Traditional Catholic Dating Today: How to Stay True to Your Beliefs

traditional catholics

For a traditional Catholic, trying to enter into the online dating world can make you feel like a mouse at an elephant convention: it’s somewhat terrifying and it feels like everybody is looking down on you.

Any Catholic who decides to live a life of virtue  – and thus strives to model their lives according to church teachings on love and sexuality – immediately falls out of what is considered ‘normal’ in the ‘regular’ dating world.  So for many Catholic singles, they look within Catholic circles to find someone who shares their values.

This often starts close to home with local dating circles through networking groups or church events. But, for many people, they’ll expand beyond just local dating to catholic dating apps to find a larger circle of Catholic singles.

However, for a traditional Catholic, even congregating among fellow Catholics can still feel like a misfit of significant proportions. That’s because for most “mainstream” Catholics, if they’ve been exposed to traditionalism, it is usually in the form of the extraordinary mass and out of novelty, almost like a tourist attraction.

When a traditional Catholic meets a mainstream Catholic, it can almost feel like two people who speak very different dialects (for example: an American trying to speak with an Englishman who speaks cockney). You may be able to understand the words they are saying (sometimes), but it always doesn’t make sense.

Of course, this can cause problems in a dating relationship. For the mainstream Catholic (there’s gotta be a better phrase, right?), there will be a lot of “old” things which feel completely new and foreign. For a traditional Catholic, there will be a lot of explaining.

More importantly, there may be fundamental issues as it relates to how you view dating and the very purpose of dating.

In this blog post, I’ll take a look at:

  • How changes in the church’s celebrations have shaped our thoughts and views
  • Whether your dating habits should evolve with the culture of the church
  • Some traditional thoughts on dating
  • New school thoughts on dating
  • Whether we can effectively merge these two together (and why we might want to try)
  • What to look for in a date
  • 5 ideas for a date that can make you feel at home

The ‘Evolution’ of the Faith Over the Years

As Catholics, one of our bedrock principles is that we rely on an unchanging deposit of faith that has been passed down to us by Christ and the Apostles 2,000 years ago. Truth doesn’t change, but our knowledge of that truth deepens through the development of doctrine.

This development of doctrine often comes about to correct improper teachings that begin to take hold within the church. For example, the early Arian heresy lead to the development of doctrine on the nature of Christ as fully God and fully man (and an awesome story about St. Nicholas which isn’t true, but is still a good story).

The church also chooses how she administers her greatest gifts, the sacraments, in order to help shape the faithful in response to their needs and the needs of the world. So while the sacraments themselves do not change, how they are celebrated often do.

Even today you can attend valid liturgies that differ in form significantly from the mainstream Novus Ordo (English) masses most of us are familiar with. I’m personally aiming to attend a traditional Carmelite liturgy which predates the Tridentine liturgy. These different liturgies are designed to meet the needs of the faithful in different ways and to shape the church in different ways.

This is where we can see a difference in culture within the same faith. Although we share the same creed, cultures help form our deeper beliefs and convictions – what we emphasize and how we enter into the world.

So while most of the church moved on to a Novus Ordo experience, and all that goes with it (for better or worse), so went the laity and the culture, changing in response to how we are fed.

Of course, for traditional Catholics who intentionally (and, in some cases, with great sacrifice) choose the extraordinary form and the culture that this comes with, they are formed within this culture.

This isn’t to say that there is some great chasm between that which is of the new order and that which is of the old. We still share the same creed. Most traditionalists recognize the validity of the Novus Ordo and most mainstream Catholics appreciate elements of the traditional. But there is still a cultural difference that exists.

So traditional Catholic singles who are looking to enter into the dating world are left with a simple choice: stay within a small, somewhat limited group of traditional Catholics, or cross over that cultural divide? What is involved in making that jump, and can a relationship even work out?

Should Your Dating Habits Evolve to Match Modern Dating?

Of course, the answer to this question really depends on what is meant by “modern dating”. If we are speaking of joining the hookup culture of  Tindr or most secular dating sites, then the answer is a resounding “no”.  These services have effectively brought dating to a whole new level of objectifying another person rather than seeing the other person as a person and not an object to be had.

