Principles for Christian Dating: A Young Catholic Man's Perspective

Author: Andrew Schmedieke

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PRINCIPLES FOR CHRISTIAN DATING A Young Catholic Man's Perspectives by Andrew Schmedieke There is much that could be written and discussed concerning dating and courtship. The activities involved in finding a suitable marriage partner has never been easy, but the climate of modern society with its constantly changing rules makes it even more difficult. Though this is a world of shifting sand, there are timeless, stable principles revealed by Christ through His Church by which the sexes are to conduct their relations with one another. The difficulty often consists in trying to figure out how to apply these principles to our present situation. I want to present to parents some rules, supports, and habits to encourage in their teenage children who are experiencing their attraction to the opposite sex in a new and heightened way. I will share some practical applications of scripture as interpreted by the Church, as well as insights from my personal experience. The Role of the Father Fathers, do not provoke your children, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children (Sirach 3:2). Few relationships are more important in the development of a teenager's sexuality (and relationships) during the time of dating than the relationship with the father. This essential role is largely overlooked in modern culture. Yet, sociologists point out that the mother is usually the central figure over-seeing relationships within the home, whereas the father is the guardian of the family's relationships with the outside world. So it only makes sense that his role in guiding his teenage children through the relationships which may eventually culminate in the children's founding of their own home is vital. Because the father plays an essential role in the dating habits of his children, he needs to work at developing a deeper, more personal relationship with his teenage children during this crucial period in their lives. However, this can be a little tricky. Those aspects of the father's relationship with his teenage sons that need to be emphasized are different than those he needs to emphasize in his relationship with his teenage daughters. This is important in order for the development of each relationship to be effective. Teenage Sons Train a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it (Proverbs 22:6). There are various things a father can do to attain a more personal relationship with his sons. First, he needs to seek God's strength, guidance and grace in prayer. By entering into a personal relationship with God as his heavenly Father and receiving His fatherly healing, strength, and love, a man will then be in a position to pass this on to his sons. He does this through developing a more personal relationship with his sons, renewing and deepening the bond he has had with them throughout their childhood. He allows them to share in his work, and also goes out of his way to spend leisure time with them, doing something they both enjoy--such as working on a hobby, fixing up old cars, camping, fishing, playing sports, or reading and discussing books. The father should also communicate his spiritual heritage by praying with his son and sharing his beliefs with him, fostering a more mature faith in his son. The way my father-in-law chose to do this was by periodically inviting one of his sons to go with him to early Mass and then to breakfast which provided an opportunity to talk. This type of father-son relationship provides a solid foundation of trust and friendship which enables the father to pass on to his son values in dating and relating to women. It is particularly important for the father to talk to his teenage sons about the changes that are taking place in their bodies. In fact, it is probably best for the father to discuss this with his son shortly before the changes begin--usually around twelve or thirteen years of age. An initial discussion of girls, dating, chastity and sex is good, but I'm convinced that follow-up discussions are necessary, especially during high school years and active dating. That way, when other questions about specific relationships and situations arise, they can be discussed. The important thing is to keep the channels of communication open. One pre- teenage "sex talk" is not enough. Responsibility for One's Chastity Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:15, 20). In earlier times, the boy often relied on the girl (for the most part) in communicating to him if or when he was beginning to be unchaste in his advances toward her. Thus, courtship would sometimes involve the boy going as far as the girl allowed him, while the girl tried to fend him off until marriage. Today's statistics on pre-marital sex demonstrate the weakness of this principle: If the girl doesn't fend him off, the man will tend to go as far as he can. Naturally, this often results in fornication. In my experience, the man must take responsibility for his own chastity. Not only should the woman help him behave chastely, but the man also needs to help the woman behave chastely. Teen boys should be taught to treat girls chastely and respectfully even if the girl seems unconcerned about it, or even acts in an unchaste manner. (Of course, if she continues such behavior, the dating relationship should be terminated.) The Father's Example Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them (Colossians 3:19).

