So recently I went to eat with a relatively large group of friends at a restaurant we frequent. We were celebrating someone’s birthday (one of the things you do as a great excuse to eat and drink whatever you want). I was sitting there with a great group of young adult Catholics (YAC’s), beautiful, professional, bright, and all striving to live their faith the best they can. I later realized something about the group that I had not previously noticed. Every one at the table was single! All the guys, and all the girls. We were a group of 20 somethings, either out of college and working professionally, or in graduate school pursuing a career; and no one was dating anyone at the table! Why was that the case? I had a moment of reflection thinking, maybe I’m part of the problem as well. Is there something wrong with me? Sad to say, although this may not be the case everywhere, I would venture to say that the situation I’ve just recounted happens all too often among young adult Catholic (YAC) communities in the country. And if this isn’t part of your experience where you're at, maybe you see the opposite, Catholics obsessed with their relationships and crawling into the cocoon of their “perfect” relationship avoiding all other friendships and relationships. So why is this the case? Why do I feel like the situation I’ve just described is all too common. I have a some theories.
1. Love of the Single Life
I’ll be the first to admit it, the single life is great! At no time in your life are you able to date and meet so many people and have so many great life experiences than when you are single in your 20’s. You’re single, going to parties, travelling, experiencing everything life has to offer without any huge commitments to tie you down. It seems so perfect right? That’s the allure of it. But ultimately, that has got to end. Many people feel like they missed out on this time of their life because they married their high school sweetheart and they even become a little jealous of those singles, in their 20’s, living life to the fullest, or so it seems. It's easy to desire the life you don't have, but YAC’s can be secretly jealous of those people who married “early” and started a family right after college or even before, because we ultimately desire commitment. We were not meant for ourselves but were meant for another, whether that means marriage or a religious vocation, living life for your own pleasure is fleeting and does not lead to true happiness. Sadly, not everyone learns that.
2. Fear of losing your community
This fear manifests itself in two ways: 1) Fear of having to change your friend group if the relationship doesn’t work out or 2) fear that if it does work out then you will have to spend time with your new relationship to the detriment of your friends.
- Fear of losing friend group - While the first fear is understandable, it’s irrational. How are you dating? Are your intentions made clear? Are you being emotionally mature and going on low risks dates (coffee shops, grabbing a beer, lunch) or are you emotionally investing too much, too quick and not setting realistic expectations when dating? If you're emotionally investing too much too quick, then it becomes nearly impossible for a dating relationship to just stay at the friend level without there being conflict. That’s called emotional chastity and it’s a thing!
- Being that couple who never sees their friends anymore - We all know that couple! They started dating, fell in love, and then dropped off the face of the Earth! Your most important relationship is your relationship with Christ. A husband loves Christ more than his wife not to put anything before her, but because loving Christ more makes it possible for him to love his wife properly and fully. God is love and the source of all love. This relationship is the foundation of all other relationships, and if a couple starts dating and you never see them again, that is entirely unhealthy and a sign of emotional unchastity. Any healthy relationship should enhance all other relationships around you, not sever them.
3. P.O.D. (Pious and overly devotional)
This can manifest itself in a subtle prudishness that arises in YAC’s. It goes something like this:
- “You know I really like Johnny but he watches “Game of Thrones” and I just don’t think I could be with a man who subjects himself to that. I mean, I don’t want the father of my children to watch a show like that.”
- “You know, James is a good guy, but I heard him curse once and that just doesn’t seem like something I want in a husband.”
- “Yea bro, Jessica is a great girl, but I don’t think she is really calling me to holiness.”
Granted, all of these concerns are not to be brushed off as if they don’t matter; and there have been many discussions as to whether or not a Catholic can watch Game of Thrones, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
The point is, if you are disqualifying a person for not living up to some level of holiness that you have in your mind for your future spouse, then you’re missing something! This does not mean that the actions, or sins, or even virtues of the person you might date do not matter, it’s simply a recognition that the spiritual life is a winding journey, and if your future spouse does live up to the level of holiness that one would hope for, they didn’t come out the womb that way. If you’re still not with me, try this thought experiment: what in your life do you do, that if someone of the opposite sex did would cause you to disqualify them from being someone you would potentially date? And I am not advocating missionary dating.
4. Fear of failing in chastity
You may screw up! Get over yourself! You are not perfect and neither is anyone you are dating. There is a possibility that you will fall into lust or even overt sexual sin. It may be very prudent to withhold relationships until you are in control of your passions, but in reality are we ever totally in control of our passions? We need to bring this fear to the cross and relinquish it. This can be a subtle lie from the evil one who has accepted the fact that you have become resilient to sin and has relinquished himself to have you simply cut off from a life of communion or love.
“And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16
Why do you fear? Christ is at your side and has given you the grace you need! Step out of the boat and keep your eyes on him! We have nothing to fear!
5. Over Discernment
“Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment, hasten to keep me where I’m at, always striving to never make a decision or commit to anything unless I have a private revelation or apparition from thee or Christ himself. Amen!”
This has become a legitimate problem with some YAC’s. Yes discernment is important and prayer and fasting to better understand God’s will is always recommended. But we can learn so much from St. Augustine when he said, “Love God, then do what you will.” If you are striving to love God first and foremost, trust in his promptings and in his providence that he is luring you toward himself and his plans for you.
6. Only focusing on your relationship with God to the detriment of every other relationship
As was stated in point 2, relationships with God, just like relationships with other people should enhance all of the relationships around you, not isolate you. I know some men who have done dating fasts, but I would guess that more women do this than men. It goes something like this:
- “I’m not really dating anyone right now I’m just focusing on the Lord loving me right now.”
- “Okay, that’s great! How long are you doing this for?”
- “Not really worried about that just focusing on letting God love me and being able to call him Father.”
Some people call this a dating fast or a season of singleness. There’s nothing wrong with this and done properly it could reap some great spiritual fruit. I think it’s fair that if you do go on a dating fast it should be something that is known by people around you rather than just some internal commitment you make to God that only becomes known when you reject someone for a date. Here’s why:
If you are feeling this particular call to love God in this particular way and not date, perhaps you need to seriously discern (not overly discern) the religious life. God may be prompting your heart for the celibate vocation and you need to consider that as a real possibility.
There is also some practical considerations. If your dating fast is known, then you become more free to foster true friendships with people of the opposite sex. They know you’re not dating right now and both of you can foster a friendship free from wondering whether or not the other has an ulterior motive.
There’s also another practical consideration, if you are asked out on a date by a guy and you tell him you are on a dating fast, even if you legitimately are, there is no way for him to know if you are being truthful or not. He will most likely think you are just trying to get out of a date. You will cause him to either never ask you out again and miss out on an opportunity to let God love you through him, or give him false hope that at the end of the dating fast that dating is a real possibility, when you know it is not. You owe it to yourself, and in charity to the men around you to make this known. This could be used in an unhealthy way to procrastinate making commitments in your life and stay a perpetual discerner rather than helping you grow in love. You may be missing out on God loving you through dating which is the whole point of the dating fast!
Lastly, when you’re in the dating scene, you are playing a dangerous game of life and death because love is a battle between life and death, lust and virtue. You will be heart broken and you will suffer. Christ did not come so that we would not suffer, he came so that our suffering would be redemptive. The cross is the sign of that. You are entering a fight between light and darkness,
“But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
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Also be sure to click here to read my latest post: "The Craziest Thing I EverDid to Get a Girl's Attention and Why You Don't Always End Up With the Love of Your Life."