Often I’ll hear my friends talk about how hard it is out there in the dating world.
But you haven’t really felt relationship stress and confusion unless you were raised Catholic.
My dad grew up in Poland, a nation that’s practically more Catholic than the Vatican itself. He actually spent six months in a seminary studying to be a priest before he discerned marriage instead.
These kinds of mixed messages are a standard part of growing up Catholic. Combine that with the fact I spent a full twelve years in Catholic schools, including four years in an all-male Catholic high school an agonizing two miles away from the all-girl one.
We were taught sex education by my priest-principal.
I’ll never forget the nadir of my sexual education—when Father Tribou asked us, “Why is it bad to go steady?” and our class moron responded, “Because if a girl gets pregnant, her father knows who did it!”
Add in the trauma of high-school dances at which (just like the cliché) we either couldn’t slow dance at all or were separated by a yardstick.
Throw in heaping helpings of guilt, and the result is a whole lot more relationship confusion than most people face.
By the time I hit adulthood, it was almost enough to drive me to give up on dating all together.
Then one day I had a revelation.
I wasn’t even sure that I needed to date women who shared my religion. I knew this wasn’t the kind of revelation my Catholic parents were hoping I’d have, but I figured they’d come around.
So I decided to open up my dating field to non-Catholics. After all, I was looking for a connection, not just someone to attend Mass with.
Or so I thought.
It bothered me when the first non-Catholic woman I dated never seemed to understand why I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the robes and chalices of the Mass. The second one preferred getting her Sunday workout at Bally’s rather than experiencing the sit-stand-kneel rituals that I’ve come to call “Catholic calisthenics.” Our frames of reference were completely different.
In turn, I couldn’t relate to non-Catholic services because of their lack of awe and spectacle. I felt a fundamental lack of interest in those who didn’t practice any faith at all.
So I decided that from then on, I’d date only Catholic women, but finding them suddenly seemed confusing.
Here are a few lessons I learned that might help any Catholic single on the dating scene.
Pick a parish that fits your personality
There are what I call “party parishes,” churches in hip neighborhoods whose idea of a social outing is a ten-bar pub crawl on Saturday nights that inevitably leaves participants leaning over a toilet and begging for God’s mercy long before Sunday morning. But the women are so attractive that donating money during Mass feels more like paying cover.
If you think of the Communion wine as a pre-party aperitif, and believe that Jesus’ greatest miracle was turning water into wine, then you belong in a “party parish.”
If that’s not your scene, there are more conservative parishes where the singles are so reserved I call them “marriage monasteries.”
Here, a Friday night gathering of the singles group means having a potluck dinner and settling in for a long talk by a priest about the suffering endured by Christ on the cross.
The strange thing, though, is that these churches seem to produce five times the marriages that the party parishes do. Maybe hearing so many discussions of Christ’s sufferings actually makes lifelong monogamy seem like no sacrifice at all.
My point is, parishes have distinct personalities. Make sure it matches yours.
Be careful of gossip
Just because you’re hanging with a church group doesn’t mean that you’ll be protected from rumors and gossip.
I found that people take such an interest in who’s hooking up with whom at the party parishes or predicting who’s headed down the aisle next at the marriage monasteries that you’d think Vegas-level wagering was involved.
Be forewarned. If you’re in a relatively small parish, you’ll wind up running the same risks as living in a small town.
After dating a few people, word spreads like wildfire about how wild or pristine you are. You’ll be stuck in a category as the kind of guy who dates only one type—either ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ girls.
Unless you sit home reading the Bible, there’s no real way to avoid gossip entirely (even then, people will gossip about how you’re a shut-in because you’re sitting home reading the Bible).
But the more you gossip, the more you open yourself up to it. So try to mind your own business. Or, as we Catholics might say, “Do unto others…”
Don’t be afraid of the internet
There are more than 60 million Catholics in the U.S. (as the Bible says, go forth and multiply). Plenty of us choose to turn to online dating.
You can go the big, everyone’s-welcome route like Match.com, where members can but don’t always indicate their faith in their profile. But for the hard-core Catholic, there’s Catholic Singles (naturally!).
One enables you to judge whether someone is right for you based on just seven questions. These questions ask whether you adhere to church teachings on major principles, like whether you agree the Pope is infallible.
Ironically, most guys use these questions to see whether a woman is “naughty” or “nice,” based on how strong their allegiance to church teaching is. Most women will try to sound conservative and say they agree with all the ideals, but freer spirits will admit to disagreeing with a couple of things—like believing in contraception and premarital sex.
Imagine the mental hoops involved in answering those questions. Answer one way, and you sound like a candidate for sainthood. Answer the other and get labeled “loose”.
The beauty of truly reading through a well-written profile is that you can screen not only for people of the same religion and with similar values and life goals, but also for folks who like the same movies, music, and ice-cream flavors.
These may sound like trivial questions compared to your views on the Pope, but a Catholic girl who likes John Cusack, Bruce Springsteen, and butter pecan?
That, to me, takes “soul” mate to a whole new level.
I”ll be trying to explore dating from a Catholic perspective, using a healthy dose of humor, starting this week and every week going forward. Please leave your questions and interesting, funny dating experiences (online and off screen!) in the comment section and we’ll have some fun together en route to finding romance!