“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
–The Case for the Return of “The Date”
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
-Lysander from A Midsummer Nights Dream I.1.138-140
Once you begin to question the way things are done, and wonder if it has always been that way or if it is a recent development, you begin to see that we often leave behind good customs, habits, and words, and bring on new ones that are confusing, or even destructive.
For example, when we began to question the conventional understanding of education—which is going to school from age 5-18, followed by college or career— it completely changed our view of a valuable education. We began to see conventional schooling as the inferior model, the model designed to create great factory workers—obedient minions. It is not the model to foster true creativity and help children meet their God-given potential and their unique role in the world.
That realization began a practice of questioning the conventional wisdom (not dumping it willy nilly, but asking it questions).
First Ask Questions
What is the course of true love these days? Why is the current model for finding a spouse the best? What is meant by words like “dating”? How does one find a spouse? How do you safely get from single adult to happily married adult? I could keep going and I am sure you have questions as well. In order to answer some of these questions I asked around and consulted my own observations.
I was 35 when I met my husband, 36 when we got married. Considering I had wanted to be married since I was a little girl, that is a long time looking, waiting and thinking about marriage. The dating world of the 1980’s didn’t really work for me. However, I did finally find an old fashioned yet modern way to find a good man (more on that later).
Question #1: What is meant by “dating” these days?
As far as I have been able to tell, there are two basic uses of this word with reference to romance. “Dating as an activity” or “The Date”, which is a single event of a man and woman meeting for social reasons. Then there is “Dating as a state of being”, as in “we have been dating for 6 weeks/months/years” or “they are dating”.
I did a little research and the term “dating” as a romantic interaction seems to have popped up around WWII. Prior to that people would have spoken of courtship, or maybe keeping company. The Date seemed to be part of a growing entertainment culture that cropped up in industrial centers, with movie theaters and dance halls. Those venues spread to middle class towns, and thus spread the idea of going out on a date. Before that, courtship took place in family and small community settings, on the front porch, at the church picnic or farming community dance.
The Date might eventually progress to “keeping steady company”, “courting” or just “going steady”, which is like today’s “Dating as a state of being”. This more serious stage is meant to progress to engagement…or end—hopefully without too much heartbreak.
My mother’s experience in the 1950’s was that you were asked out on a date. The date had no weight outside the single event. In fact, you could go out on repeated dates and still not necessarily be going steady, or even serious about this person. There seemed to be less pressure on the DATE. Also, Dating (as a state of being) was for those who were truly serious about pursuing marriage with this particular person.
My experience starting in late high school is that the DATE had almost disappeared. In high school or college, you met a boy at a party and you “got together” (which could mean everything from sitting and talking for a lengthy time, to dancing all night, to other more physical encounters). This encounter often ended in “dating as a state of being” for any length of time during which you could call the person your girlfriend or boyfriend. Until you broke up, at which point they were your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend or you “used to date”. The culture, by the 1980’s (and well before), assumed the Dating couple was probably sleeping together, unless you were in a conservative, or expressly religious community.
By the 1990’s I was at a serious Catholic college with young men and women who were intent on chastity, however the old fashioned DATE of the 1950’s didn’t really exist. Couples came into being as they were seen together and were immediately Dating (as a state of being). This has the two-fold effect of putting lots of pressure on the couple (especially the young men who seemed to feel they had to be “sure” before they made a move) and leaving lots of broken hearts behind (because how often do college dating relationships end in marriage?).
I don’t have any observations of the current secular dating culture, except that it is magnitudes worse than the 1980’s. However, as far as I can tell, the current situation in Christian circles is much the same as my 1990’s experience at Catholic college. Chastity is the prevailing value and Dating (as a state of being) the common practice. The Old Fashioned, 1950’s DATE is rare. Unless, ironically, you are into online dating—more on that later.
Question #2 Why are teens dating?
Just as we agree that certain forms of physical affection are reserved for marriage, we should all agree that dating of any sort is meant to lead to marriage. This is why many cultures have reserved dating, or courtship, for those ready for marriage.
Which brings us to another question
Question #2.5: What is ready?
Probably, most Christian traditions in the past few centuries would have said something like: both the man and woman need to be legal adults and able to understand the commitment made in marriage, and the man needs the ability and the plan to support a family within a reasonable amount of time (in other words, able to get that job or start that career within about a year). Start the process too early and you end up with young people attached to each other before they have a good sense of themselves or the commitment they are making. In a society with no-fault divorce (and Christians are not immune from the lure of this ticket out of difficult relationships), this is a formula for failure.