Husbands, love your wives (Ephesians 5:25). "One of the best things a father can do for his children is to love their mother." This common saying is probably derived from Colossians 3:19 and Ephesians 5:25. A father who treats his wife lovingly and respectfully gives a potent, living witness that his sons can learn to imitate. Through their father's example, teenage sons come to know how to properly treat girls and how to behave with the opposite sex in general. Teenage daughters who see their mother honored and loved by their fathers can learn what treatment to expect by other men. Teenage Daughters If you have daughters, keep them chaste (Sirach 7:24). Teenage daughters need to experience their father's affection. Girls of this age tend to crave affection. If they don't get it at home, they will most likely look for it in other places from other people. Combine this with the increased sexual drive of teenage boys and you have a recipe for potential disaster. Daughters need to be shown by their fathers how they should expect to be treated by teenage boys (and other men). That is, they should expect to be treated chastely and courteously by other men. They should have a clear idea of when they are being treated disrespectfully or even unchastely by men. Dressing Modestly ...I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28). Women should adorn themselves with proper conduct, with modesty and self-control...(Timothy 2:9). While stressing the role of the father in sex education, the mother's role is also important. Both parents need to explain to their daughters the differences between men and women. A girl needs to understand and appreciate that teenage boys are experiencing a highly increased sex drive and are therefore often easily aroused by stimulus that girls may not understand. For instance, men are much more visual. Consequently, visual stimulus, such as seeing girls wearing short skirts or tight clothes, can strongly arouse a man. Some girls are especially naive about this aspect--particularly those who have boys their age as friends. They may say, "Well, the guys I know don't seem to be bothered by it." I would point out that this is something boys tend not to discuss with girls, but it is something that they talk about among themselves. Men are quite aware of the stimulating effect that a skimpily dressed female can have upon them. Though they may initially be strongly attracted to such a woman, young men will have greater respect for the girl who does not display herself in such a fashion. The world may call this sexist, but it is simply the way most men are. And parents should ask their daughters: Would a girl want to attract a man who was more interested in her body than he was in her whole person? In today's society, for a girl to dress somewhat immodestly is considered natural, attractive, "liberating," or just something a girl should do for her boyfriend. This is one case where the prevailing attitude of the culture cuts directly against the grain of Catholic teaching. Catholic teaching tells us that sex is for marriage and procreation, not for personal vanity. It can be difficult to get across to today's typical, good Catholic teenage girl that dressing modestly is an enormous help to chastity and a defense against many other temptations to impurity she will encounter. But parents have to try. Eventually, most girls will get the message--through personal experience, if nothing else. Once girls realize that dressing modestly is a way of respecting their dates and their friends, they are much more likely to do so. The general rule to follow here is that the clothes a girl wears should conceal, rather than unduly reveal, the contours of her body. Mothers can impress upon their daughters, through word and example, the necessity of dressing modestly, especially when on a date. Physical Affection and Sexual Desires Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth! (Song of Songs) Go not after your lusts, but keep your desires in check. (Sirach 18:30) Teenage girls should be taught to be extremely moderate in showing physical affection for boys they are dating. Typically, even if a boy is not intending to take advantage of the girl, he might let things go as far as she allows. So girls need to help boys behave chastely by avoiding long embraces, extended caresses, and long or repeated kisses. "French kissing" and passionate kissing are definitely out. These types of physical affection tend to arouse sexual passions in boys and strong emotions in girls at a stage of personal development when it is very difficult to control them. Usually it is more difficult for the boy to stop, but the girl too can be propelled by her emotions to give herself to unchaste actions. The only proper place for these expressions of affection is within the context of marriage. However, it is vital for parents to explain to their teenagers that sexual feelings or desires are not necessarily evil in themselves. But self-control, aided by Christ's grace, must be exerted over these passions in order to channel young adults away from unchaste actions and toward a chaste, holy marriage (or religious vocation or the single celibate state). Love, Marriage, and Sex For stern as death is love . . . Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away (Song of Songs 8:6). The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." . . . That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 24). I belong to my lover and for me he yearns. Come, my lover, let us go forth to the fields . . . There will I give you my love (Song of Songs 7:11-12, 13). Particularly helpful for teenagers entering into the dating arena would be for parents to tell about their own dating relationships: the infatuations they went through before they came to recognize and experience true love, the temptations with which they struggled, their failures and accomplishments in relating to the opposite sex, their joys and pains in dating relationships. Perhaps one of the most influential stories children can hear is the story of how their parents met, fell in love, and got married. According to the Vatican's , parents are to "prudently give [their children] information suited to their age." With that in mind, parents can begin to let their teens in on the "secret" that marriage involves sex, that it is a great good, and that the only place where sex even has the potential of being experienced. in a most truly joyful way is within a sacramental marriage. Sex may be physically pleasurable outside of marriage, but it greatly offends God and is mortally sinful. The effects of this sin are manifested through emotional and psychological damage and disillusionment, not to mention the possibility of contracting an STD (sexually transmitted disease) or becoming pregnant outside of wedlock. Here, example is the best teacher. By showing affection for each other in nonsexual ways, parents portray their sex life as satisfying and fulfilling. Thus, parents will help impress upon their children that sex is meant to be one of the great joys of marriage. Marriage is the normal and only place for sex. Everything else-- fornication [premarital sex], adultery [extra-marital sex], masturbation, and homosexual acts--are aberrations, and not an option. General Guidelines on