We all do! And it is not all our fault.
It's a difficult time to be young and to pursue authenticity in our lived relationships. My parents were married at 20 and 21. They bought their first house soon after. They had me, the oldest of five children soon after, and their lives were never the same again.
Me? I got married at 31, still don't own a house, had my first child at 32, worked six jobs until I finally landed on my career. And here I am. That was normal for me. And many of you have the same exact story or are on the road to that end. And all of this, this floating between knowing and doing, this search for freedom in the many choices we have, it leads us to where we are with our lived relationships. We don't date well. So what got us here and how can we not suck? I am going to break these myths down into two parts, one for the men, the other for the women.
But before I do that, I want to make sure we are on the same page here. You all know I was NOT good at dating, right!? In fact, I was quite terrible. This is the reason I can write 2,000 words on the subject so easily. Just so we are clear...
There is lot of pressure on us when it comes to dating - as well there should be. The ladies are waiting for us. Our moms are waiting for grandchildren. We have a culture yelling in our ears telling us what it means to be a real man. We are spending our entire life trying to figure what it means to be a man. The old adage, "Until a man knows he is a man he will spend his entire life trying to prove that he is one" rings true in so many ways. I could go on and on. But the point is, all of this makes dating, living authentically as a man after the heart of God, pretty darn difficult in this day in age.
But here's the thing... your life is meant to bear fruit. And that fruit is born through a deep desire for self-sacrificial love. If we look at how men pursue dating relationships in today's world, would we see that? As a whole, I would say we see just the opposite. The end goal is no longer self-sacrifice, but the pursuit that leads us there. Our Bumble, Tinder, Catholic Match emoji and text game is on point but when it comes time to intentionally pursue the heart of a woman, we slowly slip out the back door and move on to the next thing. In the end, we are not bearing fruit. And this is where we are missing the mark in a huge way. See, when we are not bearing fruit, we get restless and look for something else to fill that deep desire. Another profile to check out, another night out at the bar with endless possibilities, digging in deeper to our addictions, another nebulous, undefined relationship with someone else. In essence, we plant, let the fruit grow a little, get bored, rip it out and run away to the next thing leaving what we started in the dust. A boy walks into a room and says, "How can this room serve me?" A man walks into a room and says, "What can I do to serve?" Everything we do, yes especially our dating lives, should reflect this sense of authentic masculinity.
Men, we are passionate creatures. This is how we were made. Think of the greatest sins in our lives - lust, anger, pride, laziness. These are all direct attacks on our passions. But Our Lord, he shows us the other way. He lived a life of great passion. He showed us righteous anger, he was passionate about the least, he was passionate about us. And above all, his passion, death and resurrection showed us the way to authentic masculinity. He died so that others could live. Think about how we date right now? Is the half-hearted pursuit of relationships for our own gain really fulfilling? Our fulfillment is found in love, in truly choosing and then choosing the good of the other. And every aspect of our life must be lived this way, even and especially in our dating. It is about virtue, and self-gift, and intentionality. So I ask brothers, how are you dating?
Are you intentional? Are you setting boundaries? Are you protecting her dignity with how you talk, think and act? Are you doing everything with her soul first and not your own? ARE YOU ACTUALLY HONORING WOMEN BY ASKING THEM OUT ON DATES?
If you are ready to date, DATE. If you are called to marriage and you know it, DATE. If there is a girl that you think you might be interested in, for love of God, stop thinking and DATE!
Dating is not courting and courting is not marriage. Getting to know someone over a bad cup of coffee at Starbucks is just that... Showing interest, honoring your sisters by recognizing their worth and beauty, and seeing if date #1 can turn into date #2.
Your call as men is to love. And to love means to choose. And to choose means to act. And to act means to sacrifice your selfishness for the greater good of the other. Let's reclaim that. The world is starving for it. And let's start with how we live our relationships. The world offers a comfortable way but we were not made for that. We were made for greatness in all things and how we pursue the crown of God's creation should never be an exception.
I have the gift of living in a thriving young adult community here in Indy. I know many, many beautiful, holy women and our family is blessed to spend time with them on a regular basis. And also, sometimes they make us cookies and hang out with our daughter and most of all, come over to our house to talk about relationships with my wife who is an expert in bad dating because she dated me. I sometimes find myself in close proximity to these conversations and I sometimes (read: often) get the slow head turn towards my direction and that awful question, "What do you think, Matt?"
But in those questions and conversations, one of the biggest struggles I hear about from my ladies out there is this idea of emotional intentionality. In Catholic lingo, emotional chastity (I'm sorry I had to say it). However you say it, the struggle is real. God created you with a deep desire to love and in relationship, be loved. Much like us men, in a broken world, issues exist in dating but for the ladies, it often takes shape much differently but with the same results.
When my wife and I first started dating, I admittedly was slow on the uptake. And I was that guy I just talked about in the paragraphs above. Kara, well she was the opposite. She will admit now she was ready to get married three weeks into our relationship. And I felt the weight of it. I was just getting started, peeling back the layers of the proverbial relationship onion, but she was ready. Or so she thought. That emotional weight made me shutdown, second guess, worry, feel the weight of a relationship entirely on me. All in all it was too much, too soon. Kara thought we, us, me, was the missing link to a complete life. It became an idol like it easily can.
Some of you may know this story well in your own life. Let me take this even further...
Have you ever married a dude 15 seconds after meeting him?
Or met a guy, talked to him for like a minute and then thought about him more than God or food?
