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There is no Catholic teaching that says you should never date, or that courtship is preferred. While Holy Scripture is silent on these topics, the Catholic view is that dating should be with the goal of ending in marriage.
What is Courtship?
Courtship is a relationship in which a man and woman seek to determine if it is God’s will for them to marry each other. The specifics, such as how, when, and where, to court will differ for each couple.
Courtships do not always end in marriage. Sometimes couples who have been courting will realize that marriage is not the Lord’s will.
What is Dating?
The concept of dating is relatively new. From a Catholic perspective, dating allows Catholic singles to discern whether it is the Lord’s will for them to be together before committing to one another.
Two people will not be able to give their hearts away in a courtship if they are not in a position to make a real commitment.
For Christians then, dating can be viewed through the lens of a friendship, maintaining the friendship until they are ready for a deeper commitment.
Which leads to the topic of this blog post—which one is right for you?
There is no bright line answer to this question. Instead, the answer depends on three distinct and unique situations related to your life: your state in life, your season in life, and your circumstances in life.
Examine Your State in Life
Your state in life will determine how you view dating and courtship. Everyone has their own unique state of life. A male college student has a different state in life than a widow who has raised children. A twenty-something single mother has a different state in life than a never-been-married baby boomer.
Consider the following questions to discern whether you are being called to dating or courtship:
- What is your state of life?
- Are you looking for companionship?
- Are you discovering the different types of personalities that are compatible with your own?
- Do you see marriage as a far-off idea or is marriage something you are looking at imminently?
- Are you interested in and able to have children?
Examine Your Season in Life
Depending on your season in life you may view dating and courtship in a different light. Single young people are in a different season of life than single older individuals.
Women of childbearing age are in a different season of life than women who have gone through menopause.
Though men can have children throughout their whole lives, their season of life will change their perspective on having and raising children.
Older individuals may have seen friends make mistakes by rushing into relationships. At the same time, younger singles may desire to spend the time to get to know someone through dating, with marriage being far off on the horizon.
When considering your season in life ask yourself:
- How set are you in your ways?
- Are you concerned about having to make changes to your lifestyle to accommodate another person?
- Do you feel in a rush to get married?
- Do you feel time pressure to find the ideal spouse?
Examine Your Circumstances in Life
Everyone faces different circumstances in life. There is not just one blueprint for life that everyone follows.
Do you have:
- Financial stress?
- Job stress?
- Family stress?
- Health-related stress?
If you face any one of these factors in your life you may be leery of rushing into a courtship-style relationship.
If you have already been married and have had that marriage annulled, this is a circumstance which may leave you hesitant to enter into marriage and as a result, you may be less likely to want to court someone.
There is not one correct answer
Individuals will have their own unique outlook depending on their state in life, their season in life, and their circumstances in life. What you discern is correct for your life, may not be correct for someone else.
This could lead to very different expectations when it comes to courtship and dating. Recognizing these differences will help guide you once you land that first date.
Tolstoy’s Message—Doomed by No Examination
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is illustrative of the differences between courtship and dating. The story is the perfect example of what happens when individuals are not paying close attention to their own and others’ state, season, and circumstances in life.
Initially, the reader is introduced to the dating relationship between Vronsky and Kitty. Kitty is young and eager to get married. Kitty sees Vronsky’s every action as part of a courtship, yet fails to recognize that he is not looking for a long-term commitment to her. When he instead makes advances towards the married and older Anna, Kitty is beyond devastated.
Diametrically opposed to Kitty is Anna, who is married and a mother. She, of course, is in the wrong state, the wrong season, and the wrong circumstances to be courted. Yet, Vronsky ignores all of these facts and persistently and intensely courts her anyways, defying Anna, Anna’s husband, Russian society, and the Church itself.
Tolstoy’s message behind these doomed relationships is the message of this blog post.
- Consider what the Lord has planned for you based on your unique situation.
- Consider who you are by examining your state, your season, and your circumstances in life.
- Try to understand the other person’s state, season, and circumstances.
By doing so you will have a better understanding of whether dating or courtship is the best fit for your life.
Seek the Lord’s Will
We should make every effort to know and do God’s will when it comes to dating and courtship. God knows each one of us intimately. He has plans for each of our futures. If you are trying to discern whether God is calling you to date or be in a courtship:
- Seek the Kingdom of God first
- Listen for the Lord’s guidance
- Keep a firm purpose
- Keep your heart fixed steadfastly on God
- Act wisely
- Ask God’s blessing
- Enter each relationship with direction towards discerning marriage
- Seek guidance from wise mentors
Don’t sweat what other couples are doing. And don’t put unrealistic pressures on yourself or others by insisting that there is only one correct way to be in a relationship. In the end, it is your unique love story.