ASK FATHER: Near occasions of sin when dating

From a reader…


Fr. Donald F. Miller C.S.R.R. wrote in the pamphlet “Questions Young People Ask About Marriage” among other things that dating with no intention of marriage in a reasonable time is a near occasion of sin [high risk of a loss of chastity in that situation]. Is this true? If it is, should kids stop dating in grade and high school? If it is, why have virtually no priests said a word about this, save Fr. Miller in this pamphlet from the ’50s?


Fr. Donald Miller was a Redemptorist priest and author active in the middle part of the 20th century. He appears to have written a number of good books and pamphlets, particularly dealing with moral questions. I can’t say that I’ve read his works, or am familiar with them, but on the surface, things seem pretty solid. His books have nihil obstats and imprimaturs.

However, Fr. Miller is not the magisterium. It’s important to note that, when a censor gives a book a nihil obstat, he is merely saying that nothing in the book contradicts Church teaching. It is not necessarily an endorsement of the book or the ideas therein.

When Fr. Miller wrote his pamphlet on dating, in the 1950’s, the cultural scene was much different than it is today – mostly it was better, but there were some things that were worse. Fr. Miller may have had some solid arguments for stating that dating without an intention to marry is a near occasion of sin, because such relationships might lead to being in danger of unchaste activity. While putting oneself in a situation that is, for one, a near occasion of sin is a morally questionable act, there was not then, nor has there been since, any solid magisterial pronouncement on the propriety or not of dating.

Putting the question into the context of today’s situation, I think we have to clarify exactly what “dating” means today. Among young people, so I hear, there is great pressure at a very young age, to put oneself in unchaste situations. As tragic as sexual activity within the dating scene of the 1950’s was, things have gotten so bad in many places that there is very little “dating” – merely sex, or “hooking up” as the current phrase goes. Thanks for this goes to the sexual revolution, the omnipresence of contraception, and the Hollywood culture that regularly broadcasts sex without consequences. Our young people navigate a world fraught with great dangers.

In this situation, there are some bright spots. Many good, virtuous young people are standing up to the culture that tries to get them to believe that this most intimate physical activity of which we humans are capable is nothing more than some enjoyable sport. There are young people who “date” – who see each other socially, spend time together, go out to decent movies or engage in sporting activities together and strive to remain chaste and virtuous as they discern God’s will in their lives. I think, since there is not any clear magisterial teaching on the matter, we are called to use our judgment – in conversation with our pastors, our parents, and other wise people in our lives.

As long as one is mindful of avoiding near occasions of sin, I think that appropriate dating can be a good way for young people to learn social skills, to discern God’s will, and even grow in holiness. At the same time, I do think that dating someone whom one would never marry can be a dangerous thing. Especially with teens, parents absolutely have a say in whom their children can and cannot date. Dating someone who does not share our Catholic faith, someone who is not interested in living a life of holiness and chastity, someone who has a history of past bad behavior – all of these things should be carefully examined by the parents as well as the one interested in dating. A common interest in a certain kind of music, or an attractive physique, or a mutual hatred of the Chicago Bears might be an attractant, but do not provide a solid foundation for a a potential marriage.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. John Grammaticus says:

    A sort of related question (either Fr or other readers can answer)

    A good friend of mine is getting married next year, and I hope (please God) to enter the Seminary as well, now I get the following:

    a) that my friend’s relationship with her Fiance is going to be the most important human relationship she’ll have once she’s married
    b) that the change that comes with marriage (and hopefully my ordination) will change the nature of our relationship.
    c) that we’ll both have to put certain boundaries in place which aren’t currently there to avoid even the appearance of inappropriate behaviour.

    The question is, given the above how do you maintain social relationships with members of the opposite sex when they married / are ordained? e.g. I’m a big fan of letter writing, indeed I’m acquiring a reputation as someone who would rather write a letter than engage in instant messaging, would it still be OK to write to her on a regular basis (as a friend). Whilst as a gentlemen I realise that my relationship with my friend must decrease once she is married (and hopefully becomes a mother as well), I don’t want for it to wither on the vine due to lack of contact either.

