumes? Does the site have a screening process? Do they run background checks, or screen for sexual offenders, or a criminal record? Does the site have a clear code of conduct and do they enforce it?
If you do make connections online, note that people worthy character will offer to give you background information and other contacts so you can get to know them, their life, and their world. If someone is too aloof, too independent, or too vague, that should be a flashing yellow light of caution—no matter how you met him or her.
Inner character quality is valued higher than outward appearance.
- 1 Samuel 16:7: But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’
- Matthew 5:8: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Yes, God tells us that our body is His temple, but too often single people begin to worship the temple, rather than the God who dwells in the temple. God is more concerned over the state of a person’s heart than their sex appeal. We do believe that physical attraction is an important part of life. When God made Eve, Adam was stunned by her beauty. As a result, part of the decision-making process in relationships involves some sexual energy and chemistry. However, superficial sexual attraction can make you “feel” in love, when it may be nothing more than a hormonal rush. Keep the balance between character and sexual attraction straight in your mind. The truly attractive are those who have courageous character.
Meet people in a way that keeps you in ministry.
- Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
- Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
- John 4:34: ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’
Keep first things first. God’s priority is that we seek His will first before anything else. God has bigger plans for you than just finding a mate. There are people to influence, worlds to build, and challenges to overcome. It is a lie to believe the “I’d be happy if I were married” myth. There are plenty of unhappy married couples. Most are unhappy because they either weren’t seeking God, or they were driven by sexual passions and they misread sex as love, or they quit seeking God and “settled” for someone, because they mistakenly believed God was providing “no one” for them.
We encourage singles that “Your partner is on the path to your passionate calling.” I was recently told the story of a woman missionary who was over 30 and advised by her family and friends to not follow God’s clear call to a Third World Country because “You will never meet a marriage partner there—say goodbye to love, marriage, and a family!” Fortunately, she listened to God not the naysayers and once there she met a single man also serving with another ministry, they married and adopted two children from that nation!
When socializing in an online community, seek to minister there. Share what God is teaching you, favorite worship songs, and verses God brings to you that could help those you meet. Use the same kind of grid for online socializing as you would have in real time. For example, the Bible is clear that we should not be unequally yoked, so you will have an easier time finding more spiritually like-minded friends on Christian online dating websites over general sites for singles, but do not be fooled that everyone on the “Christian” site is a growing vibrant person of authentic faith. Look at how the site asks for profile information.
For example, it would be more accurate information if instead of a “check this box, which faith are you?” where one could vaguely mark “Christian” was worded “Describe your faith journey” or ”What does being a Christian mean to you?” An open-ended question provides you with more information on how that person views life and love.
Being online is ministry! For example, each year Christian Mingle.com conducted a survey of singles online. One of the questions surveyed was at what point in a relationship a person felt there should be sexual activity. Only 11 percent said they thought sexual intercourse should be saved until after the wedding “I do.” However, Scripture is clear:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality . . .” (See 1 Thess. 4:3-8).
But if you think this is simply an “online community” issue, Relevant magazine reported that 80 percent of evangelicals’ ages18 to 30 have had sex, 64 percent have done so within the last year and 42 percent are in a current sexual relationship. This disconnect between Scripture and life choices could be remedied if one were to implement Jesus’ call in John 14:23, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”
Socialize to stay other-centered, not self-centered.
“. . . Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:1-4).
Secure singles are ones who look for what they can give, not what they can take. Successful singles enter a room thinking; Each person here has a story. This is like a great library. I’m sure there are some interesting books here. Successful singles listen. They use their gifts, talents, and time to create more opportunity and connectedness for everyone—not just for themselves. Too many singles once online, slowly move from a heart to minister to becoming preoccupied with who emailed, who sent a wink, or whatever icon of interest the site might use. If you find yourself slipping away from your real life interactions so you can check your social media posts or your online profile connections, that is a warning sign that you might becoming addicted to the lure of online validation over the faithful service of God.
Overall, the online world is simply a mirror of the real time, in person world of relationships. The values, beliefs, and choices you see online are a reflection of the heart, mind, soul, and spirit of a person. So in real time or cyberspace, remember that “those who walk with the wise become wise. . .” (Prov. 13:20). Wherever you meet people, spend time with the wise ones.