Get Married, Young Man, Part 1: Dating to Marry

photo-2-e1360861313726This post is part of a series on dating and marriage.

For years now, I’ve had an interested in World War II. I especially love reading first hand accounts of battle from the heroic and courageous men who fought in this war, such as those contained in books by Marcus Brotherton and Stephen Ambrose.

But stories of valor aside, I’m always entertained by how simply these war veterans viewed dating and marriage. The story of how they met their wives, contained in their biographical sketches, usually goes something like this:

“When I got home from my tour of duty, I was at an officers dance and saw Betty. She was the prettiest gal in the room. I told my buddy, ‘I’m going to marry that girl,’ and I asked her to dance. We’ve been married 55 years this year.”

In short, these young men came home from the war ready to get married and start a family. There wasn’t any thought of hooking up, or of dating on and off till their mid thirties, or of living in their parents basement until they landed a cushy job. No, they were more than ready for the responsibility of marriage and family. And they went looking for a wife, not a girlfriend.

Dating Intentionally

We could all learn a thing or two from the men of the “greatest generation,” especially the importance of dating intentionally.

If there’s one thing we modern men seem to struggle with, it’s indecisiveness. We just can’t seem to figure out what we want. So rather than setting a goal, like marriage, and pursuing it with gusto, we meander around, taking our time, waiting for some undetermined sign to reveal to us how we should proceed.

We find a girl we like and date her indefinitely. We might even get serious and talk about marriage, but we are afraid to commit. We’d rather play it safe and enjoy the benefits of emotional intimacy without any of the risk of a formal engagement.

But I can’t encourage you strongly enough—if you’ve discerned that your vocation is marriage, date to marry. Don’t look for a girlfriend, look for a wife.

RX10099C51BWhy do I say so? Well, there are several problems with dating without a clear goal of marriage. The first is that its unfair to your girlfriend. Women are much more likely to want clear commitment. While this isn’t always the case, it’s a pretty safe bet. If you’ve been dating for a while, your shared emotions are growing intense, you’re talking about children, and yet you show no sign of a proposal, your girlfriend is going to get impatient. And I would say rightly so. If you have no intention of marrying her, you have no business leading her on. But if you do plan to marry her, well, have a clear plan and make it official.

Second, the longer you date someone, and the more emotionally heated your relationship grows, the more opportunity you create for temptation to sexual sin. Now, the world has no problem with this, and the vast majority of couples engage in sexual activity before marriage. But as Catholics, we know better. It is not worth endangering your immortal soul, as well as that of your girlfriend, just because you don’t feel ready for marriage. Get engaged and have a short engagement if you must, but whatever you do, realize that the longer you wait, the harder it will be to stay chaste.

Finally, there is the issue of emotional intimacy. It is irresponsible, and I would say borderline sinful, to become intensely emotionally involved with a number of women you have no intention of marrying. Serial breakups, similar to serial hookups, can leave lasting emotional wounds for both parties, whether or not your realize it immediately.

But…

While I believe it is important to date intentionally, I fully realize that you may not marry the first woman you date. That’s fine, but you should at least enter relationships with the thought of marriage in the back of your mind and proceed accordingly. If you don’t think the woman you are dating is marriage material, you need to end the relationship, no matter how much fun you have together. That’s the only fair and gentlemanly thing to do.

The point is, marriage is a sacrament and dating is not. Dating is simply a discernment process. You should always be prayerfully asking if this is the woman God wants you to marry. If you already know she’s the one, so much the better. Once it has become clear that this is the companion you are meant to be with, don’t waste time. Pursue marriage. Make it happen. Yes, it might be scary, yes it might be a leap of faith, but be decisive and take action.

What are your thoughts on dating? Do you see any risks in dating unintentionally?

