When I was single I hated dating because of the pressure that surrounded the situation. After several recent conversations with students, I have realized that little has changed in the pressure surrounding dating. In fact, it has probably just gotten more difficult. From modern culture there is the pressure from that says sex/hooking up/etc is the best way to move forward. From the Catholic culture there is the pressure that you are supposed to always have the ultimate goal of marriage in mind. Then there is the personalized pressure of thinking that college is “the” time to figure it all out. What is a young Catholic man or woman in college supposed to do with it all?
Well, I have a modest proposal that may help make it all easier. Before we get into that, let us lay down some history.
-Dating is a new phenomenon. What we call dating and how we date currently in our society is a very new and novel way of going about forming relationships. There are both good and bad elements that go into it. Remember that throughout most of history and most cultures marriage was not figured out through exclusively dating one person at a time. We have had arranged marriages, courtships, and other ways of planning marriage. But, for the most part, dating exclusively is novel.
-You can’t figure out what God wants if you don’t have a personal prayer life! If you aren’t praying, your first step in discernment is to pray. Discernment is figuring out what God wants of you. To do this, you MUST pray. If you aren’t praying, then discernment is impossible. Start daily personal prayer (for a good while) before you try to learn to listen to God’s voice. Here are 3 other tips on how to overcome problems in discerning something.
–If you do decide to date, there are certain guidelines that I think can help reduce the pressure and make it easier. First of all, you should make sure that you have good boundaries over your heart, mind and body for the proper intimacy that the relationship ought to have. For instance, a dating relationship should never go into too much intimacy emotionally or mentally. After going on 3 dates someone need not know everything about you. The same goes for physical intimacy and emotional. You need to make sure there are appropriate levels taken as the relationship progresses, all the while making sure you have clear boundaries to protect both of you.
4 Tips To Make Dating Easier:
1 – Start by going on a date – not by exclusively dating! Too often young couples go from friendship (or “hanging out” with all the awkwardness that entails) to deciding to date exclusively. They are missing a very important step. Going on dates. This generally means asking someone to get a cup of coffee, go eat lunch, etc. with the intent of not dating exclusively, but rather trying to get to know each other better. Of course this is a radical change to how most people date, so to do this well means there MUST be a step 2 to do this successfully.
2 – Be clear in your intentions! Start by saying something like this – “I have really enjoyed getting to know you as a friend and would love to continue to get to know you better. Would you like to go to lunch next week?” If there is still some ambiguity, then be bold in declaring something to the effect of – “I don’t think we know each other well enough to know if we should date exclusively; I just want to get to know you better.” The advantage to being clear is that there is less worry and stress about what is happening in the relationship. The goal of this first date is to get to know each other better and see if you both agree if there should be date #2!
3 – Keep the pressure off by communicating intentionally. Keep open lines of communication open, within the boundaries you have set. Be honest and caring, but not too intimate. If you enjoyed the first date, then tell them that – “I really enjoyed getting coffee with you. Do you want to do it again next week?” If you don’t think the date went well, then be clear in that too.
4 – Be real with yourself. Emotions sometimes get in the way. You might really like someone else and think they are great, but if they are leaving for a 2 year mission trip in Africa, it is probably not a good time to go on a date. Another issue might be the doubts and questions that rise up out of insecurity, fear, etc. Don’t let those be your guide. Rather, follow the reality of the situation. Furthermore, there is so much pressure in dating already, that you shouldn’t add more to it by acting like someone you think you “ought to be” rather than your true self. How can either of you figure out whether it was a good date, if the “real you” doesn’t show up?
Pro Tip for men – ask her out. The worst she can do is say “no”. At least you know then and will have fewer regrets.
Pro Tip for women – if he asks you out and you don’t want to go, then be clear and say “no thanks”. It really is preferred than trying to let him down easy and leaving him some kind of false hope.
Now, if you think that God is calling you into a deeper dating relationship in order to discern the future and to help you grow in holiness, then you ought to obey his will.
So, to sum it up. If you do date, then make sure it isn’t dating in the way that our culture has defined it. The long-term goal is for the purpose of discerning marriage with this person or not. But, there are some good short-term goals you should set too:
- Getting to know the other person better.
- Getting to know God’s will better.
- Getting to know yourself better.
Now…time to go on a date!