  2. catholictrad says:

    The examination of conscience we use at our TLM-only diocesan parish specifically mentions dating with no immediate prospect of marriage, suggesting “within one year” are a reasonable parameter. No doubt it is a good rule-of-thumb, but we should differentiate between spending time in public places with a person of the opposite sex and “dating”. An easier rule, if you would be ashamed and need to explain if Father walk up at that moment, then you are at the very least in the near occasion of sin.

  3. donato2 says:

    I don’t appreciate the gratuitous dissing of the Chicago Bears.

    [I dunno… it seemed okay to me.]

  4. Thorfinn says:

    Pre-teen dating should be out, period.

    Teen dating (in terms of a steady boyfriend/girlfriend) is a sort of practice for married life. Among other things, teens practice unchaste behaviors & infidelity — if you don’t like who you’re with, you dump them for someone who might be better. Both of those lessons translate very well to married life, extramarital life, divorced life, re-married life, and so forth. Some parents allow occasional dating, where one may practice social graces with the opposite sex — but no steady boyfriend/girlfriend.

    Fr. Miller’s guidance is particularly relevant to adults: how many today are sucked into a multi-year live-in arrangement with no concrete probability of marriage! How much of that is driven by a need to fill spiritual emptiness rather than a positive desire for love & marriage?

  5. lmgilbert says:

    “Thanks for this goes to the sexual revolution, the omnipresence of contraception, and the Hollywood culture that regularly broadcasts sex without consequences. Our young people navigate a world fraught with great dangers.”

    To me, this analysis is naive on several counts. For one thing, at 74 I can report that to my very great surprise we are ALL navigating a world fraught with great dangers, and they are the same dangers.

    Secondly, I am up to here with blaming this situation on the sexual revolution, the contraceptive mentality, and Hollywood. No, we have had no and I mean NO leadership in resisting the dominant culture in any sort of effective way. There was the Legion of Decency at one point; there was Morality in Media, but there has been no effort and I mean NO effort to pry secularizing and hedonizing vectors of “the culture” out of the Catholic home. For bishops and priests who should be leading the resistance there was the major problem that this would mean coming off as prudes. It would mean asking the Catholic people to be different, when what we want almost more than Heaven itself is to fit in.

    Hellfire and brimstone are “out” and have been out for a long time, but winsome is in. Smile. be nice.

    We are against abortion, thanks be to God that we are against something, but we are not effectively against all the forces that lead to abortion in the first place. We have official positions, but against all the many cultural streams of pornography (especially the eminently permissible “soft” pornography streaming into all our homes and laying down the primrose path that leads to Hell), premarital sex, shacking up, etc. that lead to abortion we have comparatively little to say. But when these cultural streams form a mighty flood that is about to cascade over the precipice that is abortion, THEN we pipe up. We are “pro-life.” Are we? I wonder. Officially, yes, but effectively no, since we will not take on the forces that lead to abortion, the corruption of our young, etc.

    One evening many years ago, when I was young and very naive, I finally was able to make out the words to the Mash theme song, “Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes.” This shocked me. Given the extreme suggestibility of so many people, there was no doubt that this siren song would lead to actual suicides. Surely if our pastor knew this, he would condemn it from the pulpit! My indignation energized me, and I walked the mile and a quarter into town to knock on his door to apprise him of this scandal. This was ludicrous, of course, but all along the way I saw the deadly gray light of the television playing on the curtains of my fellow human beings. I kept going even after realizing that my mission was ridiculous and finally arrived at the rectory. Flickering on the curtains was the same gray light.

    THAT is the problem. Not Hollywood, the contraceptive mentality or the sexual revolution.

  6. Ave Crux says:

    We live in a culture where there are no longer any moral boundaries whatsoever. Everything young people see in the media actually encourages them to be sexually active; they are even taught this in school, along with methods of contraception (as one who remembers “sex ed” even in the early 70’s).

