By Alice Knaeble.
Dating is a challenge, but it can also be an incredibly joyful and formative experience. I remember thinking, as a young girl, that my teens and twenties would be the happiest time of my life… They would be filled with romance, pretty dresses, flowers, and exciting dates. And, in a sense, this has all come true. However, these have also been some of the most difficult years of my young and blessed life. Marriage is a sacred vocation and the person you decide to embark on it with will be your lifelong helpmate in becoming a saint. Thus, dating, the precursor to marriage, is a very serious endeavor. However, it should also be enjoyable, for exactly the same reason… You are finding your best friend and adventure partner in holiness! There are two main pitfalls I see in dating relationships: 1) being too serious, and 2) not taking it seriously enough. In order for healthy relationships filled with freedom, peace, and delight, one must find the balance between these two. The best solution I have found is chaste, prayerful, and lighthearted “casual dating.”
What is “casual dating”? Well, since my mother’s era I think the definition has changed a lot and means different things for those of varying religious or non-religious backgrounds. For me, a committed Catholic, casual dating means going on dates with multiple men at the same time before pledging “exclusivity” to one man. This exclusivity comes as the relationship gets more serious and starts moving toward engagement.
Dating casually requires chastity and even encourages it. A person’s heart (I am speaking specifically from the perspective of a woman) is a very fragile organ. Chastity, in thought and deed, is the surest way to “guard one’s heart” and to ensure that one’s reason doesn’t become clouded with regards to the suitability of the match. Dating multiple men helps one from becoming “too serious” too soon and allows for a greater friendship to grow before deeper romance builds.
Casual dating, in the Catholic sense, promotes the proper roles of both men and women in the nuptial relationship
Another advantage of casual dating is that it reinforces the role of the man as the pursuer and the woman as the worthy treasure. A little healthy competition for the affections of a woman reminds the pursuer of the sacred. Man, by nature is the protector of woman; to be protected, which is the nature of the woman, reminds her of the dignity and worthiness of being pursued. Saint John Paul II writes about feminine genius being receptivity. Casual dating, in the Catholic sense, promotes the proper roles of both men and women in the nuptial relationship.
There are both challenges and advantages to dating as a “millennial.” An obvious challenge is the “hook-up culture,” which sees sex as something to be enjoyed outside of marriage. Because of the widespread use of contraception, the marital embrace is no longer seen as marital and has become unconnected to the generation of children. Thus, sexual relationships tend to become primarily about selfish pleasure and lose the unitive and procreative dimensions that make them sacred. Both women and men need to be careful to protect their chastity and not to get swept into the cultural malaise. One of the advantages of dating in our age is the preponderance of online dating sites. Though this is a controversial subject, I think that the ability to meet many people with similar interests has never been easier.
I’ll end with the encouragement to get out there and find your vocation (whether married or religious) with joy, vigor, and faith in God. In the words of Saint Padre Pio, “pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
Alice Knable is a 23 year old Catholic currently living in D.C. She has studied at Baylor University and The John Paul II Institute. She is passionate about medicine and faith and will be pursuing a degree as a nurse midwife.
© KM Associates