How to Avoid the Online Dating Catalog Mentality
When I was in college, I gave online dating a try. I set up my profile, sent some messages, and was active in all of the online community events.
But within a few months, I deactivated my account.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t getting any messages or couldn’t find any guys I was attracted to. I had great conversations with the men I met through online dating, and there were quite a few matches I was interested in. But I still deactivated my account and walked away.
I quit online dating because I struggled with what psychologists call “relationshopping.” It’s a term first used by Heino et al. (2010) to define the way we approach online dating sites as a type of virtual marketplace.
Relationshopping happens when we select who we’ll interact with based on a list of certain qualities or features we’re looking for. We look at someone’s photos, height, health, career, and passions and select who we’ll interact with as if we’re custom ordering our perfect date.
But the way we think about online shopping and online dating can’t be the same thought process.
More importantly, the online dating catalog mentality and Catholicism don’t jive.
“A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use,” Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility. This means that when we venture into the world of online dating, we have to remind ourselves that there are real people behind other online dating profiles. .
Those people are created for love, not use.
If you’re guilty of relationshopping, that doesn’t mean you should automatically call it quits like I did. Instead, here are four things you can do to reject the online dating catalog mentality and reclaim healthy, wholesome online dating.
1. Get offline
Online dating is a bit of a misnomer. If we want to interact with online dating sites in a healthy way that respects the dignity of other online daters, maybe we should call it “online meeting.”
If you struggle with thinking of online dating as a catalog of potential matches, the quickest way to remedy the situation is to get offline with someone you’re interested in.
Ask someone you met online out for coffee, drinks, or a meal. Get to know them as a person and honor their dignity as a child of God.
2. Send an intentional message
So you happen across a couple of online dating profiles that spark your interest. What’s next? You have a few options.
You could send a generic “Hey, what’s up?” text to all of the profiles that interest you. Or you could spend time reading through profiles, getting to know about someone’s interests and passions. Then, you could craft an intentional message.
Will it take more time than just copy and pasting a message to a few people in hopes that someone will reply? Yes. But is it an incredible way to honor someone as a person? Also yes.
If you want to avoid the catalog mentality of online dating, stop sending generic messages and strive for intentionality with the way you communicate.
3. Watch how you use search filters
If you’re shopping for something online, you probably use the filter tool in a search engine. You may filter your search based on size, cost, or distance.
But if you want to combat the tendency towards the dating catalog mentality, check how you’re using the filter options often found on online dating sites. These filters may allow you to sort through online dating profiles by distance or physical appearance.
Yet, if you meet someone offline, you probably don’t check their address and career before continuing a conversation. You wouldn’t walk away from someone if they happened to live a few miles further away from you home than you thought.
So why are we tempted to do so when scrolling through online dating profiles?
According to eHarmony, many online dating users find a great match when they get out of their comfort zone. Maybe it’s someone who lives outside of your search parameters, or is older or younger than you thought of your ideal match. Perhaps they’re shorter or taller than how you envisioned your perfect match.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have healthy boundaries and standards for yourself. Instead, it’s an encouragement to avoid relationshopping by getting out of your comfort zone.
4. Stop catalog scrolling
When I’m searching for the perfect pair of curtains or a great new pair of shoes, I scroll through pages upon pages of online shopping sites. I compare quality and prices and read reviews. Then I go on a hunt for good coupons so I can make sure I’m getting the best deal.
That shouldn’t be how we date, but sometimes it is. It’s tempting to scroll through page after page of profiles, taking quick glances at each profile and then moving to the next one, in search of the perfect match. This temptation isn’t helped by the fact that there are so many matches at our fingertips.
Maybe this means setting a time limit for yourself when you log into an online dating app to check your matches.
Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband, geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. You can find more about her on her blog "Old Fashioned Girl."