There’s this funny commercial from Match.com that kind of sums up the three paths people tend to go when it comes to dating.
The first extreme, as you can see in the commercial, is that people want sex and they want it now. Think Sex and the City or Girls (which is really a poor man’s Sex and the City, in my honest opinion). Teenagers especially are filled with lust. I still remember listening to Leah Darrow’s testimony about how her friends were pressuring her to have sex after Homecoming back when she was just fifteen years old. Many Catholic chastity speakers like Jason and Crystalina Evert preach about the importance of being chaste. Arleen Spenceley said that chastity isn’t abstinence but “a virtue that aims to integrate sexuality with the rest of the stuff that makes us human.” The thing is, though, learning how to be chaste is only the beginning.
The other extreme people go, and this applies to people who misunderstand chastity, is an overemphasis on marriage. Marriage is beautiful, marriage is important, and yes, young adults should date with the intention of eventually getting married. But marriage shouldn’t be a be-all, end-all when it comes to starting out. The way people meet will always be different and I can’t speak for everyone on how one should start out a relationship aside from the fact that you need to treat the other person with respect because they are your brother/sister in Christ, not the fulfillment of your fantasies or someone you’re entitled to have.
Dating as a young adult is vastly different from dating in high school or even dating in college. In this new stage in life, some young adults are already getting married and having babies while other young adults are searching for full-time work and binge-watching shows on Netflix and aren’t ready to settle down but are still going out on dates. I’m gonna be addressing the latter group here. This list is for those who are just starting out in the weird world we call “dating.”
1) Don’t stay stuck in the past. The first thing people need to learn when it comes to dating as an adult is that this will be an entirely new experience so don’t compare the person you’re dating to past relationships. You don’t want to compete with the ghosts of your significant other’s past so don’t put them through the same comparison process. Also don’t compare yourself to how you were in past relationships, either. Learn from the past, but move on from it.
2) Don’t be pressured to go the whole nine yards. If you’re just starting out, it’s good to go out on group dates where there’s less pressure or meet the person at events where there will be lots of people. You don’t have to start out with the whole flowers and dinner kind of date. Go bowling or play laser tag or volunteer together. If it doesn’t end up working out with them, at least you had a good time.
3) Don’t let your relationship define and consume you. Love as adults isn’t obsessing over the other person the way you would over your favorite TV show or sports team. Adult love means that we come into the relationship as ourselves and the best kind of love is one where we maintain our authenticity and integrity. You shouldn’t bend over backwards to try and please the person you’re with. Real love is the kind where the one we love stands beside us instead of making our choices for us or trying to take the parts of us that they like and putting the rest of us in a box. If the person you’re dating seems to be a control freak, get out of that relationship ASAP!
4) You are not entitled to have a relationship just because you want one. Let’s say that you have a crush on somebody and you’ve had feelings for them for a long time. Then you ask them out only for them to turn you down. As someone who’s been “friendzoned,” here’s some advice. When the person you want rejects you, you have to accept it and move on. Don’t beg or lash out at them or take your anger out on someone you see as “competition.” Your heart is going to break, but you can’t hate a person for not wanting you.
5) It’s okay to avoid exes. If you had a particularly awkward rejection or particularly sucky breakup, you do not have to talk to your ex if you run into them somewhere. On a related note, don’t stalk them on social media either. Defriend and unfollow ASAP from every social media you have connected with them. Delete their number. You can’t heal from the hurt if you keep thinking about the person who caused it.
6) Don’t put so much importance on being “official” right now. Give the relationship time to grow before anything becomes “Facebook official.” Chances are that you’re still getting to know the person you date. Take it easy on yourself and start out as friends. Life isn’t like a Nicholas Sparks or a Hallmark movie where you meet the right person right off the bat. Some relationships take time to grow.
7) Don’t be a perfectionist. Girls especially have a tendency to read into every minute detail and action that goes on during dates. I implore you to put aside the worry. There’s also a tendency for people to hold the one they’re dating to impossibly high standards. Don’t write off a person just because he showed up five minutes late or you don’t agree on everything. Focus on what’s important. It’s more important that the date showed up at all rather than promising something and not showing up without a very good reason for standing you up. It’s more important that you agree on, say, what beliefs you share and how much you actually value those beliefs than whether or not DC is better than Marvel.
8) Chastity is still important. You don’t have to hold hands or be touchy-feely with the person you’re dating if you are uncomfortable with that kind of affection. There are many ways that people can express their love for someone else. That being said, physical and emotional chastity are always going to be important when it comes to dating, even when you’re starting out. This is why you need to take things easy because putting your whole heart into something that’s just starting out will have major consequences later on.
9) If you’re dating someone who doesn’t share your beliefs, proceed with caution. While flirt and convert is a very popular catchphrase amongst Catholics, you don’t want to date someone with the sole mission of trying to change them. You can’t force someone to change unless they themselves want to change. The person your dating is still a person, not a project. It’s good to hope that the life you lead will inspire the person you’re dating and if you’re like me, your faith is probably part of everything that you do. But when you just start out with a person, it’s better to keep evangelizing off the table for the time being.
10) Pray through everything. When you first meet someone, pray. When you’re just starting out as friends, pray. And regardless of whether things progress into something more than friendship or if things stay platonic, you need to pray. God is the one who created your heart and He will get you through whatever happens. Offer your heart to Him so that if it breaks, He will fix it. Pray for the person you’re dating so that they will be led to whatever God wants from them.
The point I’m making from this list is that real, authentic, grown-up love isn’t about getting what we want all the time. It’s not about the emotional highs or kissing or being “Facebook official.” It’s about wanting the good for the other as other. It’s about learning more about who we are when we’re around other people. And when we start out in this weird world we call “dating,” we still have marriage in mind, but it’s not an urgent matter. The more important thing is to treat the person we’re dating as just that, a person, an equal.