By Ashley Edwards Walker
In August 2020, Alison jumped back into the dating pool for the first time in 12 years. She knew a lot had changed; after a dozen years living as a Catholic nun in Chicago and New Orleans, dating apps were completely new to her. But it was also an exciting new chapter. In recent years, she’d begun to feel a pull in her heart to meet someone to share her life with. Knowing it wasn’t possible to have a romantic relationship while also living her vows with integrity, she prayed for clarity. In July, she embarked on an annual eight-day silent retreat in Louisiana with her spiritual director.
“It became crystal clear that [finding a life partner] was the next step I needed to take, knowing that whatever the desires are in the deepest of our hearts, those are God’s desires for us,” Alison says.
Alison requested dispensation from her vows and was approved in August, freeing her to pursue dating for the first time since she was a first-year law student. Of course, this past summer, the COVID pandemic had long been underway. “I was just like, ‘God, you have a real sense of humor to have me dating during a pandemic,’” she says, laughing. “‘God, you will make sure I do not move too fast in this process.’”
Still, Alison wanted to start dating right away—even if she wasn’t ready for anything serious off the bat. To hold herself accountable, she committed to going on 30 dates in 30 days. “It was kind of like, ‘Alright, I want to taste a bunch of appetizers before the main meal. I want to know what I like, don’t like, what I want more of, what I enjoy, what I appreciate, what I want to explore or trash.’”
On the recommendation of several friends, Alison downloaded Bumble. After more than a decade off the market, having so many potential dates at her fingertips was a big leap. But she liked how Bumble encouraged women to make the first move, allowing her to set the tone and pace of her conversations. And she appreciated the volume of information available on each person’s profile.
“I found it helpful to know, what are their religious and spiritual affiliations, or political affiliations?” she says. “It gives clarity if people have kids, want kids, or not. If they want a relationship, marriage, or just a hookup. If they drink or smoke. A lot of things so you don’t waste time with people you know you won’t be compatible with.”
For her first message to her first-ever match, she kept it simple. “I wrote, ‘Congratulations, you’re the first person I’ve messaged on any dating app,’” Alison recalls. And it worked. “He was like, ‘great,’” she continues. They did a video chat later that day, and after getting COVID tests, they met up for a socially distanced walk on a Mississippi beach. She’s led with that same straightforwardness ever since, particularly when it comes to her history as a nun. Though Alison admits a few of the men she’s gone out with have found her background “a little weird,” the overwhelming majority are curious. “They’re like, ‘Tell me more, this is fascinating,’” she says. “One guy was a documentary filmmaker and was like, ‘I want to make a movie about you.’ It’s definitely a conversation starter.”
Alison has gone on a few in-person dates since that first walk on the beach, including kayaking in a bayou and socially-distanced dinners, but the majority have taken place over screen or phone. In addition to keeping everyone involved healthy, virtual dates have also made it easier for Alison to meet her deadline. Today, she is a busy social justice lawyer, social movement strategist, and community mediator (roles she was pursuing before and throughout her time as a nun), so trying to balance work and a personal life that includes 30 dates in 30 days could have been a scheduling nightmare. But Alison says, “It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It was, ‘I have a free hour? Let me do some swiping and see what comes up.’”
To help her get into the right mindset, she also developed a pre-date routine. After work she’d change clothes, pour a glass of wine, turn her lights down, put some New Orleans jazz music on, and find a comfortable seat. “It sets a different energy in the house,” she says.
On September 28th, Alison completed her 30 day challenge. She remains on Bumble and continues to date—albeit, at a more leisurely pace. Although she’s met a couple people with long-term potential, “there’s no rush,” she says. For now, she’s moving forward with “an open mind and open hands.”