Back to Question 2….
For these reasons, “ready for marriage” leaves out those under eighteen. So what do we do with the youths? The attraction to the opposite sex is there, but the readiness for marriage is not. It seems like this should be a training ground, a boot camp of sorts. In the youth years, co-ed gatherings have an inordinate attraction for the youths, but also lots of danger. Pairing off at this age is fraught with pitfalls both of the heart and the body. So, their insatiable desire to socialize needs to be fed in a cautious way.
And what about the need for experience dealing with the opposite sex? I propose that the modern thinker has an experience bias—we think we need to experience something to know or understand it. We think that we must have experience of all the differences present in mankind in order to accept them. This is the fallacy behind a lot of multi-cultural education—that the child cannot accept a culture they don’t know and understand. The problem here is we can’t experience every difference. We must learn that every person has dignity and deserves respect no matter what they look like, or how they dress, or what language they speak.
Helping the youth to learn how to interact with the opposite sex requires acknowledgment that they are different, and some help interacting appropriately. This is especially important these days when the reality of man and woman is under attack. An ideal social life combines same sex groups that help the youth learn about what it means to be a real man or real woman and how to enter into true friendships; and co-ed groups, that can help them learn how to appreciate the opposite sex.
Examples of same sex groups can be clubs centered on common interests, sports, or just-for-fun gatherings. Co-ed gatherings really need to have a stated purpose and a structure to give the boys and girls ways to interact. A traditional dance is a perfect example of a structured co-ed event—where they are given steps to learn and etiquette to follow. It can be everything from square dancing and two step, to polka, swing, waltz and contra-dancing. These activities can help teach the complementarity between men and women, and if handled well, teach proper etiquette and respect for the opposite sex. Hanging out (unstructured socializing) is often best done in the context of family life rather than big groups of same aged kids—gatherings of a few families, community picnics, bonfires, games and even community work.
It seems that the tendency, at least since my high school days, has been to allow youth almost unlimited hangout time, with little direction. Even unstructured time with lots of supervision (which you commonly find in church youth groups) can be counterproductive in terms of learning how to properly interact with the opposite sex, and especially for the sake of avoiding the pairing off problem.
Ultimately, I don’t see any downside in encouraging kids to wait until adulthood to date, except the effort necessary to resist their complaints—but that’s what parents are made to do.
Question #3+: Why waste precious time with pseudo-commitment in the search for a spouse? Why not go on a DATE?
Back to the “ready to marry” crowd. There is no magic number that marks maturity. I have met mature 19 year olds and immature 36 year olds. Sometimes life and choices force maturity upon us at a young age. And the same factors can cause us to avoid growing up.
Also, some will need to kiss a lot of frogs, or meet a lot of fish (whatever metaphor works for you) before they find the one suitable to marry. That can take a long time if each frog requires “we dated for 6 weeks/months/years then decided we weren’t right for each other.”
This is where the old fashioned DATE comes in. A single event, that stands on its own, and even when strung together in a series of many dates, is not weighted with pseudo-commitment, allowing the mind and heart the freedom to decide.
How can a first, second, third or even fourth date leave you free? First of all, the physical boundaries must be very clear. Showing physical affection at this stage is dangerous. Physical affection is designed to form attachments, so don’t kiss the frog until you are pretty sure he’s the prince!
Dates are the interview process of finding a spouse. They are about getting to know each other. Both the man and woman need to be clear that the commitment on a DATE is for the single date itself. Until enough dates accumulate to make it clear that getting serious might be a good idea, the DATE stands alone. Which means a man can ask one woman on a DATE one week, and a different woman the next—and vice versa. It really needs to be “no-strings attached” until an intention to be exclusive has been made clear. The woman is free to not accept another date, or to accept four in a row and then steer clear of another date.
During the “Dating as an activity” stage, it is really important to avoid flights of imagination, and reading into every word and action some deeper meaning. It is an interview, and hope for the future should be kept well under control of the rational brain.
Who does the pursuing matters. When it comes to making a life-long commitment a man has a need to feel he has chosen the woman he will marry. If he feels he was trapped into it, he will resent it, or struggle to fully commit. On the other hand, a woman wants to know she was chosen. If she feels she somehow talked the man into the relationship she will always wonder if his commitment is solid.
