It used to be matchmakers, marriage-obsessed parents and religion-based meetups that helped — or pressured — God-centered couples to find each other.
With Valentine’s Day and other holidays as stark reminders of the push to pair up, more and more young people of faith are turning to dating apps as modern cupids.
Online dating now ranks as the most common way for U.S. couples to meet, Ariel Charytan, CEO of the popular dating app — what else? — OkCupid, said last year in a podcast of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Today, singles are more interested in a potential partner’s beliefs, Charytan said, “than other factors like age and distance.”
That explains the rise in popularity of apps like JCrush and JSwipe (the No. 1 Jewish dating site), Shaadi (“redefining the way Indian brides and grooms meet for marriage”) Christian Mingle (for “people who share a commitment to Christian values”), CatholicMatch (“to search for the one God has planned for them”), and Muzmatch (“where single Muslims meet”) to find their future mates.
It is especially tough for adherents in a religious minority to connect to others who share their values, but even those surrounded by thousands of fellow believers are looking to dating sites.
When Rabbi Sam Spector of Utah’s Congregation Kol Ami lived in Los Angeles a few years ago, where there are nearly 1 million Jews, he still met his future wife, Jill, on a general dating app (filtered by religion, of course).
He had also used JDate, says Spector, who married in 2019, “but now everyone under 40 likes JSwipe.”
Many unmarried members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah’s dominant faith with plenty of singles all around, still struggle to find love in traditional spaces, so they seek assistance from apps like LDSsingles and Mutual.
And those who have left the religion can tap into the ex-Mormon community through sites like Postmormonmatch.
“Going through a faith crisis isn’t easy; finding love and friendship during or after should be,” the site declares. “Connecting with other like-minded people for love or friendship just got easier.”
The algorithms that dating apps such as OkCupid use are expanding to deal with global religion issues, Charytan said in the podcast.
“In India, we’re asking people how they feel about women working. In Israel, we’re asking about how they observe the Sabbath. In Turkey, we ask users how Ramadan plays a role in their lives,” he said. “...But, at the core, we’re looking for the things that make two people compatible enough to want to leave their home and interact with each other and potentially find love.”
That’s true closer to home, too, in religiously diverse Utah.
Jewish geography of love
Naira Dakik was seeking love with a Jewish man, but living in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, there were few options. The Jewish community there was very small, so her friend recommended she sign up on JCrush.
That’s where she connected to her future husband, Alon Dakik, a software engineer at Adobe in Utah.
Alon was born in Israel, but his family moved to L.A. when he was 4. He graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara, then worked in the San Francisco Bay Area, until he moved to Utah in 2013 for outdoor sports, especially snowboarding.
Naira and Alon began their relationship online and on their cellphones in 2017. Within a few months, Alon visited Brazil and shortly afterward, she met his parents in the United States.
“I was drawn to him because we had the same values, faith and religion,” Naira says. “He was adventurous, curious, and always willing to try different, new things.”
They spent the next two years talking and traveling together to places across South America.
Finally, in June 2019, they wed in a Jewish celebration in Brazil, surrounded by family and friends.
Naira moved to Utah with her daughter, Rivka, by a previous relationship. Today, she is a physical therapist at Salt Lake City’s Pinnacle Performance and trying to get used to the weather.
Her husband “talked to many women online, but they were not willing to move here,” Naira jokes. “So he ended up marrying a Brazilian.”
See, she gloats, he was adventurous.
Cara Diallo had converted to Islam in 2016 but had found no potential mates at Utah’s mosques — Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City or the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy — and was too shy to ask to be lined up.
Her friend suggested she sign up on Muzmatch, but she nearly canceled it after a short trial.
“I got rejected a bunch of times,” she recalls. “If the person doesn’t like you, they often leave a message why and I got a lot of hurtful messages.”
When her future husband, Ibrahim Diallo, sent her a message, she wasn’t going to answer. But she reluctantly did.
Ibrahim, an immigrant from Guinea in West Africa who had been living and working in L.A., said in his first message: “What a beautiful name you have.”
In return, she liked his smile — and that, as Islam teaches, he prayed five times day.
They exchanged numbers, talked on the phone and video-chatted. Before long, he was flying to the Beehive State to meet her.
They decided to have a “nikah,” or Islamic wedding.
“It was so quick,” Cara says. “We decided on the phone. It was cheesy and romantic. He had decided before we met in person that I was totally the one.”
She was attracted by his “work ethic, patience and kindness,” she explains. “Everything just fell into place.”
Cara moved to California to be with him. They now have twin sons.
What that app provided, she says, was “divine planning.”
If Megan Parker had stayed one more semester at Utah State University, instead of transferring to the University of Utah, she might have met her future husband, Quinn, in real life. He lived next door to where Megan had been just months before.
Instead, he signed up for the Latter-day Saint dating app, Mutual, in May 2018.
Megan was his first pick.
“Honestly, when I met him online, I had given up hope,” she recalls. “I had used the app before and had a relationship from it that didn’t work out, but I still believed in it.”
It felt different with Quinn, Megan says. “We had such a good connection. We talked over messenger for three days.”
Quinn asked her out for Memorial Day, and, she says, it was momentous.
“I’ve never had a first date from an app like that,” Megan says. “He was lucky it was his first.”
To ensure he knew that, she told him confidently, “I don’t think you are going to go on a better date.”
She was instantly attracted to Quinn because “he was so genuine in his words and actions, in such a way that captivated me,” Megan says. “He made me want to do and be better from the first time meeting him.”
They saw each other steadily for about a month, then decided just to be friends and go with other people.
By mid-July, however, they were back together. They were engaged in February 2019 and married that May in the Salt Lake Temple.
Without Mutual, Megan is not sure they would have met.
“Online dating worked for us,” she says. “It connected us in ways I would never have imagined. I lived in Holladay; he lived in West Valley. He graduated from USU in physical therapy; I went to the U. in human development and family studies.”
Now, nearly two years into the marriage, she is glad the internet was there to play matchmaker.
Even with electronic help, Megan says, “It’s all in the Lord’s timing.”