Having a young Catholic try to navigate the dating world can be an intimidating thing especially with terms like, “hook-up, courtship, casual dating, chaperones, and casual sex” floating around society. So what’s the big deal? How does a young Catholic date while remaining both physically AND emotionally chaste?
There are two big words that have been coming up recently in the Christian dating world and that is courtship and casual dating.
First thing is first.. Let me explain what both casual dating and courtship is.
Casual dating (from what I understand) is trying to bridge the gap between courtship and the hook up culture. It tells young single men to go ahead and ask out a girl but “don’t worry, it’s not a commitment… It’s just a date!” Girls should be open to these dates but feel free to let the guy down easy if it isn’t “right”. Which could get you in a tailspin of continued dates just because you feel too bad telling the guy that the relationship isn’t going anywhere. I, like many young girls, didn’t know what the heck casual dating was until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember my sisters all anxiously awaiting to hear about my new relationship and I told them exactly what I was told…”We’re casually dating”.
My older sister looked at me with confusion and asked what that meant and the only thing I could reply was the matter of fact… “I don’t know”.
We were all puzzled. Exclusive? Not exclusive? Committed? Not committed?
I was lost.
Finally about 2 months later we decided to leave all the casual stuff behind us and commit to dating exclusively. I’ll explain why this was the best thing that could have happened to us in the end.
Now courtship looks a bit different.
The Duggar family from the hit TLC Show “19 Kids and Counting” includes in their courtship rules not only an emphasis on maintaining a pure relationship, but they do this through chaperones and strict physical boundaries. The young couples are to have chaperones with them at all times in order to keep them accountable for their guidelines in purity, and the physical touch between the couples are kept to occasional side hugs and getting to hold hands while they’re engaged.
Sounds great and dandy and all….
But for those of you that watch 19 Kids & Counting you may have noticed one thing… These courtship relationships move FAST.
They are barely in courtship for it seems like a month and they’re already planning their wedding.
It might be easy to figure out my issues with each but I’ll spell it out anyway…
1. The definition is unknown.
No one really knows what casually dating is. It’s this weird middle ground between the hook up culture and courtship. Due to its lack of definition many people can just kind of make up what it means. Also, there’s a widely known phrase that goes around in our culture known as “casual sex”. Doesn’t that sound kind of close to “casual dating”? Some people may get confused that they’re the same thing. Which might make for a pretty awkward date if those definitions get crisscrossed.
2. Commitment phobe?
You may snag a few of those commitment phobes trying to turn from their old ways and join the dating scene. The whole casual dating stuff would seem like a good step in the right direction! Casual dating sounds like it allows for people to start dating but in no way requires any true commitment. Personally? Dating shouldn’t include writing an official commitment on paper but it also shouldn’t be a hobby someone would rather do than have the usual “date night with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix” sort of thing.
3. “I don’t see myself marrying him, but it’s just a date!”
Casually dating sometimes doesn’t emphasize the idea of ‘dating with the intent to marry’ enough. They stress just going out on casual dates… Yes that’s great and all. But be realistic! If you can’t see yourself with the guy later in life, why continue dating? It is more selfless to let go than to hang on to another woman’s (or man’s) spouse. Now I’m not saying to go crazy and start picking out your wedding colors or anything but acknowledge whether or not you could picture that person in your future. Then either let go or commit to FULLY dating them and leave this “casual” nonsense behind.
1. Physical Chastity vs. Emotional Chastity
Setting physical boundaries to help in the battle for purity is awesome! But let’s remember the less understood word of emotional chastity. The heart is sacred… Don’t give it away too quickly but require that the person God set apart for you seek your heart in the sacred heart of Jesus.
2. Too much pressure
From what I know about courtship it can be a process that involves solid commitment right from the get go. The person that you court IS the person that you will marry. Talk about pressure, goodness. This would leave little room for mistakes. I found that while part of me would want to erase the embarrassment of dating some unfortunate fellows, I would never do that because it was through those lessons I was able to learn about the man I would actually want to marry. There was a freedom and new-found-strength by having those learning experiences (notice I didn’t say failure… it isn’t a failure if you learn from it).
So I propose this…. We date with a purpose.
Dating with a purpose allows for young singles to remove the pressure of courtship but also directs “casual dating” to be more purposeful. Don’t date just because it could be a fun past time. Discern the relationship and if it isn’t fulfilling the purpose to which you intended, then be brave enough to end it.
Dating with a purpose can and should include a vow to practice the virtue of chastity. Until that couple says “I do”, nothing is set in stone. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to direct your relationship and either build it or break it in order to lead you to something else far better. Chastity in a relationship is like the boundaries in a river. Those barriers are what keep the river flowing both quickly and naturally to its destination. For the chaste couple the boundaries which they place in their relationship allow for them to naturally flow towards their destination, which is Heaven. Chastity isn’t meant to make the couple miserable. It is meant to be a joyful struggle. Yes. Struggle with it. Chastity was never meant to be easy but always meant to be worth it. Lift up those struggles for the glory of God and He will give you the joy you seek.
My boyfriend and I about one year into our relationship had to have a serious talk about our future. (Personally- I recommend having this 6 months into your relationship). I told him that if at any point he feels that I am not what is best for him, who he could picture in his future, or who could lead him to Heaven then he should absolutely break up with me.
I wasn’t saying this to be mean or rude, I was saying it because I didn’t want to be selfish with him. We had to both feel the same way or our relationship was going to end in heartbreak. Remember how I said that the best thing that happened to us was leaving the casual dating shenanigans behind? This is the reason! It allowed for raw honesty between the two of us and a careful discernment as to whether or not we should continue our relationship.
Lastly: (& the most important piece of advice)
Pray and discern whether or not to begin dating. A relationship with Our Lord is the most important thing and sometimes we idolize relationships and put them in the place of our relationship with God. To prevent this from happening make sure that your prayer life is heavily intertwined in your dating life or future relationship. Discernment isn’t just for the future Priests or Nuns, it is for every single vocation. And yes, marriage is a vocation to lead you to Heaven and you can attain the same holiness as someone who enters religious life. There are TONS of holy Saints who were married. Look ’em up.
Holiness begins in the earliest stages of your dating life… actually it begins before you even start dating! Dive into your prayer life and Our Lord will ready your heart as you date with a purpose.