41 Responses to “Get Married, Young Man, Part 1: Dating to Marry”

  1. Nice article, as usually. I really appreciate what you do. Well this is the key passage, isn’t it, between what was commonly understood and accepted by men in the 40′s versus today? “Second, the longer you date someone, and the more emotionally heated your relationship grows, the more opportunity you create for temptation to sexual sin. Now, the world has no problem with this, and the vast majority of couples engage in sexual activity before marriage. But as Catholics, we know better. It is not worth endangering your immortal soul, as well as that of your girlfriend, just because you don’t feel ready for marriage. Get engaged and have a short engagement if you must, but whatever you do, realize that the longer you wait, the harder it will be to stay chaste.” Most young Catholic men do not think this way. They don’t believe in the soul, the reality of sin, the consequences of it, the idea of marriage as a true holy sacrament, etc. You say, “But as Catholics, we know better.” Do we? Without proper Catholic formation, which seems to be making a comeback, none of the rest of this will ever fly again. “Many marriages are not good, and they do not please God.” – Our Lady of Fatima

    • John Galt Reply

      @John

      Speak for yourself. This blog has 952 followers, and I don’t think all of them are 50 year old men.

      • Thanks, first John, for your thoughts. They are spot on, no matter one’s age. –Katie, 36

  2. “…Date to marry. Don’t look for a girlfriend, look for a wife.”
    What are the qualities in a wife I should be looking for?

    “Once it has become clear that this is the companion you are meant to be with, don’t waste time. Pursue marriage.”
    How does one pursue marriage? I’m afraid I’d bring marriage up too quickly before my girlfriend is “ready” for it.

  3. Paul Roese Reply

    well my experience and that of a number of fellows i know is it wasn’t the men who were the hold up as much as the women. the women in many cases wanted to get a career going, or travel or do something else before settling down. i always thought that marriage was mainly important for having kids. if one had no interest in having children then i wouldn’t see it being a big deal to date or keep company indefinitely. i don’t view sin’s of the flesh as serious as sin of the intellect which often are downplayed as not as significant. if i were to get married i only want to do it once so was not going to rush into one. the problem is also no matter how committed one party may be to the marriage if the other party has no interest in staying in the relationship it’s over. i have seen this happen a few times and in over half the cases it was the woman who bailed sometime leaving the kids too. things are more complicated than they used to be.

  4. As the grandson of a British war bride and a US veteran, I appreciate the sentiment and conclusions you garner, but I have to say, I feel you’re using the wrong example. So many war marriages failed or produced disgruntled, baby boomers who abandoned their parents’ worldviews–why? Because they rushed marriage in an uncertain time. I’ve read letters from my grandfather cautioning against marriage for it’s own sake, since it was the flavor of the time. As he put it, every American looked grand in uniform, but once they were back in civilian life, they might be completely different people.

    Date intentionally, but take God’s time. A good priest advised me to seek the daily vocation first. If you are committed to treating your significant other as a true child of God, then marriage shouldn’t sound like an alarm bell of impending urgency. I know of contemporary examples of good Catholics who went into such a powerful sacrament with just a bit too much naivete.

    • WildCatholic Reply

      I agree, some people just need to take their time in a relationship. I understand temptation grows with time and that people shouldn’t string a relationship out, but sometimes it takes time. For example, right now i’m single, but lets say I started dating someone. Should I marry this girl a year from now, even if I’m still in school and don’t have a job that can support her? I would say probably not. Sometimes a person to wait until it’s right, and all the while they should pray they remain chaste.

  5. @Nick M. I don’t think the author meant to say to marry quickly. All’s I heard while reading his article was not to date without the intention to marry. And I wholeheartedly agree. I married my very first boyfriend whom I met when I was 15, and he married his very first girlfriend whom he met at 18. We married not quite 2 years later being 17 and 20 respectively. We’ve been not just married, but very happily married 20 years this past August. And I don’t think I can agree with you on the statistics speaking against young people marrying early in their lives. It looks like that generation has awesome odds of staying married compared to those ever dating, finally marrying in their late 30′s couples of today. The reason they produced those selfish baby boomers who just dumped them at the first sign of the role reversal and them needing the help of their kids after sacrificing their whole lives for them, is not because they had dysfunctional families on account of them marrying prematurely. Rather, it seems like baby boomers were the product of people who because of all the hardships they had to endure in life (depression, world wars, etc.) focused so much on shielding their children from any natural occurring “gives” in the “give and takes” of life that I’m afraid they unintentionally created one of the most self absorbed, narcissistic species known to man. Anyways. I think the article was great and I agree with the author that the way relationships were formed back then is more healthy and produces better results than what we’re dealing with presently. I’ve been saying this for a long time now, but people were too busy waiting for me to file for divorce to add on to the statistics, to listen to what I had to say. My kids are already listening though. That’s why my 17 year old son refuses to date now, and says he’s looking for a wife, rather than a mattress. Good for him! And good for all those who are listening!

