Everybody wants to be wanted. Today’s dating culture makes that the utmost important thing to your existence. The height of “making it” is being in a healthy, committed relationship with the person of your dreams. If you lack that at all, then you’re unwanted or unlovable. There are so many rules to dating as well. You can’t show someone you’re interested too much because then you’re desperate, but you don’t want to come off as not interested at all otherwise you’ll never find “the one.” So with all of these pressures and anxieties, what even is dating? Is there such thing as “dating for marriage?” Or do people just say that to get a self-satisfying relationship? Let’s turn to the Church to find out!
Dating is Discernment
First and foremost, dating is a form of discernment. It’s a tool to find that life partner to give yourself to wholly and freely. Just because you’re in one relationship or you go on one date doesn’t mean that person is the one you’re going to marry, so STOP STRESSING! Dating is an experience to grow together and prayerfully figure out if this is your spouse. The Catholic Church doesn’t believe in soulmates, and frankly neither do I. I don’t think there is one clear person for everyone, however I DO believe in the power of Vocation. If you are following your true Vocation, God will make everything possible for that Vocation to come true. He’s not going to call you to marriage but never allow you to meet the person you marry. Finding that person is exactly what discernment and dating for marriage means! Men, that means discerning a woman before asking her out. Ladies, that means discerning if the relationship you’re invited into is the right one for you. We all have a part to play, and it’s all just consideration and prayer. Today, there are SO many forms of dating, so how do you know if you’re doing it right?
Lawful and Unlawful Dating
The Catholic Church has this concept of “lawful” versus “unlawful” dating. It all has to do with whether there is a possibility of marriage. Obvious unlawful dating examples include dating someone who’s already married or in a committed relationship, cheating on your partner with someone else, and engaging in a relationship with a minor. But the other part of unlawful dating includes the actual courtship process. Spending time with someone of the opposite gender outside of a date for extended periods of time, with frequent meetups, is considered unlawful dating. You’ve already decided that this person is just a friend, so marriage clearly isn’t an end goal. Setting circumstances that are date-esc aren’t fair to you or the other person. By pursuing someone in this way, you’re PURSUING them! Even if you never said it was a date, there is still a natural part of ourselves that sense continued company-keeping as a date. So your best friend can’t hang out with you anymore? The Church’s hard and fast answer would be no. In my experience and opinion, I’d say it depends on the circumstances. If your best friend is like a brother to you, then I would argue it’s ok to spend time with them as long as the line has been made clear that you are NOT. DATING. This means being emotionally chaste in your relationships! Emotional chastity is a buzz word thrown around young adult circles, but it’s basically a discipline of the mind. You don’t over exaggerate your encounters and conversations to yourself and you don’t let yourself fantasize about the person. All this to say, that you want to guard your heart regardless of if you’re keeping the company of a potential partner. So what is considered “lawful” dating? The Church holds that any form of continued company-keeping where both people are open to marriage is lawful. With emotional chastity in mind, there is a purpose to grow closer together while discerning the Vocation of marriage. So is there a timeline for lawful dating?
Too Soon or Too Late?
Simple answer: yes and no! The Church does believe that dating too young can be unlawful dating. In my childhood, people started dating as early as 10 years old. I’m willing to bet people who dated at this age didn’t fully understand why they wanted a boyfriend or girlfriend. This type of dating can be seen as puppy love, but is it really a good thing to promote? Remember, lawful dating is when both people are open to marriage and discerning the Vocation of marriage. At 10 years old, I’m not sure if our minds were focused on marriage. This type of dating is unlawful simply because kids aren’t ready to discern their Vocation yet. There is also an unlawful type of dating that seems “waiting too long.” The Church determines that a couple who are living together and/or starting a family outside of wedlock is unlawful dating. Marriage has to be an available option for the relationship to be lawful. So, if there is a couple who don’t want to get married for whatever societal opinions they have, they’re technically prolonging their marriage, which is unlawful. The Church fully supports making steps towards your Vocation by proposing, and wants you and your partner to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. Prolonging marriage in a committed relationship is seen as wasting time when you could be pursuing marriage.
Prayer and Reflection
We’ve talked a lot about discerning and thinking and considering a person or a relationship. None of that is possible without prayer and reflection. Pray for the person of interest, or for Vocation in general. If you’re in a committed relationship, pray for and WITH each other! Talk about the faith with each other and about your relationship. Share your hopes and fears for marriage and dating. It’s also super crucial to reflect on past experiences. Your gut is a great compass! Trust your instincts if you meet someone who you become wary of. Maybe you need to proceed with caution or open your mind more. Talk with your friends and family and unpack your relationship. Externally processing is a very helpful tool to thinking through discernment. Vocation is nothing without God, so turn to Him above all else! He is here for YOU and all of your worries! Spending time with Him in the Sacrament is so important and life giving and gives Him the opportunity to meet you in the midst of your discernment.
Call to Action
Dating for marriage is nothing without ACTION! Again, dating is a trial period, so TRY! Men, ask that girl out! She’s bee on your mind and heart for a while now, and you can’t quite let her go. GO PERSUE HER! Ladies, SAY YES! If a man asks you out, it probably took a LOT of nerve for him to actually get the words out. He’s (hopefully) put a great deal of prayer and consideration into asking you out. He’s putting his heart on the line here asking you to let him spend time (and probably money) on you! So go get your free meal or movie or coffee! You many just end up with a boyfriend after a while! BUT SAY YES TO THE DATE! It’s just one date. If it doesn’t pan out, then be honest with yourself and him, and let it go. That’s ok! It’s all part of the trial period! It’s all part of discernment!
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