When to Allow Dating Friendships with the opposite sex should obviously be allowed before high school, but this should be carried out by spending time with one another's families. No formal dating should be allowed. In high school, the decision of allowing a teen to date should be based more on maturity than age. Generally, a wise guideline is 15 years to 17 years for girls and 16 years to 18 years for boys. Trustworthy Catholic moral teachers agree that a person should be discouraged from entering into an exclusive dating relationship unless each partner is in a position to move toward marriage within a relatively short period of time. Since, in high school, neither partner tends to be in such a position, an exclusive boyfriend/girlfriend is best avoided. Rather, this is a time for both developing personality and maturity in relating to the opposite sex and setting the foundation for choosing a mate. This is best done by relating to a variety of people (such as through group dating or coming to know one another through each other's families), instead of focusing solely on one person. After high school, the teen is more obviously independent and free to pursue an exclusive relationship in preparation for marriage. However, even at this stage, it is beneficial for parents and their teen-age children to discuss dating relationships that develop. The guidance a teen receives from his parents in these matters can be of great worth. Who Asks Who for a Date? Young men rather than young women should directly initiate a date or dating relationship. This sets the right tone, since ultimately it is the man who proposes marriage to the woman and is to be the leader and guide in the relationship. If a girl is discouraged by this rule, perhaps a good way to help her to understand the wisdom of this rule is to show her how fulfilling this is to her self-esteem: (even though the right man may not come along for some time). If there is a young man that a girl would like to date, she can express her interest by giving him particular attention when the opportunity presents itself. If the man is interested himself, he'll mostly likely get the hint and ask her on a date. What should parents know about a specific date? Parents should have at least a general knowledge of what the date will consist of. With whom will their teenager be? Where? In what activities will they be participating? The recommendation of the Church is that Catholics should date Catholics. It's fine to have non-Catholic friends, but dating is a preparation for marriage. The Church discourages mixed marriages because, about nine times out of ten, they result in unhappiness for the couple. Therefore, parents should discourage their teens from dating non-Catholics. A Word of Caution The danger zone teenage couples should be aware of is the amount of time spent together and . This isn't to say that teenagers can't have time to talk privately- only that they should be aware of the dangers. It's much better for a couple to spend their private time involved in some activity, such as doing homework or working on projects or hobbies. This way, the teenager's attention and energy is directed away from the other person's physical presence, making it less likely that the visit will degenerate into unchastity. A note should be added here for those parents and teenagers regarding spiritual devotions. We may think that if we are involved in prayer alone together, we'll avoid being unchaste. However, my bride and I had found that, during our courtship and engagement, the reverse was true--usually after praying a rosary or other devotionals together, we felt closer and more intimate with each other, and we had to guard our actions. Even doing "spiritual" activities together isn't automatically temptation-free. Whatever specific dating rules parents set up, it is important that they discuss them with their teenagers. This will help the young people understand the reasons behind each rule. Teenagers need to know this. Particularly, parents should emphasize that the ultimate purpose of dating is to find a suitable marriage partner. Dating is best viewed from this perspective. (For descriptions of a fitting marriage partner, refer to Proverbs 18:22, 31:3 10-31, Sirach 26:1-18, Ephesians 5:25-32.) Spiritual Practices Since the adolescent years can be a difficult formative time, teenagers are in particular need of God's grace to help them through this stage of development. I strongly recommend the following spiritual practices for young people and their parents, as well as a dating activity for couples, as a means of grace and guidance through this important period in their lives: Daily Mass and the reception of Holy Communion. The actual Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, when received with the proper dispositions, is the greatest source of grace and strength. Monthly or even weekly confession. This heals one of failures, wounds, and sins. It gives one strength to overcome weaknesses. The daily rosary (at least five decades). The rosary, especially the family rosary, is highly recommended by the Church as a source of many graces. Wearing the Brown Scapular and Miraculous Medal. These sacramentals offer love and devotion to our Blessed Mother. The Virgin Mary and the Church have attached great graces to these sacramentals, which offer great defenses against temptations. Fasting and self-denial (penance). These practices have been recommended by the Church since its earliest days as a means of supporting the virtue of chastity. Penance can be as simple as eating foods one dislikes--without complaint. Still, the advice of a wise spiritual director is recommended in these areas. Reading scripture daily. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) Parents may find it helpful to use the scripture passages I have cited in this article as a means to initiate discussions with their teenagers about relationships with the opposite sex. Praying to know your vocation; praying for wisdom in choosing a marriage partner. In this matter, I particularly recommend devotion to St. Raphael the Archangel who assisted Tobias in finding a wife (for the story of Tobias and Raphael, read the Book of Tobit, specifically, Tobit 6:10-8:21). About four and a half years ago, I was introduced to St. Raphael as the patron angel of youth, and of those seeking a marriage partner, a chaste courtship, and a happy marriage. I began devotional prayers to him, and continued them although I experienced many disappointments and discouragements. Last summer I met Regina Doman and, over Thanksgiving, I fell in love with her. As we dated, I continued to pray to St. Raphael for his assistance and guidance, since I was sure that I wanted to marry her. Before long, Regina became convinced that she wanted to marry me as well. Through St. Raphael's intercession, we continued to be blessed with a joyful love and courtship beyond anything we had imagined; and we pray and trust that with our cooperation this will continue throughout our married life. Andrew Schmiedicke is a graduate student of Marriage and Family Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He was wed to Regina Doman, who assisted him in writing this article, on August 20, 1994 Reprinted with permission from , October 1994-January 1995