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Let’s Talk About Dating

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What is the Goal of Dating?

Most of us have grown up with dating being a part of our lives or a part of the lives of people we know and love.  When we think of dating many may consider it to be an integral part of finding a spouse and for the most part that is what it used to be and perhaps our society has lost sight of that end goal in the past 20 years.  Today it seems that dating has evolved into a purely recreational activity with no clear goal in mind.  Maybe it could best be described as a game that two people play where they are both trying to figure out what the other person’s goals for the relationship are.  I propose that dating needs an overhaul, a redirection of sorts back to the goal that each young Christian should be aiming for, the discovery of their vocation.

What’s Wrong with Dating?

So why mess with the cultural norm of dating? It’s all fun and games, it is a necessary rite of passage, is the normal way to find your spouse and we all did it when we were young and we turned out just fine, right?  Well, I am not much for quoting studies, but currently about 50% of marriages end in divorce, and many couples today are not even opting to enter a marriage.  I have also observed that people who are in a dating relationship seem to be very happy at first, but then relationship drama sets in with ups and downs, friends gossiping, suspicion about fidelity and finally someone ends the relationship leaving the other person feeling rejected. Dating has become less of a search for marriage and more of a game played where there are winners and losers.  Too often it is more about how much you can get for yourself before getting hurt than what is best for all parties involved.  Avery Utz, a high school senior in Round Rock, TX, said the following, “I have found that relationships during high school are very trivial, unromantic and seemingly pointless, as in they have no goal. Kids just date to date, using it as a social status and not realizing the real purpose.”

What we need is a return to the original purpose of dating, therefore I am issuing a call to all parents to assist our youth in taking a more mature approach to finding their spouse.  There are few more important tasks that we can undertake as parents.  Our child is looking not only for their future spouse, but a new member of our family, and the mother or father of our grandchildren.  While many of you might be thinking that your youth may not want your help with such a personal part of their life, this is simply not true in our experience.  Our teenage son and daughters have each sought our advice and assistance in navigating the complex waters of relationships. As our children grow older, entering into the teenage years, they have a natural desire to find someone to love and someone to love them back, unfortunately our societal structures have delayed the age of marriage to much later in life, and so our teenagers need to exercise the cardinal virtue of temperance and the secular virtue of patience.

What are the Benefits of Dating with Purpose?

The benefits of Dating with Purpose is that you get to approach potentially the most important relationship of your life with honesty, clarity, respect and maturity.  Imagine if you will, a relationship built on friendship where the two people approach each other without ulterior motives.  Each person views the other with all the dignity that comes with being made in the image of God.  They approach each other not for what the other person can do for them, but for what they can do to assist each other in achieving the plan God has for their lives.  That is a very mature way to approach a relationship, and not something that is seen very often in our society, but it is sorely needed.  When most movies, TV shows, and music portray love as purely based on feelings and what the other person can do for me, a mature selfless love is needed in order to transform our society into the City of God.  It is not impossible, in fact, it is essential to our happiness and success in relationships. Even if a relationship doesn’t end up in marriage, it should help both individuals grow closer to God and to transform themselves into that image of God in which we are all made.

The first phase of any relationship is one that is purely based on a Christian friendship.  One with a guarded emotional attachment and without any sort of romantic intimacy.  This initial phase of the relationship is critical to setting a solid foundation.  I have seen too many relationships that skipped this phase and jumped straight into heavy emotional attachment and frequently physical intimacy as well.  When the romantic feelings waned for one person in the relationship, they believe that because the feeling is no longer present that this must not be the “right person” and the romance quickly ends with many hurt feelings. Marriage, the ultimate goal in dating with purpose, is a relationship based on a decision to love for better, for worse, in sickness, in health, for richer, for poorer and thus we will not always feel like we love the other person, but because our relationship is not based solely on the way we feel or what the other person can do for us, we are able to work through those dry times. Dating with purpose is practice for marriage, it is an exercise in self control and true love for another person without expecting anything in return.  On the contrary, dating without purpose is practice for divorce (many failed relationships built on selfishness and a “what have you done for me lately” attitude).

