So, the dating scene is horrific. I think we have adequately established that based on the feedback on my last post. And if it’s not horrific, it certainly is terribly frustrating for so many. I have gotten an outpouring of messages and responses from people all over the country ranging from total agreement to complete anger and rage. However, the most important feedback has simply been, “Where do we go from here?”
The truth is, I don’t really know. I am in no way claiming that I have the answers or that I have some keen insight into our present situation. Go ask any girl I’ve dated. (Actually, I would appreciate it if you didn’t do that. Thank you!) But, I do feel called to help facilitate a conversation that needs to be had. I think there could quite possibly be a revolution on this topic. So, let’s start it!
For whatever reason, whether good or bad, so many young adults are experiencing the same frustrations and challenges with this odd period in their life. We can see the social trends - people graduate, enter the workforce, marry, and everything else that goes along with that later than their parent’s generation. The problem is, I feel like we haven’t yet established an adequate philosophy and theology of how someone lives the faith within their young adult years. People are stuck in this limbo, living outside of the family structure and not in their permanent state of life. How is the faith to be lived during this time? Here’s the thing - we were never meant to live outside of the family structure and outside of communal life. That’s why this period of time is so trying. There is a collective groaning analogous to Adam's experience of original solitude in the garden that so many people are going through. I think that situation affects the difficulties in the current dating trends.
Generally speaking, parents of millennials never had to go through this state in life. They graduated high school, found work, married someone in their town or neighborhood, and then started a family. That was the model. Well, now that model has changed, and we have a generation of millennials who haven’t been taught how to live in this state. We have not been trained very well in what I like to call the School of Intentionality.
Here’s an example of what I mean by the School of Intentionality: when I was in middle school, there were no cell phones. If you really liked a girl, you actually had to call that girl...at her home...where anyone could answer...including her father. Scary, I know! And you had to say something like this:
- “Is Ashley there?
- “Who’s this?”
- “This is...Jesse?”
- “Yeah, hold up...ASHLEY! JESSE’S ON THE PHONE!”
And then her mom would probably pick up on the other line and listen to the babbling of awkward pubescent love. That’s how you knew that you really liked someone - you asked her dad if you could talk to her on the phone! Your conversation had to be quick and intentional, because there was only one line and no call waiting. Ten minutes in and someone else would have to use the phone so you had to hurry!
I actually remember writing and receiving letters in the mail to my middle school girlfriend to avoid having her mom listen to our conversations. Unfortunately, writing and receiving letters like that is now a rarity. Yes, I realize this example is from the point of view of sixth grader. The point is, there used to be a more public dimension to how these things operated. Nowadays, it’s possible for a guy to text thirty girls and see if he gets a bite. Intentionality has been lost, and the idea of pursuit has been worn down to a type of fishing, something for which I think men bear most of the responsibility.
Courting vs. Dating
This is a highly debated issue among Catholic and other Christian circles. Do we court or date? I’m of the opinion that casual dating should be the preferred route. Here’s why:
I used to think that you could only date one person at a time. That was it. Once you go on a date with someone you are locked in until this dating relationship stops. We need to get rid of this mentality, because what I’ve just described is the definition of a committed, exclusive relationship, and you are not in a committed exclusive relationship until it has been explicitly stated. If you are in a dating relationship now and are confused as to what exactly the status of the relationship is, that’s a problem.
Guys, I’m mostly talking to you. We need to be clear and direct about what is happening and what our intentions are. If the girl is getting home at the end of the night and asking herself questions like, “Where is this going? Where do we stand? Is this a friendship? Does he even like me? Are we just ‘hanging out’?” then shame on us! In charity to our sisters, we should never allow them to go through the anxiety which makes them question their own worth and value. And if you don’t exactly know how you are feeling, then say that! Be honest! I’m sure most women would find that refreshing.
Ladies, you are under no obligation to wait around on a man until he knows for certain how he feels about you! You do not owe him anything in this regard! Ask yourself this question: do you want a man who is undecided about whether or not he wants to pursue you, or a man who is direct, confident, and intentional?
Casual dates help foster realistic expectations. If two people aren’t compatible, then no harm, no foul. “We’re just having coffee here.” That is not a failed relationship! You’ve gained a friend rather than someone you try to awkwardly avoid at parties for the next five years. Besides, have you ever been on a first date at a fancy restaurant with the forks and knifes hitting the plate, struggling to come up with a conversation starter? Why would anyone of sound mind want to put themselves through that? You’re just wasting each other’s time. The first date at a classy restaurant sounds like a great idea, but it's probably not the way to go.
So, how do we avoid that?
Therese Aaker has written a great piece that I highly recommend everyone read. She lays out great practical advice for both men and women regarding casual dating. Basically, a date is just a date, and there’s no need to make it more than what it is.
Lastly, it's possible to fall into a malaise when dating if you are not vocation-minded. Marriage is a vocation to which you are called. You need to discern it and act intentionally towards it. Getting married, having children, and raising them in the faith is a legitimate way to build up the Kingdom of God. It’s not the only means, but it is one of them. You were not meant to live for yourself but to be a gift to another, whether that be in married or religious life. St. John Paul II quoted again and again from Gaudium et Spes:
“Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.”
A great paradox in Christianity is the claim that if you live your life for your own happiness, you will ultimately be left unfulfilled, because you were not meant for yourself but you were meant to be a gift to the other, and we just simply do not know how to do that. It's fine to admit that. In fact, we have to admit it! The fundamental thing you must understand as a Christian is that you do not know how to love! Thomas Merton wrote:
“The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved.”
You must embrace this! Any authentic love that you have to give is rooted in faith, not in yourself, but in Christ.
"For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
- 2 Corinthians 12:10
Christ is the teacher in the school of love that we will never totally understand until we stand face-to-face with the Triune God, with Love itself. Dating is not an end in itself; it’s a means. It’s possible to err and see dating as the end. It should be ordered towards a greater good, namely marriage, and marriage should be ordered to an even greater good, which is the glory of God.
We are all broken and wounded, and none of us know how to love properly. Embrace it! Date, love, marry, make babies, and build up the kingdom of God!
Watch Aziz Ansari on "Being Single"
(And yes, make babies does come after marriage.)
(We're also going to avoid the Catholic rage trolls who think anyone who quotes Merton doesn't know theology and is a heretic.)