    If circumspecton about early dating being a near occasion of sin was advised in the 50’s, how much more so now when immature young men and women have not only been hypersexualized by our culture, but teen pregnancy has sky-rocketed!!! We are talking about ruined lives (possibly even abortions), not just a mortal sin to be confessed.

    We don’t need “magisterial teaching” to urge parents and children to use common sense about how much more dangerous (!) dating is today than it was 60 years ago.

    The great Father Hardon, S.J. once said that Catholic fidelity in today’s world world requires the heroism of sanctity.

    We now need to be at war with this world of absolute hedonism. Teaching our young from an early age what that heroism is and looks like includes a standard of “courting” that is proper only to a truly Christian civilization.

    We are in a fierce battle for the souls of our children and teens…any truce with a world that actually grooms our children at a young age to be sexually active could easily mean young lives in ruins before they even get to college.

    It also needs to be remembered that however much one trusts one’s own child, one can never know for certain about the character of that child’s peers.

    Furthermore, nothing so blinds the intellect or weakens the will as near occasions of sins against purity; how much more so for children and teens who are emotionally and spiritually immature and well-nigh defenseless in a culture saturated with pervasive sexuality, immorality and “free love”, together with unhealthy peer pressure.

    Our Lady at Fatima even cited sins of the flesh as THE major reason for the eternal damnation of most souls: “More souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other sin…”

    Our Lady warned us!….let us take heed, especially for the young who cannot see clearly enough the dangers in such occasions, and who fall “little by little”.

  7. Ave Crux says:

    P.S. furthermore, a priest I know once explained to me that sins against Chastity admit no parvity of matter. Any dalliance with such temptations is already a mortal sin. Do we understand the tragedy of mortal sin in a soul? The gravity of such offenses against God….?

    We need to get back in touch with the full spiritual reality of sin, eternity, the nature of the soul and how it is damaged by sin.

    Let us live the Faith with all its blessed exigencies.

  8. jarocookies says:

    This is very interesting and seems very balanced. When I was a young teen, the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was all the rage in my Protestant community. (I believe the author has since gone on to apologize for some or even all of the ideas he preached in the book.) Courtship, not dating, was the proferred solution, and if anyone here is familiar with the Duggar family you’ll get the idea. All activities chaperoned or conducted in the presence of the parents, boy must ask dad for permission to court daughter, etc.
    The Lord in His mercy protected me–against my will!–from dating for nearly all of junior high and high school and college. It was miserable then, having hopelessly unrequited crushes and feeling left out of the seeming bliss other people were experiencing. But in hindsight, it was certainly an act of protection against my own immaturity and concupiscence.
    I have one daughter and two (soon to be three) sons. My oldest is almost 7, so we’re a few years away from the onslaught…but I do wonder what guidelines we will put in place. One seasoned mom who spoke to our moms’ group last year suggested establishing all your dating guidelines contractually with your children when they are 11 or 12 (i.e. still probably thinking that boys/girls are kind of gross and likely to find all of your rules pretty reasonable!) She said it worked well with her girls.
    I, too, think about the difference between dating in the 50s and dating now. Dating now is, as Fr. points out, hardly even a thing. It’s all about hooking up, sexting, etc. But at that time dating was the step before “going steady.” You might go on dates with lots of different guys or girls and no one would consider it promiscuous. Then you might narrow down your dates to one special person with whom you wanted to date exclusively, and that with an eye towards marriage. Nowadays a girl who went on dates with multiple guys would automatically be assumed to be a tramp, since dating now carries with it the automatic assumption that of course you’re sexually active with the person from date #1 (if you’re even lucky enough to have some kind of organized activity or date first). It’s really sad.
    As an aside, this is why I think swing dancing or ballroom dancing is a really great activity for young people (and for everyone, really.) You get all the excitement of meeting, mingling with, and even touching the opposite sex in an environment with its own etiquette and rules for engagement, so to speak. You can dance with lots of different people and there’s no assumption that “it’s serious.” You might go on to get to know someone better or even go on dates with them, or you may not. No expectations that there will be anything to happen after the dance is over. Plus, it’s fun, good exercise, and great music.
    Contrast this with the typical prom or high school dance, which is all bump and grind music, darkened rooms, focusing on your date only (if you brought one), and there’s usually an expectation that there will be a hookup afterwards. I’ve read that May tends to be the busiest month for abortions, being the month after most proms are held.
    I know the 40s and 50s weren’t perfect, but if we returned to those types of social activities for teens and young people, I’d feel a good deal cheerier about the climate for my kids’ adolescent years.

