Ask a YCW: Dating While Ordained Edition

Dear Askie,

I’m a young clergy woman, starting out in my first call. I’m single, and thinking about jumping back into the dating world now that I’m settled in my new location. I’m worried, though, that it might be a bit weird dating now that I’m a pastor. How will potential dates react when they find out? Should I say I’m a pastor in an online dating profile, or wait to tell people once we’ve actually met? Am I overthinking this?

Solo Pastor Seeking to be Less Solo

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Giving Online Dating a Try

Online Romance

Online Romance

It’s no secret that dating is hard. As women, we’re still trying to achieve equal pay in the workforce, so dating can often take a back burner to work. For clergywomen, dating seems to be especially difficult.

A few years ago, I began to notice the same dating advice coming up again and again in conversations with friends: “Have you tried online dating?” At first, I was a bit put off by this. Perhaps I read too much into the suggestion. My thought was this: clearly my friends think I cannot possibly meet anyone wearing my Geneva Robes and clerical collar, so an online profile where a man can read all about me and then find out I’m clergy might be the best route. While wearing my collar, I was once told by a congregation member, “You’ll never catch a man in that.” I assumed my friends were thinking the same thing.

With the question of “why online dating?” looming over me, I finally polled the audience, my group of Facebook friends, to see what I could find out. I asked anyone I knew to simply answer a question – why would you suggest online dating to a single person?

One distinct, clear, and concise answer appeared over and over – people meet people online. It’s a thing. It happens. It’s real. The statistics are out there, today over 25% of relationships begin online. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows someone or is someone who met their special someone online. My assumptions about my friends’ advice were squashed, their suggestion had nothing to do with me being clergy, it was a real, honest, heartfelt suggestion. Try online dating.

For years I’ve thought that being clergy meant I needed to have more faith than the average person. In the dating realm, I needed to have faith that God would bring me the right man. I wasn’t supposed to have doubts or fears about my future as a wife and mother, I must have faith. More than one person has actually said to me that my career is all about faith, so I should have faith, it should be easy. But faith is actually hard, for clergy and laity alike.

Jesus tells us to ask and the question will be answered. He never said the question would be answered right now or that we were even asking the right question, he simply said that God will answer. Because of this I recently posed this question to a group of singles from The Young Clergy Women Project, “Would you like me to pray for you to find a partner and would you pray for me?” The response was wonderful. Dozens of women asked to be prayed for and offered to pray for me.

So after I polled my friends on “Why try online dating?” I prayed about it. It may sound like a silly thing to ask God, or it might seem silly that I didn’t ask God in the first place, but I finally asked. Unfortunately, God isn’t a genie who answers at my beck and call, so I haven’t gotten a clear answer. I’ll let you know if I figure it out. But until then, I’m willing to give it a shot.

The Search

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“It’s pretty much like internet dating.”

This has become my standard answer when people ask me how the Presbyterian call system works. For most folks who are single or have been single in the last decade or so, the comparison always gets a laugh. For those who have been married since before the wonders and horrors of and OKCupid existed, it can cause a bit of confusion, so I explain, “There’s a website, and pastors put up their profiles, and churches put up their profiles, and then the system matches them up.”

That’s the simple version, of course. In reality, as a single pastor who recently went through this process to find my second call, I found that the similarities were so strong that I couldn’t do both at once. As I told a friend, “I have a limited amount of energy for self-promotion.”

It’s not just the basic structure of the thing. I discovered many more similarities:

Spelling counts. Call me shallow or judgmental, but whether it’s a guy who says “U seem prety cool” or a church committee who can’t spell my name, I mentally subtract a lot of points for inattention to detail.

-First conversations are awkward. There’s just no getting around it. Whether it’s a phone or skype interview with a committee or a first date at a coffee shop, it’s just going to be awkward. There will be sweaty palms and nervousness and wondering whether what you just said sounded completely idiotic. Just accept the awkward.

The waiting. Oh, the waiting. Sitting by the phone and refreshing your e-mail every 30 seconds will not make either a second date or a second interview appear, unfortunately.

-Don’t jump the gun. I talked to a few committees whose very first question in the first phone interview was “Why are you the right pastor for our church?” I generally said something like, “I’m not sure that I am. Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about the ministry your church is doing?” I don’t think any of those churches called me back, and truthfully I was okay with that. To me, this is like asking on a first date, “Why should I want to marry you?” It’s our first conversation! In our ecclesiology, the relationship between a church and a pastor should be one of mutuality, of working together in the body of Christ. That means we both need to get to know one another, to see if God is calling us to do ministry together.

-A sense of humor is vital. Amidst the awkwardness and nervousness on both sides, whether it’s a date or an interview or a candidating weekend, laughter is always a good sign in my book. When I did accept a call to a new church, it was partly because I honestly just had a ton of fun with them when I came to visit.

-Pastors are people, too. Among single clergy, deciding whether or not to name our profession on a dating profile can be a fraught question. Many people have trouble seeing a pastor as a regular human who has a life outside of the church. In the dating world, most of us single clergy have heard, “I’m sorry, I just can’t date a pastor. It’s too weird.” Search committees also sometimes forget that pastors are people, that a call to a new church can mean uprooting a life and starting over from scratch. I knew my new call would be a good fit when they not only asked me about my life, but made sure that on my tour of the town they pointed out things they knew would matter to me as a person. When the committee members say, “Here’s a great vet for your dog,” or “Let me take you to the park with the running trail because I know you like to run,” it shows that they are looking for a person, not a set of impressive credentials.

