Just before they went to bed, Nikki’s husband Charles Lat led his family in prayer, a daily devotion, in their home in Hawaii.
Nikki saw in Charles everything that she was looking for in a partner: A loving and caring father to their children, a reliable partner both in business and in life, and as she puts it, “a leader who is also led by God.”
Though meeting the man of her dreams felt serendipitous, the algorithms of an online dating site played a role in bringing the couple together.
There is no doubt that online dating is effective as it lets users screen “candidates” before meeting up. Today, all sorts of dating sites and apps catering to different preferences have already been invented, making the selection process even more targeted.
A University of Chicago-led study on marital satisfaction revealed that couples who met online reported that they have “happier, longer marriages.” Survey results also show that six percent of the people who met online ended their marriage, compared with 7.6 percent of those who met offline.
In the Philippines, online dating has become increasingly popular. A 2017 YouGov survey finds 71 percent of Filipinos know someone who tried online dating.
Father Jonathan Cadiz, a Catholic priest in the Philippines, said he has interviewed many couples who met online to prepare them for their marriage.
“Where you met your partner does not matter,” the priest said. “What matters is your intention.”
Charles and Nikki are compatible, and their relationship is just one of the many online dating success stories.
However, the couple’s marriage was tested when their differences began to surface years after.
Nikki was a single mother when she first heard about christiandatingforfree.com from her friends at church sometime in early 2011.
“Everyone was talking about it. I helped two friends revamp their profiles and coached them,” she said.
Even Nikki’s mother, Zita, was talking about it. “My mother started pestering me to sign up,” Nikki shared. Despite this, the single mom was hesitant.
Making new friends was the most realistic goal that Nikki could set for herself after recovering from a breakup with her daughter’s father. All she wanted was to be the best single mother for Una.
Because her mom was insistent, Nikki finally gave in after some time. During downtime in her office, she created an account at christiandatingforfree.com.
“I thought about my daughter a lot. Maybe she’ll want a father, too,” Nikki said. “I grew up with a mother, a father, and a sister. We’re a happy family and I wanted to give Una the same kind of life.”
As a graphic designer who worked with marketers, Nikki knew that specificity was key to reaching her “audience,” so she filled her profile with her interests.
To show her artistic side, Nikki uploaded “art-directed shots.” For her profile photo, she chose a photograph of her with Una to establish that she was a single mother.
After a couple of exchanges with different men, Nikki noticed that her conversations with them were always short.
“One guy appeared too serious as if he wanted to get married soon. He was asking me too many questions,” Nikki recalled.
“The other one was racist. He told me that I was not like ‘other Filipinos’ as if it was a compliment, but I was offended by it,” she said.
An active member of her church, Nikki found her church-mates more fun to hang out with than these guys online. At one point, she believed she would meet “the one” somewhere in her community.
Six months of chatting with men on the dating site became tiring. Nikki felt it was time to ask herself: “Do I still want to stay here, or do I deactivate my account?”
“If I’d stay, I should try to give people a shot. Just to be the Christian that I am: To be open and friendly. If I’m mature, I would be able to weed them out,” she said.
Message from Charles
Just when she made up her mind about online dating, Nikki received a message from Charles. It was not a memorable one, but she remembered it was short and simple.
“It’s like he didn’t care if I didn’t answer back,” Nikki recalled. “But that made me curious about him.”
Everywhere she looked, Nikki could not find anything about Charles apart from the fact that he was a Filipino who grew up in Hawaii.
His profile did not provide details but both of them belonged to the same Christian forum where Charles was actively responding to different topics.
Nikki replied to him anyway to see if Charles would show his “other side.” Soon, they became virtual friends.
What Nikki liked about Charles was that he constantly asked her about Una. It made her feel that he understood her being a single mother.
Charles also often asked her, “What can I pray for you today?”
“Even if we hadn’t seen each other at that time, I knew he really prayed for me,” Nikki said.
Meeting in person
While online dating services and social media have connected people across the globe, Father Cadiz believes that meeting in person is important to get to know someone better.
“The couples I know met in person after they became friends online,” said the priest.
“A relationship that is purely online can be short-lived,” he said. “For example, if I don’t like someone, I can simply unfriend or block the person.”
“We should be aware that social media also has disadvantages. There are people who use social media to deceive others. There are people who hide behind fake accounts and spread lies,” warned the priest.
Father Cadiz said individuals who wish to try online dating should be careful and critical.
“There is nothing wrong with social media and online dating if you really want to find a partner there, but these tools must not be used to disrespect and deceive others.”
Two weeks before he flew to Manila for a family vacation, Charles asked Nikki out.
To be safe, Nikki agreed to meet up with him at a public place. The two rendezvoused in a Filipino restaurant because she wanted to see how “Filipino” Charles was.
Much to her surprise, Nikki did not receive a message from her parents, who usually asked her where she was, when she was out.
She realized that it was already 3 a.m. and she and Charles had been talking non-stop.
“My parents were not angry. They were curious about how the date went,” Nikki found out later. “They told me that they prayed to God that he would lead me to the right man.”
Charles spent his remaining days in Manila with Nikki. Before he left, he asked her if she wanted to continue the “friendship.”
“I liked him,” Nikki said. “So, why not?”
In 2014, Charles and Nikki finally got married in Hawaii. Two years later, their son Kedua was born.
Taking care of the two children and running a photo booth business became too overwhelming for Nikki. It did not help that she was going through postpartum depression.
Because Charles worked in the air force, he constantly had to leave Nikki with Una and Kedua.
As they tackled their issues, the couple discovered they handled problems differently.
Like many Americans, Charles weaned off from his family and became financially independent when he was 18.
Back in the Philippines, Nikki depended on the help of family. Her parents would babysit Una whenever she went to work.
When talking to their elders, Nikki never answered back and saw this as a form of respect, while Charles always stood his ground.
The combination of postpartum depression and culture shock took a toll on Nikki’s mental health and eventually affected her spouse, which led the couple to seek professional help.
Through the sessions with the therapist, Charles and Nikki realized that, though they have differences, they have the same goals.
“Everything is just moldable if your heart is open to it and if you communicate,” Nikki said.
Father Cadiz had this to say: “Misunderstandings, mistakes, and challenges happen in relationships, even in marriages. It is precisely during these moments that love must prevail.”
“God is never tired of loving us in spite of our weaknesses and failures. Married couples should strive to do the same,” he said.