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Looking for Catholic love in a locked down world

By 
  • February 11, 2021

Online dating as a Catholic has always been tough for Lisa van der Wilt and the global pandemic hasn’t made it any easier.

Since breaking up with her boyfriend of nearly a year last November, she’s been back on the virtual social scene, searching for someone with whom she can share romance and her religious values. It’s the latter that affected her relationship.

She met her now ex in December 2019 on Facebook Dating. Most of their courtship took place during the pandemic but it wasn’t the global situation that split them apart. Ultimately, they wanted different things. She wanted a big Catholic family. He didn’t.

Active on various dating sites, courtship, she says, with limited physical interactions in the middle of a lockdown, means Valentine’s Day date night options are pretty slim.

“The biggest low is that even if you’ve created a bond with someone, you still can’t do in-person things,” said van der Wilt, a 20-year-old registered doula (a trained labour companion for expectant mothers) from the Niagara region. “Not that you have many options to do in-person things anyway with everything that’s going on.”

Thankfully for van der Wilt, she isn’t the only Catholic online looking for love. Christian Mingle, a Christian-specific dating platform with reportedly over 15 million customers, has seen a five-per-cent increase in Canadian users throughout the pandemic. Members can choose to specify their denomination, and although about half of the people on the app choose not to specify, 14 per cent of all members identify as Catholic, highest of all denominations. In Canada the numbers are even higher at 18 per cent.

On most apps open to all regardless of religion, users are encouraged to specify their spiritual beliefs if finding a partner to share that with is important to them. On Bumble, a top dating platform best known for empowering women to make the first move in conversation, users are able to select badges and filters to indicate values, lifestyle choices such as religion, politics, fitness and more, right on their profile.

The rise of virtual dating is one of the biggest ways the dating landscape has shifted since the outbreak of the pandemic. The Bumble community leaned heavily into the voice call and video chat features launched in 2019. These options allow users to go on “pre-dates” to get to know each other better in a safe way during a time of social distancing. Bumble reports video calls increased by more than 70 per cent during the first few months of social distancing. 

“We’re seeing that there’s still a sense of hope and optimism in meeting someone new right now,” a Bumble spokesperson said in an e-mail exchange with The Catholic Register. “In fact, we’re expecting dating to ramp up with 86 per cent of Canadian daters indicating that they are planning to use dating apps just as much as they do now, if not more through Valentine’s Day 2021. This shows that people are feeling ready to be more intentional about finding a partner after experiencing months of loneliness and isolation during social distancing.”

Dating sights are reporting that “slow dating” is another trend that has emerged during the pandemic giving couples a longer time to get to know each other, mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 and possibly preventing unnecessary heartbreak in the long run.

“I actually think that Christian dating in particular benefits from this change of pace,” said Sophie Watson, senior PR manager at Christian Mingle. “It means singles have a great opportunity to chat to each other online and really get to know each other’s personalities before meeting in real life. It gives singles a chance to explore spiritual and emotional connections before addressing the matter of physical attraction rather than after.”

Van der Wilt continues to be encouraged by those in her life who found love online, including her sister who met her boyfriend online earlier this year. While she looks forward to opportunities to socialize with other singles at in-person events when the pandemic is over, for now, like millions of others in lockdown, her virtual quest goes on. 

Van der Wilt, who lives in a multigenerational household which includes her 91-year-old grandmother, has had to be extra careful about staying safe. She regrets not having “listened to her gut” when she first connected with her ex and had reservations on whether or not their future goals aligned.

“I just want someone that would like to go to Mass and you know, wants to pray,” said van der Wilt. “I’m not saying I’m the best at all of that, I just need someone whose morals kind of align with mine.”

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