She winked at him. He winked back. And so began a month of online instant messaging. She took the usual precautions for meeting in person a guy from the Internet: a public first date and telling her friends where she was going. During their date, Anna Tusim, 25, and Matthew Richards, 26, looked past their Ohio State-Michigan allegiances and agreed to meet again but not the following day. He would be busy teaching Sunday school.
Online dating is not new. Match.com, one of the largest dating Web sites, was launched in 1995. Back then cellphones did not have touch screens, online purchasers were skeptical of a start-up called eBay, and online dating seemed sketchy at best. But as millions more add browsing profiles to blind dates, friend-of-a-friend setups and chance encounters to the list of ways couples meet, the taboo against online dating is evaporating.
Catholics joined the action in 1997 with the site CatholicSingles.com. Today it is one of three major Internet sites about holy union, including AveMariaSingles.com, which emphasizes Catholic courtship over dating, and CatholicMatch.com where, according to its creators, 150,000 active users mix their search for love with some of the Gospel.
CatholicMatch.com, which began in 1999 as St.Raphael.net, is a convenient site for self-identified Catholics who want to date and then marry other self-identified Catholics. Users can e-connect, arrange a date, find love and ultimately work some sacramental matri-magic.
But before they argue over whose childhood pastor will celebrate the wedding Mass, users of the site must complete a survey. Most of the required information is like what you are asked on a first date or what is revealed on a Facebook profile—until you arrive at the Catholic faith/doctrine section. There users confront seven topics—single words or short phrases—followed by the option to choose “Yes, I accept the church’s teaching” or “No, I do not.” The topics are: Eucharist, contraception, sanctity of life, papal infallibility, premarital sex, Immaculate Conception and holy orders.
Brian Barcaro, one of the founders of CatholicMatch.com, said that the seven faith questions are difficult and often controversial by design, but that asking these questions is critical to a successful Catholic relationship.
“The questions are a good part of the vetting process,” Barcaro said. “They help people find those who are like-minded in their faith and in interest in their faith.”
Tusim said she never had trouble meeting men prior to dating online, but the usual post-college courting rituals netted her less than promising results. Initially she was hesitant, even shy, about entering the online ranks, but after a few cocktails and with her lady friends nearby, Anna signed on and made contact. For her, the seven-question checklist was a useful gauge to assess potential partners. But it can also prompt accusatory interrogatories from potential dates like, “Why weren’t you 7/7?” Essentially: Are you Catholic enough for me?
“I tended to shy away from people who were not close to my numbers,” Tusim said and recalled being either a five or six out of seven. “It showed the degree of seriousness in following the church’s teachings.”
Richards’s numbers matched hers, so the couple was able to relax about the topic of faith. “It made the religious aspect a no brainer,” he said. “It made the question, ‘Do you want to go to church sometime?’ much easier.”
Tusim and Richards are set to marry in July.
As with any dating adventure—cyber or otherwise—CatholicMatch.com does not lack entertaining encounters. Liz Sisson, 31, was a casual user. She wanted to date and ultimately marry a Catholic but felt she could go on a first date with “just about anybody—as long as it was short.”
“The men I met [online] were very nice,” Sisson said. “But they were looking for wives and fairly quickly. I was looking for a relationship too, but I didn’t want to jump into it.”
After a year-and-a-half of online exchanges with an Elvis impersonator and a man who asked probing questions about her feelings on papal infallibility and a date with a man who had posted his high school yearbook picture and another who brought his cat on their first and, not coincidentally, last date—she had had enough. Despite her father’s pleas to put more effort into the site, Sisson let her membership lapse permanently.
Yet Sisson was able to find her match. She and her husband are happily married and plan to raise their children Catholic. They met at a party. How 1994.