  9. sibnao says:

    Well, first off, priests should be reminding parents that one of their first duties is to form their children for their future state in life, and that for most kids, this will be marriage. What did not need saying five decades ago needs explicit saying now: Show through example what a good wife/husband is, and direct your youth in gaining the character that will allow them to be a good wife/husband. Even future priests need to know how to be a good husband! (Hint: It has very little to do with earning money and a whole lot to do with self-sacrifice, perseverance, and courage.)

    However, it is up to parents to figure out, given their kids and the culture at large, how we form the children for their future vocations. I would argue that there is literally no reason that children who are only just barely pubescent should be thinking about, much less acting on, sexual and romantic commitment. Any parent who has a 13-year-old knows exactly how young he still is, how little he can govern himself, or be generous, or know his own mind. So dating, romantic interaction of any sort, can only be a kind of play at best, or at worst a dangerous formation of bad habits towards the opposite sex.

    As to older teens, again, the question for parents to think about and decide (not to dialog with the kids, but to decide in their best interests) is — will romantic behavior (one-on-one activities, hand-holding, kissing, sharing intimate thoughts and feelings, building shared experiences) help them to become the sort of adult who makes a good spouse? Will dating, even in its chaste form (if there is such a thing, and believe me, parents of young kids, it will involve CONSTANT supervision on your part), contribute to this kid’s moral excellence and preparation for marriage?

    Suffice it to say, our own opinion is that the culture is so saturated in sexual sin, that my husband and I have simply forbidden exclusive relationship behavior for our high schoolers until they are 18. We are glad to see them go out in mixed groups, make friends, have parties together, etc, and we regularly host these so that our kids have many chances to interact with the opposite sex. However, we do not allow any kind of one-on-one outings, even if just to go to Mass together! We don’t allow them to go as a couple for school dances, and if we see that there is a lot of e-mailing or texting with a certain person we sometimes have had to remove the child’s e-mail or phone privileges. And we do not offer a “contract,” because we do not require their agreement: we think this restriction is for their moral and character-building good.

  10. APX says:

    On the other hand, we have priests from the FSSP who have stated that one should discern that one has discerned whether or not one is called to a religious vocation before one starts dating. The logic being that ounces feelings, emotions, and hormones get involved, it muddies the mind and reasoning behind choosing the better good.

  11. hwriggles4 says:

    Dating without the purpose of getting married – for younger people, I could see (and from experience) a guy asking a girl out so he can have a date for a college semi formal, or a company Christmas party, nothing wrong with that.

    Now, for men and women who are in their late 20s and older, it’s really a waste of each other’s time to date for more than 18 months. Men, if you aren’t going to propose, go ahead and break up. There may be some hard feelings, but you are denying a woman from finding her true love (full disclosure – been there, done that. Hard? Yes. Worth it in the long run? Yes. Stayed out of divorce court and the annulment tribunal? Yes.)

    It seems committed Catholics marry later too. Part of it is our culture, and it’s slimmer pickens finding people with good values than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly those who wish to remain chaste before marriage. I have quite a few Catholic friends (men and women) who married in their 30s, and if both of you want to have children, your chances are much better if you marry before 40. Even adoption agencies look at age (and age differences between spouses) when couples are seeking adoption.

    I have found that through most of my married friends, many struck up a friendship with one another before dating/courtship began. As some good Catholics are meeting online, one Catholic dating site discourages pen pals, saying if you don’t physically meet within 3 months (i.e. travel from Philadelphia to Los Angeles is much longer than setting up a Saturday lunch date where the guy is in Milwaukee and the girl is in Chicago) you are wasting each other’s time. I think that’s good advice.