A good example of a first date is a cup of coffee, or a low pressure lunch or dinner, which allow for lingering to talk if things are going well, or heading home if they are not. A movie doesn’t leave much room for conversation. First and second dates especially are often best done inexpensively and for shorter periods of time. Also, just because we are being traditional doesn’t mean you need to be bringing flowers, or gifts of any sort. The man paying for the cup of coffee is enough.
It is the physical boundaries as well as the emotional boundaries that help a couple keep their heads clear enough to make rational decisions in the midst of romantic feelings. Feelings of attraction are much more easily aroused than clear rational reasons to marry are found to be present. In other words, you can be attracted to him even if he isn’t good for you.
The DATE allows for frequent opportunities to meet a potential spouse, along with more chance of clarity of thought and less chance of a broken heart. Win-win!
Question #4: Where do I find the right fish? How do I know I am looking in the right sea?
Since shared values are the non-negotiables of happy marriages, you need to look where the people who share your values congregate. Your local parish is the first place to look. Many have young adult groups (social groups aimed at single adults, usually 18 - 30ish—as opposed to youth groups) or opportunities to study or serve that might be a vehicle for meeting someone.
I know someone who went around telling all his family and friends that it was their job to help him find a spouse. He figured they know him and love him and should be able to come up with some good prospects. He even offered a reward for the person who introduced him to the woman he would marry. It was a relative that finally introduced him to his (now) wife!
Ironically, the internet has given us a new found opportunity for the Old Fashioned DATE. Admittedly, it also has all the opportunity for the rotten end of the dating world, but we can avoid that part fairly easily with some precautions.
In 2000, I joined a Catholic online dating site with the hope of finding a spouse. The purpose of the site was expressly stated as “marriage”—clue number 1 in avoiding the seedier side of the internet: don’t join sites that are just about “meeting friends” or “having fun”, or even “finding a partner” (whatever that means!).
In the case of Ave Maria Singles, marriage was the goal and Catholicism was assumed. In addition to the vitals like age and general location, each person’s profile contained pictures and information about the person that revealed how serious they were about their Catholic faith, as well as interests, and various personality clues. Before you even wrote to a person, you knew what they believed about key Catholic teachings. This was very helpful!
A lot of dating sites these days seem to use apps which focus on the picture—swipe right to look at the next guy. It is important to always look beyond the picture, if only to be charitable and acknowledge that the person is child of God just like you and is more than their picture. Also, these days, texting is the common interaction. The problem with this is that texting is best for short, to the point, interactions between people who know each other. Texting is seen by many as instant communication, so any sort of pause in reply causes consternation. There is too much weight on the response time, and it can be hard to be brief and not rude. Email is less immediate, allows for longer and more thoughtful communication, and has less weight on the immediacy of the reply.
When I was on Ave Maria Singles, I would get a message from a guy, then read his profile and decide whether to write back or not. Usually I did. A couple of letters could reveal a lot. Each one was like a short DATE. A few letters might lead to a phone call—a slightly longer DATE. This could reveal a lot as well. In a few cases, phone calls led to meeting in person. This DATE was very revealing, especially after all the preliminary weeding out of people who didn’t share any values or interests.
One particular interaction was started by me—I wrote the first message, which wasn’t my habit. Before I wrote, I asked a friend to read the profile and give me her opinion. She encouraged me, so I wrote. That note led to further letters, phone calls, in person meetings and finally engagement, all within six months. We have been married 21 years. Early on we discovered common friends which took away a lot of the risk and fear. In many ways, the serious Catholic world is a small one, so having common friends wasn’t surprising.
I know of two close friends who also met their spouses online, and other acquaintances as well. It is a modern-old fashioned vehicle for bringing people together.
My advice to people seeking a spouse and finding it difficult is to diversify your social portfolio. First, start at your parish. Join a young adult group, or get involved in some service through the parish.
Also, if you have hobbies, sports or interests that you enjoy find others nearby that enjoy the same things. Don’t forget to let your friends and family know you are open to meeting people.
And finally, try an online community, like Ave Maria Singles, that brings people of common faith together to find each other.
No matter what methods you are using to meet a prospective spouse (and definitely use more than one) I also encourage people to consult with family and friends along the way—especially people who are willing to be brutally honest with you if necessary— they know you and love you best and can often help you discern a good match.
Any statements made about God and his Church have not been evaluated by Heaven or The Catholic Church. They are not guaranteed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any spiritual condition or disease, nor are they guaranteed to be worded in the best and most accurate way. Please consult with your own priest, the Catechism, or God himself regarding the statements and analogies made in this article.
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