-When you know, you know. When I found the right church, it just clicked. I’ve heard that something similar happens when you find the right person. Whether in dating or in searching for a new call, the process is different for everyone. For some it takes a long time, and the waiting can be incredibly frustrating. In the meantime, find some trusted friends who can help share the journey with all its many ups and downs.

Perhaps now that I’ve settled into my new call, it’s time to give online dating another try. Then again, maybe not. The break from the “U R hott” messages has been pretty nice.

Waiting for Cupid

2161693094_9bf2e3179c_z“Sign up for Match!” your friends said. “My friend Beth met someone on there and they’re getting married in June!” your friends said. So you did. You shelled out for the six month period, trusting you’d never need that free additional six months because you’d meet someone special right away.

When the six month subscription ran out, you were still optimistic. That’s why they give another six months free, right? A whole year on Match with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to meet? Yes, you’d meet someone special for sure.

After the second six months is over, still with no one special, you find yourself on OkCupid. Your single-pastor’s budget doesn’t have room for another subscription service. Your friends have assured you the free one is just fine. “Sign up for OkCupid!” your friends say. “My friend Sarah met someone on there and they’re getting married in July!” your friends say.  So you copy and paste from your Match account into your OkCupid account and wait.

Surely the perfect person is out there, waiting for you. It’s just a matter of time until a message from The One is in your inbox. But what should you do while you wait?

1.  Play Candy Crush Saga. This is the solution during your optimistic stage. If you open one browser window to OKC and play Candy Crush for a bit in another browser window, someone will message you. Five lives. You have five wholes lives. If you take the level slowly, you might even have two messages when you click back over to OKC!

2.  Clean. The optimism is waning, but you’re still certain that if you keep the OKC website open on your computer, someone will message you. Open up OKC. Open up Pandora. Clean! Come back to your computer. Yes! Three messages!

“hey sexy”

“wanna hook up”

“what u up 2”

You’re going to have to wait a while longer.

3.  Be SuperPastor. You’ve been sucked deeper into the OKC vortex, but you’re still hopeful that a message is coming. A real message. A message with correct spelling and grammar. You’re not going to think about it. You’re going to be SuperPastor instead. You call the grouchy lady and pray with her; through the power of the Holy Spirit, she’s happy for a solid ten minutes. You wrangle the youth group. You write a sermon that will make them laugh, make them cry…really, it’s better than Cats. The church calendar for the next three years is all sketched out. Take that, OkCupid message silence! You cannot defeat SuperPastor!

4.  Start the Master Cleanse. You know you need to take better care of yourself. You’ve been saying that for a while. Instead of waiting for someone else to message you, you’re going to take charge so that when that person finally messages you, you will be a strong, independent woman in awesome shape. Google “master cleanse.” Realize this involves several days of drinking only water laced with maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Decide to take a trip to Whole Foods* instead. Crack almonds it is. And some other healthy stuff while you’re there.

*Realize you’re a pastor in a small, rural town, perhaps thousands of miles away from Whole Foods. Collapse in despair.

5.  Decide to take things into your own hands. You will ferret out and message The One all on your own. Put on Orange is the New Black in the background. Plug in your laptop. You’ve got this. Start scrolling through your matches. Cute. Cute. No way. Kids? Hmmm. Click. What does that even mean. Google it. Click on another profile as quickly as possible. See another single pastor, one you know in real life, in your matches. Internally freak out. Can you click on their profile? Of course you want to know what they wrote. But what if OkCupid sends them a “She’s an exceptionally good match” email? Or “She’s checking you out right now!” Ignore the urge to click. Consider signing up for A-list so you can browse anonymously. Curse your budget limitations. Keep clicking.

6.  Reconsider your expectations. How long ago did you sign up for OkCupid? Take a long walk while pondering your list of requirements. Is the correct use of you’re/your really that important? Is a college degree necessary? You could totally get involved with a Tea Partier since opposites attract, right? Is it really about the gender or just the person? That person in Mozambique actually seemed nice; long-distance isn’t that big a problem, is it?

7.  Find single girlfriends. Yes, all your BFFs are happily partnered, but that’s why Meetup exists. Single girlfriends mean alcohol and group bemoaning of singleness. Their OkCupid horror stories will surely soothe your pain. The internet is once again your friend as you use it to locate other single ladies.

8.  Ponder scripture. Paul wrote about the gift of celibacy for a reason, right? Did God give you that gift and you’ve just missed it until now? Surely there’s a reason Roman Catholic clergy are celibate… maybe a call to ministry and a call to celibacy go hand in hand. Tear up a little at that possibility.

9.  Give real life a shot. Hang out in coffee shops. Google singles bars then hastily click away in terror. Go the places you love because The One will surely be there, too. Every single romcom says that’s true. Go to Meetups. Go to professional networking events. Yes! Forget OkCupid. You will encounter the perfect partner by a pre-digital age method. Millennia of humanity can’t be wrong! Stay out late and see who you meet!

10.  Just live. The truth is, you have an awesome life. You are an intelligent, gifted, beautiful woman. God called you to ministry and gave you people with whom to live out that call. It’s amazing and wonderful and life-giving and a rollercoaster ride. Yes, you want a partner, but the truth is, you’re fabulous all by yourself. OKCupid’s message silence be damned.

Diary of an Online Dater

Day 1

11:42PM Having procrastinated until the eleventh hour on this week’s sermon, the only thing that makes sense at this point, less than nine hours before said sermon will be preached, is to join an online dating site. Dating site X is selected, and I begin to fill out the form that will, with the help of a few algorithms, a little luck, and the movement of the Holy Spirit, find my true love for me.

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