    Fr. Z and Fr. Ferguson, thank you for looking out for single Catholics. I am a Catholic single myself.

  12. I like Fr. Ferguson’s advice. Here are my thoughts:

    – There is dating and there is dating. There used to be such things as double-dates, and in college, many of us would go out, guys and girls, together. Some, but not all, in the group, were also part of a couple. Carried out the right way, such dating serves a good purpose, as Father F. said.

    – I would add another, that Father did not mention, and this may surprise some, but I believe it: the right sort of socializing with the opposite sex will help with chastity.

    I say this I believe a great deal of solitary impurity, with or without porn, works as a kind of substitute for real, human encounters. To put it another way: real relationships are more work and can be scary, but they are vastly more fulfilling. Retreating into oneself, into fantasy and so forth, is an easy escape. Many who are bound up in these habits need to get out more with other, real people, doing ordinary things.

    Now, of course, any time a boy and a girl are spending time together, and attracted to each other, there are pitfalls. But the answer isn’t simply avoidance, but learning the right ways to socialize.

  13. Ages says:

    A relative of mine, who is graduating high school, recently went through a painful break-up because he said the “m” word (marriage) to his long-term girlfriend. This has surely happened to many young men and women who are trying to do things God’s way.

    So from my perspective, I would never encourage young people to date until they are sufficiently mature and in a position in life to discern matters of lifelong commitments. What is the point of setting up painful break-ups, and placing oneself in situations to be tempted?

    Young people: Keep your circle of friends large. Have fun with them, and don’t get into serious romantic relationships until you are ready to take them all the way to the foot of the altar.

    Yes, depending on your circle, you may be ridiculed—sometimes mercilessly—for being a virgin. So what? Smooshing genitals together isn’t worth going to hell over. Take the Mother of God as your patron and soldier on.

    And if nothing else, for God’s sake, PARENTS: know what your minor children are doing, and who they are doing it with! I never cease to be flabbergasted by parents who are completely oblivious to their children’s activities between school and curfew. That’s not how I was raised, at least, and I’m a millennial. An ounce of prevention…

  14. asburyfox says:

    Fr. Miller’s advice is perfectly fine. I am not a proponent of teenage dating. Unless you have two very mature responsible teenagers who are ready to get married and start a family at 18, there should be no teenage dating because dating is only for finding a spouse. The vast majority of teenagers are too immature for dating. They either need to mature younger or put off dating until after high school. Fr. Miller’s advice is perfectly fine for adults or those ready for marriage. After a year, you should know whether or not that is the person you are going to marry.

  15. Barnacle says:

    J G, ‘I don’t want for it to wither on the vine due to lack of contact either.’

    Some backing off will be required of you, surely. However, as part of this perhaps your friendship could expand to include your friend’s spouse? Always. No exclusive communication. ‘Dear Helen and Christopher,’ or, better still, ‘Dear Christopher and Helen.’ No losses and plenty gains all round? With opportunities for you to show your deep respect for the Sacrament of their Marriage, a bond which at its foundation does not include you?

  16. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    In American Colonial times, young men and women in the early stages of courting typically didn’t go out alone. Instead, the young man would visit the home of the the young woman, and sit and converse with her of an evening in the main living room of the house, usually in the presence of the entire family. Sometimes he would share in the family meal. If the parents approved of the young man, finding him respectful and trustworthy, and the young woman was in agreement, the courtship might continue to the engagement phase. Then the couple might walk out together and take the air on a pleasant afternoon. This could mean walking together around the village green, or along some scenic lane, perhaps along a nearby lake or river bank. In the Southern colonies there might be parties and dances to attend in family homes, with parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all present and mingling with the young people. In the Northern colonies, among the Puritans, all music and dancing was frowned upon, but ways might be found for young lovers to draw near to one another. During the cold New England winters, in homes without any heat except that of the fire in the hearth, parents would take out the “bundling board” which was used to divide the big bed in the best bedroom down the middle. Courting couples would then be put into the big bed together, separated by the bundling board, and each under his or her own stack of quilts and blankets. There they might converse quietly and pass the time together. I suppose that a parent or other older relative was usually in the room the entire time, sitting in a chair, wearing a quilt over his or her shoulders and reading or doing needlework, or repairing equipment by candlelight. In about twenty-five degrees. These were hardy folk.

