On Feb, 11 2022
Fostering a community of healthy and holy dating amidst the epidemic of hook-up culture is challenging, but not impossible.
Why does Dating Culture Matter?
For many, college is the time for finding your life partner. And while the college dating culture can be a tumultuous process, campus ministry is the place that can help foster the beginning of healthy relationships. That support can be the difference maker in a good, successful marriage.
There’s little information that confronts the lies about the human person and our natural inclination of attraction. Here are some of the untruths we battle against:
- The human person is an object – you can do to someone what you want to do and just walk away
- Mass confusion on gender
- Marriage is devalued – increasing divorce rates and cohabitation
- Contraception is “normal” and available at your fingertips
- Hook-up culture is now more than a thing – it’s a thing on steroids
To separate a blog on dating from the sacrament of marriage is like failing to couple a caterpillar from its eventual wings as a butterfly – one precedes the other, and the first is essential for what will become. Here are just a few reasons why it’s important to keep a marriage perspective on dating:
- Marriage is a sacrament – a living sign of God’s presence in the world
- Dating is a chapter – Marriage is a book
- Dating is a brief period – Marriage lasts a lifetime
- In dating, you have two separate individuals that add up to two – In marriage, you have two people who unite and are one
- Dating is a trial period – Marriage enters the mystery
And as we consider the Sacrament of Marriage, it’s also important to understand it as a vocation (see our Discerning Your Vocation in the Modern World Blog as an accompaniment to this article). Walking students along the path of discernment is critical to helping them understand God’s call in their lives.
So how do we get the dating thing right and keep a healthy Catholic perspective? First, it’s important to define what dating is and how it differs from courtship. Remember, the world doesn’t care about these definitions, and distinguishing the two may sound like a foreign language at first – but trust me – it does make sense.
Straight out of the dictionary comes an excellent definition of dating:
Dating is a stage of romantic relationship whereby two people meet socially with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a prospective partner in a future intimate relationship. It consists of activities carried out by the couple, either alone or with others.
Let’s examine each of the bolded words and how they point to what’s most important in dating:
STAGE: The relationship between two individuals goes through different stages as it heads toward either a dissolution of the relationship or marriage. It’s important to define the stages and the boundaries of each of these stages. In the Getting to Know You stage, the couple comes together in mutually agreed upon activities to assess compatibility, attraction and chemistry. What you DON’T do in this stage is important to know and establish prior to entering it. Physical connection that can lead to sexual intimacy is not a good idea because it tends to confuse the natural course of discernment of compatibility, attraction and chemistry. What you talk about is also important. This is not the time to disclose some or any of the most intimate aspects of ourselves. The biggest pitfalls of this stage of dating include:
- Physical connection that leads to a sexual encounter
- Not really interested in the whole person, just the body
- Inauthentic portrayal of true self
- Accommodating and adopting other person’s likes and dislikes and shelving their own
- Rushing to please the other because of fear of being alone
- Staying rigid to a list of non-negotiables for a partner and/or not having a list of non-negotiables (key word here is ‘rigid’ – if it gets rigid that may not be good because growth and redemption are always possible)
The second stage of the dating relationship is sometimes called courtship. The difference between this and the first stage is that the relationship is now exclusive and there’s mutual agreement of compatibility, attraction and chemistry.
It’s during this stage that the couple begins to enter a deeper level of intimacy, that if continued, may lead to marriage. One of the greatest challenges of this stage is maintaining a chaste relationship as it's balanced with heightened compatibility, attraction and chemistry. It's also challenging to know how far to take physical intimacy and place mutual boundaries that maintain sexual purity. Some important things to think and talk about in this stage:
- Understanding the Church’s actual view and teaching of marriage as a sacrament
- Family of origin – personal values and challenges we bring into marriage
- View of work and family life – including children, conflict resolution, finances, etc.
- Personal strengths and weaknesses
The most important challenges to be aware of in the "courtship" stage are:
- Determining and agreeing on how to manage physical intimacy
- Honesty about strengths and challenges
- Lack of developed or developing friendships outside of the courtship relationship
- Rushing into marriage because you’re running from something or afraid of something else
- Lack of reflection on extenuating circumstances like educational attainment, employment and/or personal profile and the potential effect these have on a relationship/marriage
SOCIALLY: The couple meets for social purposes. Keeping it social means you don’t do anything you would rather do privately. That’s a simple yet important part in adopting the "Catholic approach" to dating.
FUTURE: Dating points to something in the future – an end to the dating relationship OR a continuation into courtship, where marriage may become a possibility.
One of the go-to guys for all things on dating in the Church, courtship and chastity is Jason Evert. In his talk “How to Date Your Soulmate”, Evert explains 10 strategies for how to practice courtship without compromise. Tested through real-world experiences and rooted in God’s plan for the human heart, Evert’s wise tips can be super helpful, especially when talking with college students. You can find this and many other valuable resources on dating on his website: www.chastity.org
Even though it seems insurmountable, the unhealthy dating culture in our world today can be overcome with prayer, and truthfully, better formation.
If we teach our students and children the true purpose of marriage and God’s original design for sex, it can dramatically change the perspective. No longer is abstaining from sex or working on building healthy dating relationships seen as a sacrifice, but an opportunity to receive the fullness of the gifts God has prepared.
Pope Saint John Paul II has written some of the greatest works on what love really is and the importance of living out dating and marriage as God originally designed. Here are some powerful quotes from his Theology of the Body:
“A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.”
“Self-control is not needed because the body is evil—the truth is just the opposite. The body should be controlled with honor because it is worthy of honor.”
"Freedom, the fruit of self-control, is the foundation for love between persons. This is why love can only flourish where there is purity of heart.”
(All Quotes from St. John Paul II's writings on Theology of the Body)
Here is a beautiful prayer to pray with your students when teaching about this topic or anything related to discernment 💌 :
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
In Jesus’ Name,
(Prayer by Thomas Merton)