Online dating finds religion
By Erin Cline
“What’s your sign?” might be replaced by “How’s your prayer life?” as singles are signing up at faith-based dating Web sites in search of a perfect mate.
After an increase in users in 2002 and 2003, the online dating industry as a whole has been in decline. According to a Feb. 9 report from Jupiter Research – a group studying the impact of the Internet on business – 33 percent fewer people use online dating than a year ago. But faith-based dating Web sites say their client bases are increasing as people search for mates who share their spiritual and moral values.
Sites such as JDate.com, Qiran.com, WhereChristiansMeet.com and CatholicSingles.com are trying to attract singles searching for a deeper, more spiritual partner.
Marc Goldmann, founder of SawYouAtSinai.com, a dating service based out of New York that caters to Jews, predicts a migration from more generalized online-dating sites to those like his. In the past year, Goldmann said his membership has grown from 700 to almost 8,000. He said religious sites will aggressively develop to compete with dating sites with a more secular orientation.
“There is a growth in religious fervor in the U.S. and across the world,” he said. “That is a factor that must be focused on in online dating.”
On SawYouAtSiani, members can’t browse other member profiles. Instead, the site uses the Jewish tradition of matchmaking to pair its members. The site has 160 matchmakers who get to know other members by telephone, e-mail and online chatting. The matchmaker pulls profiles of potential dates for a member to review and decide whether to pursue.
“Matchmaking goes back as far as the three founding fathers of Jewish religion,” Goldmann said. “It is very ingrained in our Jewish belief, but times change and you have to meld the old with the new.”
Ranya El-Farnawani, founder of TwoMuslims.com, said she wanted to make it easier for Muslims to find each other. She said her site factors traditions found in Islam that value different dating customs. Not only can Muslims check out the more than 16,000 other members for relationships, but parents can also browse the site’s members in order to make a selection for their son or daughter.
“Just being a Muslim isn’t enough,” she said. “You want to find someone who is Muslim the same way you are a Muslim.”
El-Farnawani also views her site as a way to help Muslims maintain their religious standards in a secular world.
“Our site helps them to find people without being tempted for things they aren’t looking for on a regular site,” she said.
Eharmony.com, which markets itself as a “relationship-building service,” has close to 7 million members, with almost 15,000 joining daily, spokeswoman Marylyn Warren said. Although eHarmony does not promote one religion, the matchmaking process considers members' religious preferences and denominations to match people who have a similar religious foundation.
That foundation is vital, according to Howard Waddell, a counselor at Palmetto Health Pastoral Counseling Services.
“Faith-oriented traditions are drawing people into better relationships,” he said.
Waddell said mixing religions in a relationship can be a burden on the already tough adjustment to the other person’s family, values, economic standing and background. It’s something that Christian ministers, including Shandon Baptist Church’s Steve Turner, have come to agree on.”
“The Bible says we are not to be unequally yoked,” said Turner, who serves as the Columbia church’s college minister. “I think that’s a principle that shows Christians should, for the most part, date Christians.
“Whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheist, you’re going to want to marry someone with similar beliefs,” he said.
While online-dating services can help their members find people with parallel beliefs, some fear that online dating ruins a fun tradition.
“So many of those things try to take what I consider some of the mystery and excitement, and heartache, from finding suitable dating partners or spouses,” said the Rev. Michael Henderson of Cayce United Methodist Church. “Computers can digitize and quantify some of our information, but it can’t make up for the mystery that comes between two people.”
Henderson said he has known successful couples that have met online but said it seems that online couples “miss out on something.”
But El-Farnawani said she isn’t worried about people doubting her site.
“Once you meet the right person, you won’t care how you met them,” she said. “That’s the bottom line."