Who doesn’t remember the good old days of WWII love stories? Jimmy came home when the war was over and happened to meet Betty at the summer county fair. “She was the prettiest gal I’d ever seen.” And commenting to his buddy, he said, “One day I’m going to marry her.” And the rest is history. Jimmy and Betty had a happy marriage that lasted more than 50 years.
Back then, there wasn’t any thought of hooking up or of perpetually dating someone without having to commit. A guy also didn’t live in his parents’ basement until his mid-40s because he was afraid of the responsibility of marriage and family life. A young man didn’t just look for a girlfriend. He looked for a wife – someone who could be the future mother of his children.
And ladies? Young women didn’t hop around from guy to guy just for the fun of it. They waited for a real man: a man who knew the meaning of commitment, sacrifice, and unconditional love. And when he didn’t show up right away or when she wanted, she didn’t spend all day on the couch crying, eating ice cream, and watching chick-flicks. A young lady didn’t just look for a boyfriend. She looked for a husband – someone who could be the future father of her children.
And now? It’s pretty clear that the mentality has changed. The focus of relationships is no longer the same. Spending time together has shifted from discernment of marriage to being with the other simply because he or she is cute and fun to be with. We have replaced committed relationships with “I'll stay with you until I'm tired of you or stop 'feeling' like I'm in love.” Dating used to occur within the context of family activities, but now it’s even recommended by experts to date behind our parents’ back.
It’s true that the majority of relationships do not necessarily end in marriage, but some become so emotionally attached and intimate that the couple might as well be married. A breakup is almost like an emotional divorce. Why? Because dating isn’t based on true love and sacrifice, but instead mutual utility of the other.
Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, the world has molded and changed the way we view dating and relationships. It has altered the way we approach and prepare for marriage. We’ve come to a point where it’s necessary to ask, “What is the way that God has intended me to approach a relationship?” What, in other words, is the intention of dating?
The word “courtship” will probably sound lame and just plain out-of-date to most of us. You’re probably thinking: “Woo-hoo… I’m sure Jenny will just love coming over to my house to play board games with my family until she has to leave before 8 o’clock. That’s really practical advice.” Call it what you want – dating or courtship – but the point is that we should be intent on finding out if it’s God’s will for us to be with a particular person or not.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with becoming friends and spending time with the opposite sex, but if it’s a committed relationship, it should be entered into for the sake of discerning marriage. We are meant to glorify God in all that we do: even in dating.
So, what can you do? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- At the start of a relationship, pray and ask for God’s blessing.
- Have clear that the purpose is to discern marriage.
- Keep the families involved. How he or she treats her family will most likely be how he or she treats you when the feelings fade.
- Enter into the relationship with direction and be accountable to your spiritual director.
- Be prudent and pace yourself as you spend time together, keeping our Lord and our Blessed Mother present.
In a word: be intentional. If you’re not ready to move in the direction of marriage, then what’s the point?