Well, I’m on my way to the National Catholic Singles’ Conference in Florida. At least I hope I am – there’s a blizzard dumping snow on Denver, and I’m praying pretty hard that the airport will be clear by take-off time!
I am, God willing, going to give two talks down there. So I’m collecting my thoughts. I haven’t completely figured out what I’m going to say, but I’m pretty sure – I know this is a stretch – that I’m going to talk to the single Catholics about dating. Imagine that!
Seriously, dating is tricky for everybody, but I think it’s far trickier for Catholics – and for anybody who takes their duty to “love one another” seriously. Because at the heart of our faith is the tenet of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” and the idea that real love means always looking out for what is best for the other person. But in dating, the whole idea is to spend time with someone to decide if this is a person you’d like to spend the rest of your life with. And if you don’t, you’re supposed to dump ‘em.
How exactly are we supposed to reconcile the two?
As Christians, it’s been drilled into our heads that we’re not supposed to hurt people. And yet, so much about the dating process is hurtful. It hurts to care about someone and not have that affection reciprocated. It hurts to be “dumped.” It can even hurt to be the one doing the dumping.
What we really want is a way of dating that completely avoids hurting anyone – a sort of “pain free dating.” Thinking about it rationally, it seems a pretty unlikely feat to pull off. But that doesn’t stop the more tender-hearted among us from trying.
The first way people try this is what I call the “early out” approach. Two people find themselves attracted to each other, and they start dating. At first, of course, it’s all about the show, the chase. Sure, they’re getting to know each other. But they’re also putting their best “face” forward. They’re out to impress, to prove to themselves that this attractive person will find them attractive.
But then, at some point, comes the uh-oh moment. One or the other of them realizes that it’s starting to work. This person is indeed interested – getting attached, even. And that’s scary. The wheels start turning. “Oh, no, she might really like me. If this doesn’t work out, she might get hurt. And it might not work out. I’m not sure of anything yet.” And those of us observing from the sidelines want to say “Well, duh, of course you’re not sure. You’ve known each other all of what, 45 minutes? A few weeks?” But to someone who’s nice, tender-hearted, and doesn’t want to hurt anyone, it’s very scary.
I wrote the above paragraph from the masculine perspective because I believe that, while there are no hard and fast rules, men tend to be more likely to find themselves in this particular situation. Early in a relationship, men are much more likely to be the pursuers. The woman who is the object of this pursuit is often holding back, keeping him at arm’s length while she figures out exactly how interested she is. Which of course makes the guy work even harder. And when she finally decides she is interested in seeing where this might lead, the guy says uh-oh. And the scary part starts.
Women know the “scary” that happens early in a relationship, when we suspect the guy could be hurt if we bail out. And I’m sure plenty of women opt for the “early out” approach to pain avoidance. But I think we tend more to err at the other side of the relationship, when we realize that it really isn’t going to work out. There comes a time, in the course of dating and getting to know somebody, that it becomes clear to one party or the other that marriage is definitely not in the cards. That, my friends, is when it’s time to break up.
But wow, can that be tough! By this time, real feelings have often developed. Christians aren’t supposed to hurt anyone, much less the people they have really come to care about. How could it possibly be okay to inflict this kind of pain on someone?
And so we wait. We stall. We tell ourselves “maybe it can work out.” Maybe that drug addiction will change. Maybe the porn addiction is just a phase. Maybe if I just work hard enough, I can transform this person into my ideal marriage partner, and then nobody will have to get hurt.
I call this the “delayed release” approach.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that neither of these approaches work. Neither helps us with the purpose of dating, which is to find a spouse. And neither is really looking out for the best for the other person.
Look at “early out.” It doesn’t give two people enough time to really get to know each other, to discern where God is in their relationship. Of course there’s going to be uncertainty early on. The process is just beginning. Bailing out too early deprives both people of the opportunity to figure out if they might have a future together.
Of course, there often comes a point of certainty – certainty that this is not the person you want to marry. That might happen on the first date. It might happen six months later. Either way, that is the time to end it. Even though it hurts. Because delaying is most definitely not looking out for what is best for the other person. It is depriving them of the truth, depriving them of the freedom they need to find the one they will be with forever.
The bottom line is that dating hurts. I’ve been trying and trying to come up with spousal selection system that doesn’t involve pain, but I’ve concluded you can’t eliminate the pain without eliminating the possibility of rejection, and once you’ve eliminated rejection you’ve basically eliminated free will, and you’re left with either arranged marriages or some sort of lottery system. Neither of which particularly interests me.
So how do we date as Christians? How do we handle the hurt? Can it be minimized?
I believe we’ll discuss that next time.