Or, more seriously, has there ever been a temptation to close off to relationships because too many men have hurt you?
Or, have you waited for so long that bitterness has taken hold of your heart?
Or, have you waited for a particular guy that you thought might pursue you or that you thought you might be able to fix when another one does ask you out, you can’t commit?
When we want something so badly and our hearts were born with an unquenchable, eternal desire to get there, we will do what we can in our brokenness to get there anyway we can. But the thing is, relationships will never fulfill you and your life is not broken if you are not yet dating or married. Maybe we know that intellectually, but it is so hard to live it. That is why the beauty of your femininity lived well is so important.
The beauty of your femininity is the receptivity to the gift of God. It's a gift of preparing your heart to be ready. There is such a huge difference between waiting and receiving. When you wait and only wait, your trust in the Lord's love and goodness can slowly slip away. When you wait and only wait, a subtle bitterness can creep in and grab hold of your heart. When you wait and only wait, you can start to grasp at the things that are close to ease that ache even if just for a little while. But, my sisters, Our Lord shows us the better way. Through Our Blessed Mother He shows you that when you wait, but in that waiting, receive the gift of God as He wants to give it, your life becomes a beautiful song, a beautiful fiat in union with your true Lover.
We don't hear much from Our Lady in the Scriptures, but we do hear in Luke's Gospel that she "kept all of these things in her heart." Mary had a lot to deal with. The Lord of the Universe came to her and promised her the life she was born to live, and then she knew He would have to take it away. And she had to just wait for that. There was so much back and forth, up and down, waiting and going. And she knew deep in her heart, that on this side of Heaven, for three long and terrible days, it would all end in heartbreak. But every sorrow, every joy, every love, everything, she kept in the depths of her heart and shared it with her first and deepest Love. It was there she found the meaning of her womanhood. It was there she was affirmed in the fullness of her identity as a woman. So when God came and asked her, “Mary, my daughter, I love you. Are you ready?” Her answer was yes. She already knew her worth and her purpose was rooted in Goodness. She knew she was loved and lovable. Her answer was openness to receive the gift of God. And because of that, the world was never the same.
And this is your call.
To first prepare and receive in your hearts the gift of God. To make them ready. Not to give them away too soon or close them off, but to prepare them for when a man comes to pursue you. Whether you marry someone or don't, Jesus will always be it. Whether you find someone at that age you always hoped, or whether you don't, Jesus is waiting every moment of every day. Those desires for your knight in shining armor, for your perfect wedding day that you have had planned since you were seven, those point you to just that. That man Jesus is waiting for you first so that you can be found in Him.
And this may sound passive, I know, but is so much the opposite. See, you can still do those things that show you are ready to be pursued. You can put yourself in those positions, going to places where the good men are, talking to the men you are interested in so they know you are ready, getting on Catholic Match, living life fully and joyfully wherever you are. You can pray for us men, and your future spouse. My sisters, that is why you are God’s greatest gifts. Your posture of receptivity is how we are all called to live. Your humility, your service, your gentleness, your compassion, your joy, and above all your yes to the gift of God is what makes us men. It calls us to a higher standard, ESPECIALLY when it comes to dating. When we see you living well, it challenges us to stop living mediocre lives. It challenges us to pursue you well and seek after your good before our own. Don’t be afraid to live it. And live it boldly and confidently. I know sometimes it can be hard. To wait. To not want to dive in too fast, or settle, or close off. But fear not. If you seek first the Kingdom, these things will be given to you.
My Men and My Women
Some final thoughts for all of us.
Hanging out is not dating. Read that again.
Please, DATE. Texts, making out, pseudo dates and unintentional I-don't-know-if-this-is-a-date-or-not one-on-one time with people you are not dating do no good to further you along in your vocation. And it does the world no good in starving it of the beautiful grace that awaits your answer to God's call. Being single is fun, I know, but there is so much freedom in living out your vocation. If you know your call is to marriage and you are using this time to fake date, you are delaying the inevitable overflow of grace into your life, and into the world, and the Church, in the life of your family, and each other. It may seem like the opposite, like you are holding on to your freedom for a little longer by waiting to dive into marriage, but don't buy into what the world is selling you here. Marriage is so beautiful! Be not afraid. Don't listen to a wounded culture, listen to your heart, and to Bryan Adams, because he will tell you the same thing.
Flirting is not loving.
Loving means willing the good of the other. That said, how are we talking with one another? Do we flirt with one another so as to steal from the beauty of their femininity or masculinity so it can affirm our own selfish desires? We often try to make our way, emotionally, into the life of a someone else by being charming and funny and available. What we are really doing is hoping we can get this person to let their guard down so we can steal a little from their goodness without being fully committed to following through. Be charming, but do it an honest and holy way. Be funny, but do it through your real personality. Be available, but only when you are actually ready to take the next step in pursuing a relationship. These are the subtle ways that bitterness and hurt can creep in, wounding us to the point of distrusting each others intentions.
All in all, if we want better dating in our culture, which I know we do because I have conversations with people on a weekly basis about it, it has to start with us. We Catholics, Christians are meant to reclaim the culture with truth, beauty and goodness. How we act in our lived relationships do just that. Let's start first by actually dating. And then, let's do it well in a way that honors God who created us to love and gave us the gift of each other. And then let's watch saints be born from it. We need you. The world needs you and your vocation. Be not afraid.
Get excited for Myth #4 - The Church Cares Too Much About Sex and Marriage