    • gary maccagnone Reply

      I agree. Our generation tried to shield our kids from the discomforts we endured. Thus, today, kids don’t even experience having to walk against the wind.

    • Jerry4Truth Reply

      I also agree, First off the example of the end of war marriages were of a society that was at the end of an era that had virtually lasted since the dawn of history.
      When America went to war in 1941, 80 percent of Americans lived on farms or ranches, and much of the other 20 percent lived in small towns.
      On average boys by age 16 were taught enough of the necessities of making a living to and would strike out on their own to start a life and hopefully be established enough by their mid to late twenties to be able to support a family, and then would start looking for a wife. Girls were usually considered mature enough to be a wife and mother by around 14 to 16 and would be the ones that the aforementioned young men would find most available.
      Up until the war very few women worked outside the home (which also usually meant the family’s business, be it farm, store, hotel, etc.) and most town and even some city folks had a few chickens or rabbits and maybe even a milk cow and a couple sheep or pigs. Until the 20′s and in some cases not until the 40′s many also had a team of horses for their wagon. Rural America did not get electricity until the 40′s and 50′s. Most small towns in the 20′s and 30′s, Cities and large towns in the 1890′s to the 1920′s.
      What has this got to do with marriage? Life was excruciatingly hard compared to what we are used to.
      Everything was done by hand from drawing water from a hand dug well and carrying it into the house or to the barn for the animals (and they drink multiple time more than humans), to grinding grain and making bread or washing cloths. And the same went for men in their assorted occupations.
      Homes were heated by coal, wood or cow-chip fed stoves, many times the kitchen cook stove being the only stove. The first person up in the morning would do so to get the fire in the stove going first off.
      People were so tired and warn out by days end that they went to bed around 8pm, getting up about 5am to start a new day. In the winter time you usually could see your breath when you climbed out of bed in the morning, one good reason kids usually slept three or more to a bed and infants with mom and dad. Insulation of building didn’t really start to become the norm until the 40′s. Many 1940′s and earlier homes still don’t have insulated walls and a few still don’t even have it in the attic.
      Life was hard, Hell on Earth, compared to what we have, yet people got married, had big families and stayed married for life. Furthermore they were as a whole very happy and enjoyed life and each other.
      So why did the majority of them stay married for life? Partly because it was the societal thing to do, more so because it was the most historically proven way to survive, but most importantly it was felt the proper thing to do in their hearts. Hearts that had a longing to be Loved and cared for and stronger yet a yearning to Love and to take care of someone else. After all weren’t we made in the image and likeness of our Creator and thus a reflection of His Nature.

  6. gary maccagnone Reply

    I did all of that and had a happy marriage for 32 years. Then I got blindsided by a growing phenomena occuring with wives in their middle ages. Perhaps that should be your next story. Too many shows like, Sex in the City, and Desperate Housewives, telling wives its OK to leave a marriage.

  7. This is such good advice. Unfortunately, the media, etc. tells young people just the opposite so they’re looking down the wrong streets for happiness. Thank you for posting this.

  8. Thanks, Gentleman, for your courage! I wouldn’t date a man who tells me: ‘You’re the only one… ’til I find someone younger and prettier’.
    Deus tecum!