When Should a Young Person Begin Dating?

One of the traditional teachings of Christianity is to avoid the near occasion of sin.  This makes sense even at the purely secular level,

Photo by Victoria Hebert

Photo by Victoria Hebert

if you have a tendency to fall into a particular sin, you should avoid situations or people who may make it easier for you to commit a transgression.  With this good advice in mind, we now venture into the very practical question of when is it appropriate to begin dating.  I would propose that there is no lower age limit, but once you ponder the following conditions for dating, you will likely set the age a bit higher than most people you know.  To enter into a dating relationship prior to meeting the following conditions would put one or both individuals in the near occasion of sexual sin because of a prolonged dating relationship with marriage being an option at an undetermined time in the future.  Dating with Purpose should be entered into with a realistic timeframe for determining if God is calling the two people to marry each other.  If during this discernment period one party hears God speaking very clearly that this is not the person, that should be discussed openly and honestly with the other individual and perhaps any marriage mentor couples that may be assisting you during this discernment period.

Photo by Sunday's Child

Photo by Sunday’s Child

Discerning your Vocation

The first condition is that the young person has prayerfully discerned that they are called to the married life.  Obviously, to discern a call to the married life, one must have a firm relationship with the Lord and have a consistent life of prayer and contemplation.  I have heard it said that you should give God first dibbs.  In other words, you should offer yourself to God completely and see if indeed he is calling you to serve him with your whole being as a member of a Religious Community or as a Priest.  This really is a beautiful way to approach your vocation, there is no shame if you discern that God isn’t calling you to be a worker in the vineyard, in fact most people are not called to the consecrated life.  When we enter into this intimate dialog with the Lord, it will only serve to draw us closer to Him and equip us to be better individuals and spouses.  If you discern that God is calling you to the Married life, then you are ready for step two.

Are you Ready to Get Married

Discerning might be the easy part of this process, the next step is to take a mature look at where you are in your life and determine if you are mentally, spiritually and economically ready to get married and provide for your family.  Marriage is a life full of responsibilities, for a majority of teenagers and young adults, they have relied on someone else to provide for life’s necessities and at some point, they will need to take over that responsibility for themselves.  No one else can really judge this for them, there are many people from whom they may seek advice, but in the end this is a very personal decision.  It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into the decision tree involved in deciding if someone is ready to leave the nest and be self sufficient.

Finding the Right Person

After you have discerned that you are called to the noble vocation of marriage and you are pretty sure that you are ready to undertake this high calling in the immediate future, what now?  You must have developed a friendship with a member of the opposite sex (I did say this was Christian relationship right?), and there should be a mutual interest in discerning marriage together.  If you don’t have any friends that you would consider marrying or would consider marrying you, then don’t stress over it and double down in your prayer life and perhaps get involved in some different social activities that may help you to find the person God has picked out for you and perhaps revisit the religious life and see if you missed something in your initial discernment, when it comes to discernment, no one is perfect.  In the end, God has a perfect plan for your life, and you will find true joy and peace when you follow His plan instead of your own.

Photo by Samuel Chang

Photo by Samuel Chang

Here are a couple of quotes written by my 16 year old daughter, Victoria Hebert, and a link to a great video about true love.  I believe that our young people desire more than what the culture is offering, they long for authentic love and their hearts are restless until they find it.

“Everyone was made by love, to love and to be loved. It’s a truly beautiful God given desire. We all long for that love. It is important to seek this love in Christ before anyone else. You can never put someone, or something above your relationship with Christ. To love the way He did, is to put others before yourself, that is selfless love.”
“We as humans, all have this tendency to place our trust in others. To truly love someone, is to trust that they won’t hurt you. You should always guard your heart. No man will be worthy of your love until he puts a ring on your finger. You must die to your spouse, every day. Laying down your life for another. That crucifixion like love.”

A CRUCIFIXION TYPE LOVE
This article appeared originally on CatholicSistas

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