Finding love in the modern age is difficult enough at the best of times. Browse any pub or Tube carriage these days and you’re more likely to see eligible singletons engrossed in their smartphones, rather than alert to romantic opportunity. Add in social distancing and one’s chances of finding a viable partner the old-fashioned way dwindles to near zero.
Unsurprisingly, dating apps, the modern solution to this problem, have seen their usage surge throughout the pandemic. Tinder, Hinge and Bumble have seen a double-digit percentage increase in new subscribers compared with pre- Covid-19 levels, as well as significant increases in user-interaction.
And though you might think young Catholics would shun such methods and trust in the Good Shepherd to lead them to a spouse, this is not the case. Sign-ups at the US-based Catholic dating site Ave Maria Singles increased about 25 per cent in March and by 20 per cent every month since against a year earlier.
Director of communications Mark DeYoung puts the increase down to Covid-19. “So many have turned to online venues to meet new people, and now find themselves with additional time to search for someone via dating apps and websites,” he says.
The vanishing art of asking a girl out in the real world is another reason why Catholic apps are surging. “It’s impossible to be asked out by a Catholic guy,” one user tells me. “We’re just waiting to be asked but you’re always friend-zoned, maybe because they’re too shy or holy, or think we’re just looking for a husband.
“Maybe if they [men] were made to watch Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella growing up and girls were to watch Pinocchio, they’d be more forward and girls would care less about meeting Prince Charming.”
On CatholicMatch, one of the main Catholic dating sites, you’re asked to condense your Catholic beliefs, hobbies, aspirations and traits into a snapshot profile. The process requires filling out an intense questionnaire. How often do you attend Mass? What liturgical style do you prefer? Do you accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?
Members can then view a potential date’s depth of faith and adherence to Church teaching before potentially meeting them in person. The website believes this encourages “faith-focused dating” that leads to sacramental marriage and increases people’s ability to find a true match.
As honourable as this sounds, the app’s restrictive nature can leave users feeling jaded by the experience.
Mary, a 25-year-old practising Catholic, says: “Some of the most important things to me about my faith are very difficult to put into a form. Also there’s this idea that because you’re looking for your life partner you have to be this serious, hard-slogging Catholic, and I don’t feel that is helpful starting out.”
Eventually Mary abandoned the app. She matched with a couple of people, but they didn’t say anything within a week. “That put me off … but within three days on Tinder I had matches, conversations and a date with someone of similar intent.”
The Catholic sites need to encourage people, particularly the men, on how to use them effectively. Many of the users I spoke to report that Catholic boys can be just as shy online as they are in real life.
As far as user experience goes, Catholic dating sites are behind their secular peers because of technology shortfalls. One user of CatholicMatch notes several glitches. “The app is slow and clunky, does not load up profiles properly, and sometimes you need to click five to 10 times to open a message. They need to be slicker.” Users of the app are encouraged to sign up for a monthly fee of $29 for premium use.
CatholicMatch has also not launched new features to help users communicate in a Covid-19, socially distanced world. By contrast, secular apps such as Hinge and Tinder have rolled out “in-app video chats” and other “date-from-home” features.
Meanwhile Ave Maria Singles is not expected to launch its first phone app till next year, which puts it at a significant disadvantage compared with other platforms.
Some of the site’s users suggest innovations could include pop-up prayers or scripture verse on relationships and marriage – acting like a spiritual mentor for your new relationship.
Just as potential partners do in real life, a lot of users can be guilty of over-sharing. “Some people put up their whole life story on dating apps. They don’t have the right balance between sharing to entice interest and sharing too much,” one user says.
With England recording another sharp increase in Covid-19 infections recently and no sign of a slowdown in the spread of the virus, hospital admissions and death, these restrictions are not going away anytime soon. For better or worse, Catholic dating apps are here to stay.