  9. As an aside, where is the female wisdom in this, too? My experience has been heart break with women who do not want to marry but still want a serious relationship: and these are respectable, Christian women—-yet they’re thinking has been just the opposite of the Gentleman’s. Honestly, I have found myself subconsciously harboring a bad attitude now toward women my age, and I’m only 25. It’s not something I desire (and I’m working to be free from with my fellowship of men and priest), and I am only generalizing about this, but I’m only offering it here as an aside; yes, there is the gentlemanly way we men should honor and observe, but what of the lady’s way? Most ladies I have gotten to know (and it very well might just be bad luck in my sphere of the globe) do not have their hearts set on what is right and true—instead, they typically are more caught up with a career, a “chasing after the wind”. And remember please, I am only generalizing here.

  10. I’m a gal, so the view might be skewed… I was told many times by members of the elder generation in our family (that’s those that lived through WWII), “there are always those you date, and those you marry.” Then a hug or peck between the spouse and the person saying it.

    Both my mom’s “Eastern European” and dad’s “Franco-German” ethnicity and Catholic identity contributed to this, I naively thought.

    But as a young woman, a young wife and a way too young widow… I saw the “truth” of that declaration. In my life and in the lives of my friends and co-workers. Tried to impart this upon our children as they grew. One has heeded, the other has not, :(

  11. I think there’s a lot of general confusion around dating because there are so many people who apply the word to so many fundamentally different arrangements. Add on top of that the cultural ideas of ‘marriage’ (dating with a contract), and silly ideas about ‘soul mates’, no fault divorce, no fault cheating, etc etc, and you end up with a lot of confusion, even amongst well meaning christians.

  12. I think intention is important to talk about from the very beginning. She should know you are dating to find a wife. Clearly asking her out on a first date isn’t getting engaged, you still need to discern if she is the one. My husband and I took some time to get to know each other for a few months just talking after first meeting. Then we decided to court (dating to determine if marriage is for us) and after about 6 months of dating it was clear that marriage was for us and he proposed. We were married 9 months after that (which was just a year and four months after we first met each other). If you are open to talking about important things like kids, money, career goals, dreams, hopes, family history, etc. while having fun and enjoying eachother’s company, well then it’s pretty clear early on if marriage is going to work for you two or not. This was also not my first courtship – after several months courting another man first he and I realized we did have fun talking and spending time together but our futures had no place together as anything more than friends. Because we hadn’t crossed any emotional or physical intimacy boundaries we were able to step away from that with a friendship intact. There are a lot of great resources on courtship for Catholic Christians. Just like a man prepares and discerns for the priesthood through study and prayer. I fully believe the sacrament of marriage requires that same level of preparation (clearly in different ways) including the selection and courtship of your future spouse.

  13. I agree with most of this article but would like to add this: it’s one thing to stop leading someone on about a marriage that will never come, it’s another to say “now we can not even have a friendship” I don’t mean continuing to spend much time together, but people who see each other for so long may have a real friendship that shouldn’t be denied just because they aren’t called to marry.

  14. I would like to add that it’s important during the dating process to avoid spending time alone, because that’s the occasion of sin we need to avoid. A common mistake is to take this temptation too lightly, assuming you can handle it. If a couple make the mistake of having pre-marital sex, then any hope of an adequate discernment process goes out the window due to a severing of their relationship with God. There are serious consequences to sin. That’s why we need to avoid the circumstances that may lead to serious sins.

  15. Great post! I am actually a Protestant (sister in the Lord!) and have raised my children with this same concept. My daughter is getting married this May, to a wonderful, God-loving chaste young man who let it be known quickly he thought there was no point dating unless it was headed toward marriage. Their wedding will be a celebration of their love of God first and their for each other second. They have courted a long time, only because they met very young, when my daughter was in the sixth grade. They “liked” each other from her freshman year in high school, but didn’t go out on dates for three years! And even then, they met each other at locations and went out in mostly groups. He worked hard to get an associate degree while in college and will have graduated with a B,S. before they get married! It’s the Lord’s grace and loving guidance that got us here.

