Young priests battle stereotypes — good and bad — in the search for love
Matteo Carboni is not your typical millennial bachelor. He's also a priest.
Matteo Carboni loves long walks on the beach. In fact, it's where the 30-year-old Anglican priest realized his calling.
His mom always knew he would become ordained from his days playing communion as a child, but she still burst out laughing when he told her. His dad said no, the doctorate must come first.
"They tried to steer me away from there in not so subtle ways. They were concerned I'd be lonely and miserable basically," Carboni said.
The job has been fulfilling, but at times it has also been lonely.
A millennial priest who answers to God is not the most seductive bio on Tinder, which by the way "isn't the sleaziest dating app out there," according to Carboni.
After years looking, Carboni is in the early stages of a relationship. But even getting to that point was a challenge.
Looking for love
Carboni moved from Penticton, B.C., to Saskatchewan six years ago. Since 2016, he's served as the priest for the Anglican Parish in Humboldt. He has helped people grieve through the Broncos bus crash and COVID-19.
He quickly felt he was in a fishbowl in the small rural community located about 115 kilometres east of Saskatoon. Dating life became more challenging.
"It's very hard to keep your personal life private," Carboni said.
"When I first came to Saskatchewan, if I told someone I was going to seminary to become a priest that would end any kind of romantic possibility."
Several seniors in his parish tried to play matchmaker, but none of them followed through.
"They made comments about it. And usually, it went along the lines of 'my granddaughter is too old or too young,'" Carboni said.
Male clergy often receive positive attention when they are single, as opposed to single women clergy who often feel judged, said Paula Nesbitt, visiting professor of sociology of religion at the graduate theological union in Berkley, Calif.
"If they moved into a community, and they were single, there is quite a bit of interest in having them date eligible women," Nesbitt said, who has studied dating in the Episcopal Church. "That is very positive because they want them to date, and there is a strong interest in them developing a commitment."
Carboni was not finding it. So he did what any other millennial would do to find love: head to the bar.
"These are not places where you go to date and meet people who are interested in dating a priest. But I was in my early twenties, so where else am I going to go?"
Carboni gave up on the process until he discovered dating apps in 2019.
"I found there was a complete change," Carboni said. "There would be a little bit of conversation of getting to know someone before the question about jobs came up. I only ever had one person not respond to me after I told them what I did."
Friends convinced Carboni to join Tinder during a trip to Las Vegas.
I really struggle with pick-up lines.- Matteo Carboni
He's tried other dating apps since, including ones he saw advertised on Facebook, but at times he found online dating to be the wild west.
"The worst one was someone who asked me if I wanted kids, that she had a few kids, and what ethnicity I was," Carboni said. "I didn't respond to that one."
Others were looking for just a hookup, which went against Carboni's beliefs that he should build a strong union.
"The church does expect that people will develop faithful, loving, committed, monogamous relationships," said Nesbitt.
Carboni only discloses his holiness on Christian dating apps. He says it is "a really nice feeling to be open."
No matter the app, his game needs improving.
"I really struggle with pick-up lines," Carboni said.
A friend lent him a book called The Secret Rules of Flirting, but it remains unopened in the parish, where he lives.
Tinder sent newsletters with dating tips, but there were about as useful as the book. He would forward them to colleagues in the clergy.
He never did find love on Tinder.
Expect to see more priests on Tinder
According to Nesbitt, it's becoming normal for younger people to join the clergy.
She said yes, this means you can expect to see more priests on Tinder, but a decline in church memberships could shrink viable employment options.
"There has been an active interest in recruiting and mentoring young adults who have shown an interest, and a calling toward ordination, which was not so much the case in the mid to late 80s and 90s," Nesbitt said.
This might be welcoming news for people looking to check certain boxes.
After season two of Fleabag aired in 2019, online searches for "hot priest" and "can priests have sex" spiked, according to Google Trends.
"Not every denomination requires clergy to be celibate. So obviously I'm dating, and my end goal is to settle down and have a family," Carboni said.
Fleabag isn't just a show about a woman falling in love with a Catholic priest, played by actor Andrew Scott. It's served as a source of connection for Carboni.
In September, he started dating his girlfriend, Madeline. They found each other over an app called Coffee Meets Bagel, and when they first met in the village of Meacham — to get away from the town's prying eyes — they spent seven hours talking.
Coincidentally — or perhaps it was God's plan — Carboni disclosed he was a priest to Madeline the same week she watched actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge fall in love with the hot priest on TV.
"I think the show normalized our relationship. It definitely got us laughing," Carboni said.
'We are not a stereotype'
From avoiding suggestive women on dating apps to being dumped because he was a priest, Carboni has had his dating ups and downs.
Finding a wife presents different challenges as a priest. Nesbitt said the church "has underlying expectations that are placed on the wives of male clergy."
"There's a sense that they're not totally free to be themselves. That they're always in a professional role in the church. And that can create tension in some respect, and in others, they just had to work that out," Nesbitt said.
Carboni recognizes that people have their own perceptions of who a priest is or should be.
"Sometimes people put us up on a pedestal, and sometimes we represent the worst atrocities the churches have ever committed. There's a huge range, and at the end of the day, we are not a stereotype," Carboni said.
Yes he's a priest, but he has also smoked cannabis ("I'm from B.C.") and he is happily dating a non-Christian.
"At the end of the day, priests are just trying to live our lives as well in a safe and comfortable community, and we're also trying to help our community for the better" Carboni said.
"Don't hold us up to a standard. Hold us up to who we are as individuals."