    This was a form of “teen dating,” but in Colonial days many a newlywed couple might be in their late teens or early twenties. Usually the young husband was several years older than his teenaged bride.

    I dated plenty, but also when I began to see a great deal of a young man, I often invited him to our family home. There we would sit around the dining room table with my entire family, drinking coffee or tea, listening to music, eating snacks, and chatting together about various things. I always enjoyed spending this kind of time with my family and with the young man, and almost always the young man would enjoy these kinds of visits, as well. It was a refreshing break from the pressure of being “on a date,” but still to be in each others’ company.

    My father was quite a brilliant intellectual, but very politically conservative, and had an irascible personality. In college, I was seeing a young man who was also a brilliant intellectual, but was very liberal, and quite free with sharing his ideas (to put it mildly). This one I had over to the house only at times I knew my father would be away from home. I wanted to keep them apart as I was sure their two personalities would be combustible. However, once by accident they did meet, and to my astonishment and disbelief, they took to each other right away. Soon they became boon companions in conversation, so much so, that on more than one occasion, listening to a conversation I didn’t understand between these two, and that was lasting into the wee hours, I grew increasingly bored and sleepy. At last I would say good-night, and head up to bed, leaving my father and the young man chatting and arguing together about Lord-only-knows-what.

    I believe young people and middle-aged people do need each other and can enjoy each others’ company, if a way is made for them to do so. I think a gathering of close family members, in which different generations and ages are mingled, is the healthiest possible medium for courting to take place.

    I also know from experience that when a young couple develops the habit of spending unsupervised time together away from the “prying eyes” of responsible older people, that sooner or later, temptations difficult to resist that might progress to transgressions against purity are almost inevitable, if only internal transgressions. Such occasions may be viewed by some as necessary evils, but justifiable only, I believe, if the couple involved are eligible to marry very soon. I believe parents of teens still in school are wise to arrange to keep such occasions to an absolute minimum, if at all.

    I also believe wise parents will teach their children that dating is best reserved for young people on the lookout to meet and marry that special someone *in the very near future,* that is, for young people who are certain that marriage is the will of God for them, and who are also *old enough,* *mature enough,* and have the accomplishment of certain key educational, career, and financial goals under their belt, and for whom marriage within the next twelve months would be a prospect they would welcome, and could handle. Young people who are not old enough, not mature enough, and who are in the midst of devoting themselves to demanding educational or financial goals, or ramping up a new career, and for whom therefore, the prospect of a marriage in the *immediate future* would seem inconvenient, shouldn’t be doing unsupervised, paired-off dating, at all. In my experience, doing so would represent a needless and pointless occasion of sin.

  17. Imrahil says:

    The thing is called “occasion for sin” because it’s an occasion for sin. If it is not that, it isn’t.

    Now of course there’s much to be said for also avoiding “situations commonly supposed to be occasions of sin in general”, but what was scandalous fifty years aho need not be so now.

    A parish that says “dating with no immediate prospect for marriage where immediate means within one year” is far off the hook, TLM or no. Around here that’s called “engagement”. Dating is about finding out whom to engage with.

    Be ashamed if your pastor runs up can mean near occasion of sin; it can also mean that he is too strict and you don’t want to upset him (and feel the effect); it can also mean that you are in love and want to do the step into publicity together. The pastor is a public figure.

  18. John Grammaticus says:


    That is exactly what I intend to do, I haven’t met her Fiance yet but hopefully will do so tomorrow and I hope to become good friends with him as well. And yes I know that I will have to back off somewhat its just judging the correct distance.

  19. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Imrahil wrote: “Dating is about finding out whom to engage with.”

