Let’s be real. Trying to be a faithful Catholic in the dating world today is about as easy as doing theoretical physics in a foreign language. At times, it can feel completely impossible. If you have felt hopeless, or you are right in the midst of that feeling as you read this, I want you to know that you are not alone.
The problem is, when dating goes awry, that is exactly how we feel: alone. I am here to tell you, as someone who has been happily married for a short but wonderful four years thus far, I still feel alone in my marriage.
Granted, I do not experience solitary loneliness as much as I used to as I have my wife to come home to every day. Nonetheless, I have moments all the time where I feel lonely, lost and unfulfilled. That is because I am not in Heaven yet, and that is the only place where perfect unity and community exist. Until I get to Heaven, I will constantly struggle with moments of loneliness, and so will you.
Now I don’t tell you this to depress you or make you feel like you will never feel the sense of belonging and love you long for. I tell you this to help you realize that the only person who can ultimately fulfill you is God, not a dating partner or even a spouse.
Too often, people want to be in a relationship because they identify relationships, happiness, love and fulfillment as all being the same thing. As much as I love my wife, I also need good friends, good community, and above all my relationship with God. When we realize that a relationship with God is the only thing that will ultimately fulfill us, we can look at relationships differently. Instead of looking for pleasure, validation, comfort, or a cure for loneliness, we can look with eyes of faith for the true purpose of a faithful relationship: to find someone who will help lead you closer to Christ.
There are obviously ways that our family and friendships can do this well, but God in His ultimate wisdom and goodness created us male and female with the capacity to give ourselves completely to another for the highest union we can experience this side of Heaven. Marriage is a union that points to the unity of Heaven. Dating, then, should be a process in which we find a person that will fight to lead us to Heaven.
It seems obvious to me then that dating apps, which were invented for a hookup culture, and dating sites, which foster attraction by personality characteristics and appearances, are not leading you closer to Christ, nor are they designed to find you someone who will. We need to look in the right places for the right partner. I get so frustrated when I hear young women telling me they go out every weekend to parties and bars and they only run into young, immature, drunk guys who only want to hookup.
I always want to respond, “IN A BAR?!? HOW ABSURD!!!” I am working on my sarcasm, so instead I smile and nod.
Now that is not to say that amazingly faithful people don’t go to bars, or that every person in a bar on a Friday night is not relationship material. However, in terms of the number of single people who are ready to enter into a committed relationship, there is a low probability that you are going to find “the one” at McLoser’s Pub this weekend.
So what do you do? Where do you look? And are you ready to start looking in the first place?
The modern conventional methods of entering into a relationship are not going to help you find what you are looking for. Here are some ways to have more hope and less despair as a faithful Catholic who is trying to date in this crazy culture:
1. Spend lonely moments with the Lord. If you are constantly looking for fulfillment and comfort from other people, those feelings will either fade over time or they will cause you to become tempted to use the other person in other ways as you start a relationship. No one can offer you the fulfillment that God can. So in moments of despair, remember that He loves you and wants to draw near to you. It’s up to you to let Him. Spend time in chapel, in Adoration, at Mass and in prayer. If you have a checklist for your future spouse, ask yourself if you live up to those qualities. If you don’t, how can you work on your relationship with God to be ready for a faithful relationship when the opportunity for one arises?
2. Find faithful friends. So often we settle for things in relationships because we are not used to seeing how the faith is lived out in our other relationships, or we are not surrounded by faithful outside observers to help us see red flags we may be overlooking in a potential partner. Women need faithful women to build them up, support them, and grow in the beauty of what Pope John Paul II called “the feminine genius.” Men need virtuous men around them to help call them to true manhood and subvert the over-sexualized and pornographic culture we live in. I want friends, like in the story of the paralytic, who will rip the roof off a strangers house and lower me down to Jesus to get through the crowds if need be (Luke 5:18-25). Do you have friends like that?
3. Look in the right places. Delete your dating apps and profiles. The personality traits and physical characteristics they highlight pale in comparison to the dignified son or daughter of God that you truly are. They are far better at tempting us to dive into a hookup culture rather than offering us deep, meaningful relationships. Think about the person you would want to marry and how they would lead you to Christ. Where would they be hanging out on a this weekend? A church? A community center? A young adult group? A Bible study? Not to say that you should attend these things to look for a future spouse. Rather, these are opportunities to surround yourself with faithful people that will lead you closer to Christ, and increase the likelihood of meeting someone who could be your future spouse.
4. Rely on God. I always hear the phrase “trust in God,” and I feel like it doesn’t communicate enough. I trust in a lot of things that do not require my investment, nor do they affect me in any major or substantial way. I trust that everyone on the freeway is going to drive in the lanes, I trust that the garbage man will pick up the trash, I trust the lights will turn on when I flick the light switch. Will I be wrong about these things occasionally? Perhaps, but rarely. When a car swerves, I slam on the brakes, When the garbage man doesn’t come, I take the trash to the dump. When the light doesn’t come on, I call the electric company. However, trusting in God requires something I think we forget about: reliance. I need to RELY completely on God, meaning I need to give my heart, my time, my hopes and my desire to Him, knowing that He will fulfill them all according to His plan. I need to be so dependent on Him, that everything in my life is judged up against my relationship with Him: nothing is separated.
I know that the world of dating, chastity, relationships and marriage in this culture often looks hopeless. But the cross looked pretty hopeless to the Apostles on Good Friday, and man were they surprised on Easter Sunday. So trust and rely, with confidence and hope, in Jesus Christ who loves you and is the beginning, center and goal of every faithful relationship. Know that I am praying for you and that you are not alone. God is with you and when you cling to Him, you will find others doing the same.
See you in the Eucharist.
Matt & Jenna are two Catholic best friends, youth ministers and worship leaders seeking to encourage, inspire & grow closer to Christ and His Church.