- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

Maybe you’ve heard it from your single friends. It’s hard to be single in the Washington area. Everybody’s busy, task-oriented, not planning to stay in town forever.

Where do you meet that special someone in this type of environment? Many meet online, others through dating services or in bars. But for some, that’s not an option.

“I tried the bar scene. It was just too awkward,” says Debbie Kane of Reston.

The solution turned out to be much closer to home, namely her church, McLean Bible Church in Vienna. Ms. Kane is happily engaged to a fellow church member, Earnie Heatwole of Fairfax City.

“Did I expect it? No, but I was open to it,” Ms. Kane says.

Meeting at church has its benefits and downsides, says David Coleman, author of several books on dating, including “101 Great Dates” and “Date Smart!”

“Sharing some core beliefs really helps,” Mr. Coleman says, “but at the same time, what do you do if the relationship doesn’t work out? Will one person have to leave the church?”

Mike and Levena Bailey, who also met at McLean Bible Church and recently got married, say they discussed this possibility at length before tying the knot.

“Neither of us felt like we had to leave the church if it didn’t work out,” Mrs. Bailey says.

Mr. Bailey agrees, adding that the rest of the church community deserves better from the splitting couple.

“You’re going to leave now? But we — your friends — love you, and we’ve invested in you,” he says, imagining how he would respond if one of his friends left the church because of a breakup.

However, Kim Ciftci, singles ministry coordinator at the church, says he was relieved when an ex-girlfriend he had met at church decided to leave McLean in favor of a Rockville church.

“By the grace of God …,” Mr. Ciftci says, adding that he knows of about a dozen couples who met and married at the church in the past decade or so.

Many people turn to online dating services, another method that has grown in popularity. According to Match.com, one of the bigger online dating sites, about 200,000 people nationwide make a successful connection there every year.

Yet online dating has its own challenges, such as the way people tend to describe themselves and whom they are seeking, Mr. Coleman says.

“People limit themselves. They write things like, ‘Seeking brunette, age 25 to 35.’” This means the relationship seeker might be missing out on someone who’s a much better match just because that someone is blond and 36, he says.

Church does not have that kind of time crunch. So, aside from sharing core beliefs and faith, people who meet in church say their success is also due to the setting — it’s a much more low-pressure environment than a bar, they say.

“It’s a safe environment,” says Judy Dodge, choir director at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Northwest. Ms. Dodge says the choir alone has produced six marriages in the past 10 or so years.

“People have time to watch each other in non-pressured situations. They’re not trying to impress; they’re just doing something they like doing — like singing in the choir. And then one day, they notice that the tenor in front of them is really nice, and cute, too,” she says with a laugh.

For Mrs. Bailey, it was very important to watch her future husband from afar for a while. She had been married before and didn’t want to make the same mistakes again in picking someone she couldn’t trust.

“We were involved on the same teams, and I had plenty of opportunities to see how he treated other people,” Mrs. Bailey says. “I saw that his heart kicked in whenever anyone was struggling. …”

She also noticed that Mr. Bailey was duty-conscious — that he always did what he said he would do, such as participating in post-event cleanups when many others found excuses to leave.

“He is always the last one to leave,” she says.

Mr. Bailey says it was important for him, too, to observe his future wife’s interaction with others.

“When I first saw her, I thought, ‘She’s so Pollyanna. No one can be that positive and happy all the time. It’s fake.’”

He says he learned over time that there was nothing fake about her and that she was very hardworking and always true to her word.

The Baileys dated for close to year and were married on Oct. 1.

To ensure a safe environment, coordinators such as Mr. Ciftci keep close tabs on members, particularly men who participate in the singles ministry, he says.

“If we see anyone with a predatory nature — men who are actively pursuing sexual relationships with women — we’ll run them right out of here,” he says. “And it does happen.”

Mr. Ciftci also wants to clarify the purpose of the singles ministry. Despite what its name might suggest, the purpose of the singles ministry is to provide an opportunity for church members who happen to be single to grow stronger in their faith. Meeting a special someone is a bonus, he says.

Ellen Kreidman, author of “Single No More: How and Where to Meet Your Perfect Mate,” says that’s the best type of environment in which to meet someone.

“The key words to remember are ‘do good, get good,’” says Ms. Kreidman, who has a doctorate in human relations. “What do I mean by that? If you want to meet a good mate, do good things.”

Good deeds can be done in secular settings, too, though, and Mr. Bailey cautions people not to join a church just to meet a mate.

“I think it’s naive to think that everyone is good just because they go to church,” he says. “And the church is not a shopping mall for a girlfriend. It’s like going to the gym without exercising. … You’re there for the wrong reason.”

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