    I agree with you, Imrahil, but it does depend on your definition of “dating.” Today’s “dating” often implies the expectation of intimacies to which unmarried persons have no right. This is not a good thing.

    Maintaining a solo-couple dating relationship while remaining chaste is very difficult. I believe that’s why, in most Christian cultures of earlier times, in which safeguarding their sons’ and daughters’ chastity was a foremost responsibility of parents, young people were not allowed to spend time alone together in private spots – his place, her place, a car, a remote wooded area, etc. – or in situations in which their departure for a private spot might be easily accomplished. (Think of the main characters’ courtship scenes in _The Quiet Man_, or of those portrayed between the Sicilian Appollonia Vitelli and the American Michael Corleone in _The Godfather_. Cultures as widely diverse as 1940s Ireland, 1950s Sicily, and 17th century Colonial America all had a remarkably similar way of handling these things.)

    Of course it’s necessary, as Imrahil points out, to get to know someone before you marry. And it’s necessary for young people – even those not yet ready to marry – to spend time in each others’ company. Much of this can be accomplished, I think, through shared *public* activities, such as outings in groups with like-minded friends, attending Mass together and going out for coffee afterwards, participating in Bible studies, taking classes, joining theatre groups, clubs, attending sporting events, shows, dances; visiting each others’ family homes, and the family homes of friends. Young men and women can hone their social skills in such public group settings, too.

    In general, dating privately, spending evenings alone together, away from the eyes of others, should be reserved for engaged couples. And even then, chastity should be carefully safeguarded.

    As to how to decide whom to marry . . . now I’m going to sound like a radical, but I believe that a person considering marriage would do well to arrange to spend time – lots of time – with his/her Special Someone in the company of his parents, other family members, and friends. He should listen to the opinions of his parents especially, as well as to those other family members, and their closest friends, about the suitability of one’s current Special Someone as a wife. (Sometimes there are instances of parents whose advice is selfish, materialistic, or otherwise unsound; I believe these are fairly rare.)

    For the most part, parents who get to know their son’s Special Someone fairly well through visits at the family home, etc. will develop a reliable sense about (a) whether the prospective in-law has the makings of a good spouse, generally; (b) whether she has what it would take to be a good spouse for their precious son, in particular; (c) whether she shows signs of becoming seriously, lovingly attached to that son, or whether she conveys the impression of feeling a merely casual attraction, and nothing more. And to inform their son briefly, tactfully, gently, and respectfully, without insulting her or their son’s intelligence or taste, and without lecturing or arguing, on the one hand, or on the other, without pushing or “cheer-leading.”

    Grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and friends can also give opinions that are helpful in deciding.

    A retired social worker friend advocated that such parental input be given, and that marriageable sons and daughters ought to take their input very seriously. This was a revolutionary idea to me at the time; I now believe with all my heart that she was right.

    Over my fifteen-year dating career, my mother pronounced – unsolicited – on all these questions once she got to know the fellow. And she got to know quite a few fellows. Her accuracy was unerring. Sometimes her accuracy was infuriating to me at the time. The man I eventually married was the first man who received full marks on all scores from Mom. My father also communicated, in subtle but unmistakable ways, his approval and affection for Bill as my choice of husband, something Dad had never, ever, communicated about another man he met.

    I later learned that both Bill’s parents, too, had been politely noncommittal about every one of the women Bill went out with. But both his mother and father actively encouraged Bill to pursue our relationship. Just a few months in, my future mother-in-law asked, “why don’t you marry that girl?” Which surprised Bill very much. But not long afterward, he asked me, and I said yes.

    We’ll celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. So I guess that “the dear old fuddy-duddies” knew something, after all. (And speaking of “fuddy-duddies,” I have recently been interviewed for an article about my own “Fuddy-Duddy of the Year Award” (2016) which you can read in the Fall issue of _Antediluvian_ magazine.)

