May 4, 2014
With this letter I would like to offer you my opinion on recreational dating. I realize that at my parish there might be the temptation to accept a worldly approach to dating. I hope that is not the case, but the pressure is there so clearly all around us in society. Here is my studied pastoral opinion: Exclusive, recreational dating, especially in your teenage years? Don't do it! Why not? Below are some points to consider:
-The Church's understanding of dating is that it is a courtship relationship, i.e., an exclusive relationship between a man and woman who have determined that marriage is their vocation and is appropriate for them at this time in their lives and they are exploring that possibility with each other.
-The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls marriage a “vocation”, which means that it should be approached with discernment and prayer, as with any other vocation, e.g., priesthood or religious life. Dating should only be done after the person has some level of confidence that marriage is the vocation they are being called to, and that they have reached the time in their life when it seems appropriate to begin approaching marriage. The presumption, then, is that before a person begins seriously to discern his or her vocation, the necessary components of a healthy Catholic spirituality are already in place and functioning well. In other words, the person's relationship with the Lord Jesus is healthy and growing. Teen years are a great time to focus primarily on this relationship with Jesus.
-Recreational dating as currently practiced by the contemporary American teen culture is not a type of relationship envisioned by the Church. The human person is wired for an eventual total gift of self to one other human person for the rest of life. Most teen dating leads to unplanned intimacy, at least emotional, if not also physical. How can it be healthy to expect our young people to fall into intimacy, break up, fall into intimacy, break up, fall into intimacy, break up, etc.? The kind of exclusive, emotionally entangling relationship that usually is involved when teens date is not conducive to assisting their emotional development and maturation. How can it be responsible to lead another person into deep intimacy with you, when you know you have not the slightest intention of marrying at this point in your life? Furthermore, dating relationships among high school students are one of the top sources of sin and the near occasion of sin, especially regarding chastity. The teen years are years to grow in sexual maturity and chastity. It does not make sense to expect our young people to spend consistent and exclusive one-on-one time with each other and not become emotionally bound to one another. Dating should not be approached like another hobby or sport or entertainment.
-Dating relationships among high school students are the number one source of stress and anxiety among members of that age group (and, should we not add “and among their families”?).
With all of these thoughts in mind, my advice to families of our parish is that our youth not date exclusively until they can discern they have reached a stage in life when they are ready to enter deeply into a relationship with the possibility of marriage. Parents should definitely be part of that discernment process to decide whether or not to date, especially if somebody is still in his or her teen years. I realize that this suggestion is very countercultural. But I have spent enough time in high school classrooms teaching, and enough time in the midst of families throughout my years of priesthood, to see firsthand how much human ruin can result from our American culture's approach to dating. The no-dating-until-you-are-ready-for-marriage policy is something my Christian group practiced during our college and post-college years in Ann Arbor. I believe it is the healthiest and holiest way to approach dating.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,