As anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, Pope Francis is in America now for the World Meeting of Families. Here at REGINA Magazine, we thought this would be an opportune moment for a temperature check with US experts about where Catholic families start – Catholic dating. As the 78-year old pontiff is famously open to new technology, we’ve asked Anthony Buono and Rose Ferguson of the online dating firm Ave Maria Singles to give us their view on the latest trends in online dating for US Catholics.
REGINA: When did online dating become respectable in the US?
ANTHONY: Mainstream online dating has been respectable since Match.com took off around 1998. Maybe there was a stigma about meeting someone online for many people, but privately they must have loved it because Match.com became huge and never looked back.
REGINA: Can you point to a year when you saw an uptick?
ANTHONY: No, but I really believe Facebook made online relationships “normalized”. Relationship status was part of the entire social networking experience, not the main focus. That made people relax about meeting someone online, and without their even knowing it, they found themselves paying more attention to that relationship status.
REGINA: What about Catholics?
ANTHONY: Catholic online dating, on the other hand, has taken quite a long time to be accepted. Only in the last 5 years have we notice more and more young Catholics using Ave Maria Singles. Catholics feel uncomfortable and even embarrassed to say they met someone on a computer instead of the “normal” way, in person, as if God can't work any way He chooses.
REGINA: Who were the first Catholics to seek out your service?
ANTHONY: Right after launch in 1998, we had members of all ages, from 18 to 70, and located primarily in the U.S., but definitely a small percentage in places like Canada, Australia, Europe, Singapore, etc. But the concentrated demographic was age 30-50. These were more mature singles who did not find love in their everyday environments and were of the age of feeling it's time to get serious about marriage and family.
REGINA: Has that changed?
ANTHONY: I would say that in the past three years, the median age has gotten younger and younger. The average is now mid 30s, for both men and women, which is much younger than in the past.
REGINA: Would you say the Catholics on your site are dating with intent to marry?
ANTHONY: Absolutely, and for AveMariaSingles I believe that has always been the case. Our site has always been for those who are seriously seeking a spouse, not just looking for a date for Saturday night.
REGINA: Do you see any change in attitudes and expectations regarding pre-marital sex?
ANTHONY: Since our site is known as being “the” site for devout Catholics, anyone who is interested in pre-marital sex is in quite the minority.
REGINA: Do you see any change in attitudes and expectations regarding open-ness to life?
ANTHONY: Again, this is what it means to be on AMS. People who join AMS are anti-contraception and pro-life. I think recently we have more people who are a little more liberal in their beliefs, but mostly those people find the site disappointing and end up deactivating their membership.
REGINA: Do you think men and or women are more straightforward about what they are looking for in a partner these days?
ANTHONY: I wish everyone would be more straight-forward. We have a profile question about this, and people are always frustratingly vague, “I'm looking for a man of faith,” or, even worse, they leave that section of the profile blank.
ROSE: I think in general the men are more willing to get more specific. I have to say that I wish everyone would focus more on what THEY bring to the table rather than what they are looking for in someone else.
REGINA: Why do the people on your site say that they want a Catholic spouse?
ANTHONY: If they are being honest with themselves, they join the site because they can't meet quality single Catholics locally. They are tired of meeting those who say they are Catholic but turn out to not be serious about their faith. They have suffered heart break and wasted valuable time investing in a person they thought was someone they weren't. So wanting a Catholic spouse means wanting to live the Catholic faith and all the Church teaches.
ROSE: They want someone who shares their values. They don't want to have to argue over going to Mass, educating the kids, or using contraception. They want to start out on the same page.
REGINA: What is the single biggest barrier to many middle-aged Catholics finding a spouse?
ANTHONY: The biggest barrier is the inability to let go of their expectations and attachments to their way of life. The older someone gets, the more entrenched they are into what they want and expect and how they do things. They definitely do want someone to love, but on their terms, and they don't have much toleration for the personhood of someone they date. In other words, they don't want to marry a person and learn to love everything about that person, they want a car they can drive; a dog they can command and do their bidding; a robot they can program. In a word, they want control. They don't want to have their precious life disturbed or derailed. Just someone who will jump on the moving train and adapt.
ROSE: I think the biggest barrier for everyone is their self, and their own limiting beliefs. People come with a lot of “buts”: But I can't move, But I can't leave my job. But I can't marry someone who has been married before. But I can't marry someone with kids. But I can't ….It's all very self-centered and it's all very doable. It only takes one person. One man, who CAN relocate for you. One woman, who IS willing to accept someone who has been married before (and his children!). One job opportunity you never dreamed was possible. It can happen, it does happen, but you have to be willing to be open to it.
REGINA: What would you advise the Pope about what he should say to encourage American Catholics hoping to find a spouse?
ANTHONY: Holy Father, my advice is to encourage them to follow the mantra of your predecessor, St. John Paul II, which are the words of Jesus Christ, “Be not afraid”. Too many unmarried Catholics have a great many fears that they allow to rule them. The fear of growing old alone, of never having children, of having no one to share their life with, of never being loved and cherished by one person, that they will never meet the right person, that they're doing something wrong, of being hurt or betrayed, of getting divorced. The list goes on an on. So many fears. And what do these fears accomplish? Only to diminish the person you are and who you are called to be by God. God wants us to love ourselves and live His life through us. He calls us to be light, salt, love. How can we represent the love of God carrying the burden of so many fears. “Be not afraid.” God is will you. So be with Him. And be at peace. Do all you can to be the most attractive person inside and out that you can be, do all you can to facilitate being in environments to meet a quality Catholic person. But while you are unmarried, and if you never get married, God is with you, and His love is sufficient.
REGINA: Anything else?
ANTHONY: And as a side note, Holy Father, encourage them to bring the love they have to give to others in the many ways and opportunities there are to do so within their families, friends and communities. There is no shortage of people who need their love. If a potential spouse comes long, then embrace the opportunity to foster it with all the attention required to build a strong friendship and love. In the meantime, get out there and give of yourself. It is in giving yourself in love to another/others that you are able to be free of all fears. God did not promise us marriage in this life, but He did assure us of suffering. You are not alone in your suffering the hope of finding a spouse. If it does not happen, just make sure it has nothing to do with what you are doing to sabotage the possibility, especially by wearing your fears on your sleeve.