We don’t need to go that far with ‘modern’ dating, though. After all, quite a few dating and courtship practices have gone away such as the Victorian “I’m interested in you” card:

Victorian Acquaintance cards

Just as our liturgy has changed and impacted Catholic culture, our Catholic culture of dating has changed as well.

Should a traditional Catholic ‘evolve’ as well?

Traditional Catholicism Viewpoints on Love, Dating, and Physical Affection

While I certainly don’t speak for all traditional Catholics when it comes to viewpoints on love, dating, and physical affection, there are certain characteristics which seem to frequently stand out.

Chief among these are that traditional Catholics tend to have a much more purpose-oriented view towards dating or courtship. Dating and courtship are intended to discern marriage. This vocation-centered emphasis on dating has a ripple effect on the rest of their decisions and how they govern themselves within their relationship.

For example, the outside world may look at traditional Catholics as being somewhat ‘prudish’ when it comes to showing physical affection within a dating relationship. But for a traditional Catholic, this ‘prudishness’ is really a dedication to building a relationship that is focused on the person, not just the physical excitement of a new relationship. Physical signs of affection should mirror where a couple is in their relationship.

Of course, there’s research to show that couples who take this approach actually enjoy more fulfilling relationships. For example, in long distance relationships, studies show that these relationships actually end up stronger than those where a couple lives near each other.

New School Habits

There are plenty of Catholics who may not consider themselves traditionalists in the sense that they flock to the nearest Tridentine mass (even if that mass is hours away), but would still look at the traditionalist viewpoints on love and dating and wholeheartedly agree with those views.

What can I say? Wisdom doesn’t always change with the ages.

That said, you also don’t have to look very far to see that the world’s views on dating have certainly changed and that a lot of these changes have seeped into the lives of Catholics.

There seem to be two viewpoints prevalent in “New School” dating:

  1. Dating for personal fulfillment. Rather than dating out of a sense of vocation, many people today date for the personal fulfillment of being with someone who loves them and who they can love.
  2. Dating for the sake of dating. Because dating isn’t as vocation oriented, some new school habits view dating as an end by itself

A person may engage in an active dating life, which would include many of the physical affections that accompany a more serious relationship working towards marriage, without any real end goal in mind.

Lost in these attitudes towards dating is actually understanding what a “date” really is.  In a USA Today poll from 2014, there seemed to be significant confusion as to what makes a “date” a “date with 69% of respondents being unsure if an outing with someone actually constituted a date.

Again, not all non-traditional Catholics will hold to these ideas on love and dating. As with any categorization of a group, these are generalities. In reality, some non-traditional Catholics may not see harm in dating just for fun but have strict rules on how physical affection is shown while other non-traditional Catholics may share the same vocation-focused view that dating is for marriage.

Merging Traditional Viewpoints with Modern Day Dating

For a traditional Catholic, trying to find another Catholic single from a pool of Catholics who may not share the exact same understanding of the purpose of dating can be frustrating.

It’s not that other traditional Catholic singles don’t exist on the local dating scene (they do…), but they just don’t exist in the same numbers that we see on larger dating sites.

The fact is, chances are high that when you meet someone, they won’t have the exact same outlook on purpose of dating that you do.

So what should you do?

How to Stay True to Traditionalism and Enter the Online Dating Scene

When you enter the online dating world, there is no guarantee that the people you will meet will share the same values and outlooks on dating that you do.

Joining a Catholic site like Catholic Singles certainly makes it easier to find someone who shares your views, but it also doesn’t guarantee it.

The fact is, people of all different stripes wear the label of Catholic. Some people are truly just Catholic in name only while others are…well…just poorly catechized.

For a traditional Catholic who enters the online dating scene, it’s good to keep the following in mind:

  • Find a Catholic who loves Christ first and foremost.  The bedrock of a holy, healthy relationship should center around a love of Christ first and foremost. If you find someone who loves Christ, but may have more modern ideas of dating, they will likely appreciate and find a traditional approach refreshing.
  • Don’t be condescending or judgmental. First, being condescending is a terrible way to start any relationship. Understand that for many Catholics, understanding a more traditional viewpoint may seem prudish at first, but with Christ as the center of a relationship (see point #1) you can use that as the foundation on which to build.
  • Communicate your values early, but don’t lead with it. Nothing kills a possible relationship faster than opening a conversation with “I don’t want to kiss until we are married”. Not only is this a conversation killer, it also makes you guilty of placing an emphasis on the physical, rather than on the person. At some point, if there is interest in entering into a relationship, there will be an opportunity to have a serious discussion about values and expectations.
  • If your date doesn’t want to change, don’t expect them to do so. Look, there are real faith-based deal breakers. The biggest mistake anyone can make in a relationship is expecting another person to change. While it is one thing for a couple to grow closer to each other and closer to Christ in a dating relationship, it is another to wait around for someone to change who they are. That’s why #1 in this list is so important.

