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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.
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
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.
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.
...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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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,
Reprinted with permission from ,
October 1994-January 1995