  16. This isn’t a ‘old’ generation phenomenon, my son (Army) dated a girl for 6 years, but you could tell that it wasn’t serious, but a relationship that was going nowhere. She wanted a friendly relationship, but was not ready to settle down. When he returned from Afghanistan (2002), just like the WWII vets, his experience changed him, he was a much more serious man. He ended the ‘friendly’ relationship, then married a wonderful woman, he met in the Army. They have an excellent marriage with 3 children, and he has turned out to be a son that anyone would be proud of. I’m not saying that you need to go to war to become more serious in your relationships, but it seems like our society lacks the discipline and commitments that are required in our relationships to each other and God.

  17. As for your first point, I have a bit of an issue with that. There are women (like me!) who enjoy romantic dating but don’t have a lifelong commitment in mind. Communication is key here, as with all relationships. It’s important to be up-front about commitment expectations so issues like this don’t arise.

  18. I started dating a girl 2 weeks ago and I had to ask the parents permission to date her.(This was one of her rules). We’ve also agreed to no kissing until the wedding. This was all discussed with her mom there. I started to pray for my vocation in life about 2 months ago and I think I got the answer. I discovered that people from both sides of the family were praying for us to find spouses. We both pray before and after going out. I’m so happy, but I ask for prayers for our dating process please.

  19. As a Catholic young man (19 y/o) who has been in a relationship before, I would say my case is an exception. I’m glad the author of this recognizes that not all women are about commitment, because my love wasn’t. From almost the beginning I was talking about forever. Eventually she confronted me about “being open” to it but not ready to say it yet. I thought this was reasonable; after all, I was 18 and she was 15, but I loved her (and still do) nonetheless. Anyway, close to the end of our relationship, she told me that she wasn’t looking for a serious relationship and that she didn’t want to invest time into a relationship, even though she had just said that she was going to stay with me when I went to college. A little over a month later, she broke up with me, saying that we were at “two different points in the relationship.” I was devastated, and I never saw her or heard from her ever again.

    It may be stupid, or even unfair to myself, but I still love her and still want her back. Since going to a good Catholic university, I’ve come to better understand what love really is and how to love. Since then, I’ve desired to truly show her love rather than just sentimentality and passionate feelings. I do want her forever, despite her flaws. And yet… Does she understand anything this article might have to say?

    Thanks for listening to my rant. Please pray for her and me.

    • Anthony, I’m so glad you have learned more about God’s plan for love that is truly a gift that your beloved (whoever that ends up being) will appreciate more than she may ever be able to express. Go back in time just over a decade (gosh that sounds like forever ago) and I was the 15 year old in this scenario. I even got “engaged” . But it truly wasn’t the right time. He grew away from God (and cheated), I grew closer, and life just pulled us apart. But then I thought I just needed to date several people after that and it wasn’t until college that I figured out God’s plan. Then I realized I had no business dating until I was free and able to get married. So I started being open to courting in my senior year of college. But until that point I prayed and focused on my relationship with Christ because “if a woman’s heart is buried in Christ a man must be seeking The Lord to find it”. All the best in your journey to your vocation and prayers for your future spouse whoever she may be :-)

  20. I was fortunate to not start dating anyone until college. When I did find a girl that I wanted to date the relationship always started out as a friendship. When that friendship grew to a point where I thought, “I would like to date” I would have a discussion with her about it and what dating was. It has been my belief, even from the first lady that I has the privilege of dating, that dating is simply discernment for marriage with one individual. I would make that clear before beginning a dating relationship. I would tell the young lady that I could see possibility of marrying her in the future and would like the opportunity to further discern that possibility with her through a dating relationship. I would ask for her agreement that if her or I no longer saw the possibility of marriage in our future that we end our dating relationship so that we could hopefully be able to maintain our friendship. And luckily for me, I am still friends with the few ladies that I was privileged to discern marriage with before by wife.

  21. Thank you for the series of posts you have left on this topic. Having just broken up with my girlfriend, a decision I find very difficult at times, these posts at least give me the comfort that I’ve made the right decision. Thanks again and God bless.

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