What Should a Traditional Catholic Look for in a Date?

Let’s start off by defining “date”.

First, I’m not speaking about a date in the sense of a person (i.e. “Here’s my date”), but rather the event of going out on a date.

And since the respondents to that USA Today survey were so confused as to what should or should not constitute a date, let’s define it as “two people intentionally spending planned time with each other for the purpose of building a relationship that is ordered towards a possible marriage in the future.”

If the word “marriage” scares you for a first date, don’t let it. Agreeing to go out on one date isn’t an interview for marriage. Rather, it’s a time to get to know someone to decide if you want to date (or court) them on a more exclusive basis which you can then use to decide if they are someone you would marry.

Ok, so what makes for a great date?

5 Ideas for a Date Focused on Your Faith

What makes for a great, faith-focused first date? Here are some ideas that might get the conversation rolling.

Tour a Cathedral or Basilica

Despite the efforts of the post-Vatican II reformers to whitewash some of the most beautiful churches, the history contained in many historical Cathedrals or Basilica’s requires a little bit more than removing some statues and painting over the walls to remove their great history.

Many Cathedrals will have a section set aside dedicated to their history which you can tour together.

For example, in 2015 the Cathedral of St. Paul had an exhibit called “100 Years of Marriages” in which they displayed hundreds of photographs from their 100 year history.

A tour of a Cathedral also gives you the opportunity to spend a little time in prayer together which is a beautiful way to kick off any date.

Get Out and Hike

Not every “faith based” date needs to begin in a church. Take your date outdoors and go for a hike!

Hikes can make great dates as they create plenty of space for conversation, but also have the benefit of focusing on the hike itself to keep things moving (literally and figuratively).

When a first date is focused entirely on the conversation (over coffee, for example), it can be easy to stumble into awkward moments. But activities like a hike give you an easy fall back as you can talk about the beauty around you and the goal of your hike (if you are hiking to a destination).

Go to Mass Together Followed by Lunch

For some people, starting out a first date with mass might feel like a bit much. But if you want an easy place to initially meet, and if you are both going to mass anyway, this can be a great way option for a first date.

Not only do you get to start off your time together in prayer and with Christ as the center, your conversation afterwards will likely focus more heavily on matters of faith.

Engage in a Service Project Together

Like hiking, having something to “do” during a date is a great option if you are worried that you aren’t the best conversationalist or if you simply want to avoid the awkwardness that is small talk.

Engaging in a service project has the added benefits of having a clear focus which is outside of you and your date: serving someone else. And as you and your date serve someone else, it will naturally form a friendly bond which, with God’s grace, may develop into something more.

Join a Parish Activity, then Head Out Later

Most parishes have ample activities and opportunities to interact with other parishioners. In some parishes this might be classes or a talk on a particular topic, or it may be regular rosary or a reading of the Divine Office.

It is easy to meet friends through these events.

If you are looking for a first date idea, invite your (hopeful) date out to one of these activities, then plan to head out after, either for lunch, dinner, or just to take a walk.

Starting your date with a group of people can lighten the mood and help reduce the stress that can come with a first date.

Conclusion: There is a Place for Traditional Catholics in the Modern Dating World

For many traditional Catholics, trying to find a date who shares your values can feel like an impossible task. Between a world that has ever changing ideas on dating and love and people who wear the name of “Catholic” without really knowing what that means, it can be tempting to think that dating simply isn’t going to happen.

But the reality is that there are a lot of Catholics who share your views. And outside of that group, there are a lot of Catholics who love Christ and may find a traditional outlook on dating to be refreshing and beautiful.

Of course, finding other traditional Catholics isn’t always easy, but fortunately there are a few good online Catholic dating sites that can help (did you see what I did there?).