In a sign of the times, Buddhists now have their own online dating site. Launched in February, DharmaDate, at www.dharmadate.com, aims to bring together Buddhist laypeople from around the world for friendship, dating and marriage.
The globalization of Buddhism combined with rapid growth in online dating has created a demand for a way for practitioners to meet online. Yet, so far, there has been no service dedicated just to Buddhists.
“Buddhists want to meet other Buddhists, especially for serious relationships,” DharmaDate co-founder Erik Curren said. “But in the West in particular, where Buddhism is just taking root, finding others can be a challenge.”
Buddhism’s growth in the West has been dramatic. It has become the #4 religion in the USA with more than 2 million adherents. Buddhism has shown similar growth throughout the Americas and in Europe. Yet, many Western Buddhists may have limited access to a local Dharma center and, as a result, they may meet few other practitioners in their daily lives.
At the same time, online dating has moved from the last resort of the computer savvy and socially awkward into the mainstream. In 2003, Match.com, the largest dating site, had more than 9 million active members, almost 5% of the US population. Online dating has already established itself in Europe as well, where big sites have seen their membership increase by 10% or more every month in many countries.
Given the mobility of singles today and the failure of traditional ways to meet others, online dating has now emerged as the only alternative for many to the “bar scene.” For those who want to meet a Buddhist, online dating may be even more attractive.
“There are now thousands of online dating services serving all interests and religions, with sites for followers of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism,” Curren said. “So why not a site for Buddhists? We’ve had people from around the world tell us that they’ve been waiting a long time for something like this.”
Curren co-founded DharmaDate with LB Shiu. After the two Buddhists met at a Tibetan Buddhist center in Virginia, they bemoaned the lack of options for Buddhists in the West to meet each other. The pair decided to collaborate on a way to use the internet to help bring Buddhists together. They came up with the concept for DharmaDate and then provided financing for the service from their personal funds.
The format of DharmaDate is similar to other online dating sites, but its approach is adapted to the needs and interests of Buddhists.
A new member can join the site for free by posting a personal ad with a photo. To create the ad, new members fill out an interactive questionnaire that allows them to describe themselves and talk about what kind of person they want to meet. In contrast to the general questionnaires users will find on other services, DharmaDate’s version was constructed to help Buddhist practitioners express their core values and interests. Questions include “How did you first get interested in Buddhism?” and “What teachers have inspired you?”
Visitors to the site can also browse ads created by others to find someone who matches their interests. During its launch period, the service is offering various incentives to encourage new members to create an ad on the site. As a service to the Buddhist community, the site also offers free e-books and articles on all traditions of Buddhism and on relationship issues. DharmaDate will also donate a percentage of profits to support Buddhist groups.
“We’re just getting started and our membership has only begun to grow,” said Curren. “We never expect to have millions of members like the big general interest sites. Instead, we hope to offer those with a serious interest in Buddhism a place to easily meet likeminded people.”
DharmaDate was designed initially to meet the needs of Buddhist singles living in the West. But its founders also hope that the service will help bridge the gap between Asian and Western Buddhists. And, people who are not single can use the site to meet new friends, perhaps in a country they would like to visit.
“Our dream is to see a strong online community of Buddhist laypeople spanning the globe who can offer each other friendship, support and encouragement to practice Dharma and live lives according to Buddhist principles,” said Curren. “We hope that bringing together Buddhists of different cultures and traditions for new personal connections will support international understanding while helping us all in our practice of wisdom and compassion.”
DharmaDate can be found at www.dharmadate.com. Basic membership including a personal ad with photos is free.