Recently, I sat at a table with several young adults who had gone to a local young adult ministry event advertised as a “dating talk”. I asked what the talk was about.
“What to do before getting married,” was the reply.
“Cool! What am I supposed to do?” I asked.
“You shouldn’t live with the person you’re dating,” she responded.
OK. That is nice. That is actually a “not do” though. “Don’ts” are very different from “does”. Don’ts protect you from the wrong things while does help you find the right things.
I continued to ask, “Have any of you ever been put in the position of living with a boyfriend or girlfriend?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Are you dating anyone now?”
“I’m just trying to get to a third date,” a guy at the table added.
I got the sense that the guys here were just trying to figure out if it’s OK to take a young lady out to dinner with a Groupon; and the ladies were probably more concerned if single men actually live in this world and less concerned about living with them.
I hope that talk comes in handy one day but apparently right now no one there will make much use of the “don’t live with your partner talk” because no one is close to being in a serious relationship. Everyone at the table would like to be, but no one is. This case is a replica of the same problem young adult communities face across the country.
Catholic ministries attempt to prepare young adults for marriage. But they forget that before you are married you need to be in a healthy relationship; and before you are in a healthy relationship it helps to have a healthy dating life; or just go on a date, for starters.
It is here that Catholic ministries generally fall short – everything that should take place between first acquaintance and engagement. In business, sports, friendships and every life other experience, “don’ts” only help us avoid what we do not want leaving us in a state of protective, non-productive stasis which is safe but goes nowhere. In this state we avoid falling into a harmful marriage but at the same time do not get any closer to a good marriage. We reach and pass our peak in life and while our talents are buried in sand, we’re just hoping someone will come by and dig them up.
This is due in part to the movement of the last few decades lower divorce rates. “Don’t get divorced, do things right” has been the priority message in Catholic ministries. While divorce is bad, spending 20 years of your post college life trying to find a good relationship and getting no where close to it isn’t a really hopeful scenario either. I think Catholic ministries should help singles find and attract the right people just as much as they want to help them avoid the wrong relationships.
The healthy marriage is where the Church succeeds. The healthy dating life is where the Church ministries fall short. We know it because if you ask ten young Catholic professionals how satisfied they are with their dating life nine of them will most likely rate it fairly low. It is not easy. It is not just Catholics who are confused about dating, the world is too. Not for that, however, should we avoid the topic and minimize our dating advice to a few moral do’s and don’ts. What is a healthy dating life? We’ll explore it next week, but for now I’d say it is much more than simply not living with your partner.