It’s not uncommon for single Catholics to feel frustrated about meeting people who share the same values and ideals. Even if you are fortunate to have a solid circle of friends or at least people in your community who actively practice their faith, finding the right person to marry is a whole different story.
One of the main reasons people are using online dating sites — especially those that strongly emphasize faith — is that they are looking for connections to people who share their beliefs and understand the struggles of being single in contemporary society.
So just like countless others you go online, fill out your profile, upload some photos, run though a couple searches, and fervently pray you meet your future Mr. or Mrs. Right.
If it was that easy, online dating sites would be an even bigger phenomenon than they are now. Like most things, online dating sites are a tool, not a path, to finding your spouse. The principles of being properly prepared for marriage and choosing a spouse apply regardless of whether you meet someone online, at a party, or are introduced by a friend.
The fact that you are on this site reading this column is a sign that your search for a life partner is on the right track, for you obviously believe that the Catholic faith is a vital foundation for any great relationship to succeed. But now that you have access to thousands of other single Catholics online, how do you begin discerning who is the right person for you?
The answer: Get to know yourself. Really, really, really well.
Opposites Attract, But…
We all know the saying: “Opposites attract.” But opposites do not make good marriage partners. Statistics and social research overwhelmingly shows that the best marriage partners are those who have a lot in common — who have complementary temperaments and similar character traits, behavioral patterns, likes and dislikes.
A Primary Cause of Divorce
“Incompatibility” or “irreconcilable differences” is one of the most common reasons listed on divorce filings today. Why? Because many couples fail to investigate their compatibility before they get married.
In his book Courtship and Marriage, moral theologian Fr. John O’Brien writes of the importance of compatibility in choosing a partner:
The Church recognizes that one of the chief causes of divorce is a couple’s discovery, after marriage, that they aren’t compatible partners. When the dreamland of their honeymoon has yielded to the realities of a workaday world, they begin to perceive what a blind man could have pointed out to them before: that they have little in common. The delicate bonds which spring from true friendship are lacking. Boredom sets in and finally yields to annoyance and argument. The divorce court has new grist for its mills. (Courtship and Marriage, p. 19).
The danger for any relationship, either online or otherwise, is for emotions and physical attraction to run wild during the initial period of a relationship. During that time when you most need to keep your head and logically discern your compatibility with a potential partner, your reason often tends to gets lost somewhere out on Deep Space Nine.
A first step to finding a compatible spouse is to reel your reason back into orbit and work towards getting to know who you really are.
Getting to Know You
You may think you know yourself pretty well. But when it comes to the hazy days of a romantic relationship, it’s important to have some concrete, in-depth knowledge of who you are and what you are looking for in a compatible partner.
Following are some practical ideas for getting to know yourself.
1. Ask Your Friends for Their Input
A great way to get to know yourself is to ask friends, roommates, relatives, co-workers, or siblings to describe your personality to you. Through their objective observance of you, your actions, and your reactions, they will be able to offer valuable insights into your character, habits, virtues and vices.
2. Recognize Your Natural Strengths and Weaknesses
There are many character traits, natural habits and tendencies in our
personalities that tend to be important factors when you’re living
under the same roof with another person. Be aware of the distinctness of
your habits and personality. Some questions to ask yourself might
• Are you a neatnik or a naturally messy person?
• Do you prefer lots of peace and quiet, or do you like to keep your stereo pegged at 85 decibels all the time?
• Are you a high-energy or low-energy person?
• Are you a highly organized person, or does the sight of a Franklin Covey Planner make you break out in hives?
• Are you an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between?
• Are you dominant or submissive?
…and the list goes on. You get the picture.
3. Make a List of What to Look For… and Look Out For
The more you get to know yourself and understand your temperament and personality, the more you will acquire a crystallized picture of what you are looking for in a spouse.
Several relationships experts suggest creating a list of the top ten traits or characteristics you look for in a partner, and a second list of the top ten traits you could not stand to live with for the next fifty or so years. Many couples testify that creating a must-have and can’t-stand list before entering a serious relationship helped them objectively analyze their compatibility with a potential partner, and avoid long, drawn-out relationships with the wrong person.
When you create your top-ten lists, be as specific as possible in describing the essential qualities you look for and want to look out for. These lists will become an objective standard that will help you keep your feet on the ground when you’re falling head over heels in love.
4. Use a Pen
As you create your must-have and can’t-stand lists, make sure you write them down. The process of writing helps objectify and concretize your resolve.
5. Choose an Accountability Partner
Ask someone you trust to hold you accountable to your must-have and can’t-stand lists. If you’ve decided you can’t spend the rest of your life with a financially irresponsible person, there’s still a slight chance you’ll have memory failure when Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome, who just happens to be an excessive gambler, or Ms. Blue Blonde and Brilliant, who is a materialistic shopaholic, walks into your life.
An accountability partner doesn’t mean you won’t still go out with Mr. TD & H or Ms. B3, but at least your accountability friend will give you a chance to think twice.
6. Test Yourself
Another helpful way to analyze your character is to take a personality inventory or temperament test. There are dozens of personality inventories based on scientific and/or psychological research into the nature of a person, many of which are available online or can be self-administered.
While no test is perfect, personality inventories can be a helpful aid in discovering how God has specifically wired you.
7. Remember the One Who Knows You Best
As you get to know yourself, remember that there is Someone Who knows you far better than you do. Don’t forget to ask Him for wisdom and guidance as you seek to follow His will for your life.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. (Ps 139:1, 13-16)
Courtship & Marriage: How to Prepare for Lifelong Love by Fr. John A. O’Brien
The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband by Steve Wood
The ABCs of Choosing a Good Wife by Steve Wood (See especially Chapter K “Know Yourself & Your Future Mate” and Chapter Q “Questions to Ask Before Saying I Do”)