  20. rtjl says:

    It seems to me that the purpose of dating is to find out whether there is any realistic possibility of a real future with someone. As long as that possibility is open, and there is no significant risk of unchastity, then it seems reasonable to continue dating that person. If threats to chastity become unmanageable OR once it becomes clear that no realistic future with that person exists, the dating relationship should be ended as quickly as possible. You need to be free to look elsewhere and he or she also needs to be free to look elsewhere: neither of you are getting younger. Dating, i.e. engaging romantically and not as friends, just to pass the time seems to me unconscionable.

  21. Imrahil says:

    All I was saying is that it is wrong to say that Dating without immediate prospect of marriage be sinful.

    That said, it’s one thing to say that safeguards make sense in themselves if applied all across a certain culture, and quite another to say that people are bound to them if noone else does.

    And at the risk of being specific, an occasion to a sin is one thing and an occasion to hold hands, share kisses and sweet language, and the like, is quite another – at least if it does happen in couples heading towards marriage and not bound to the contrary. (Which of these caresses should be reserved for Engagement is an interesting question.)

    I would even say that, let’s face it, we speak of two quite different Problems here. The one is that of youthful indulgence not behaving itself to do what they know to be right; this has been with mankind always, and (we might say) older generations did combat, and could combat at least partly because they had no worse problems on this general topic. In this area, we have the cases of “going a bit far with one’s caresses”.

    The other is what is called the “sexual revolution”, which is not about intemperance properly so-called, but the error that the 6th commandment doesn’t hold, or doesn’t hold for the unmarried. In this area, we have the expectation to live a years-long “relationship” fully more uxorio to “try out” before Engagement.

    This is todays’s problem, and it seems to me that one who has, in this culture, made clear in dating that anything in this direction is right out, has already taken an (under the circumstances) enormous step and positioned himself on the right side and against the wrong side. And as we are all human beings, it won’t make help him in his stand if, instead of receiving at least silent praises for his faithfulness on the principle, people annoy him from outside with good advice that he should behave himself, important as the general area may be. (All the same, an actual sin when known can and should be reprimanded, of course; but prophylactical reprimanding is problematic, as would be prophylactical spanking.)

  22. John Grammaticus says:

    If I can just chip in on imrahil and MAM’s conversation, before I accepted that Marriage was NOT my vocation I was taught (via some old moral theology pamphlets for laypeople that I found on the SSPX website) that it was not sinful to two people who desired to get married (and were free to do so) but couldn’t for whatever reason, to continue to date chastely whilst begging God to remove the particular obstacles.

  23. Maelwys says:

    How effective are these “safeguards” we keep talking about? Are they theorectical or actual? Jesus sets the standard: if you so much as look at a woman lustfully you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. Half the people on here know what it is to be a 15 year old boy, or a 20 year old man, or a 26 year old man. Are the theoretical “safeguards” actually reliably keeping you to Christ’s standard? As parents and priests, we’ve conceded so much of the ground surrounding the dating environment that success to Jesus standard has the actual reality of a unicorn sighting. We concede obedience because their teenagers, we concede the majority of their days largely unsupervised by us the parents, we concede that evironment to be thoroughly co-ed, we concede their music, the stories they fill their heads with via media, but some safeguards are going to keep the thoughts of our teenage boys reliably clear of the need for a confessional? We parents and priests and anyone else with responsibilty for developing these souls are fools and we have the galactically failed string of screwed up marriages and families to prove it. Have many years of fighting rear-guard actions on struggling marriages started because of baggage or entanglements from failed dating safeguards?

  24. Imrahil says:

    Dear Maeleys,

    in my view that is precisely the point: if we do concede so much, and we do, can it then be helpful to draw up all sorts of safeguards at this specific point for what isat worst an occasion, when they have all possibilities in the world to counteract parental directives, and this counteracting is flavored with the sweet flavor of the forbidden (and hence of “real romantic love”, because in that mood you do such things)?

    Staying clear of the need for the Confessional is a good thing. But if the Confessional has to be put to use, it’s not either the end of the world. If, however, “Christ’s standard” as you call it is not only failed to accomplish, but angrily decried, that, if the worst does come to the worst, the sixth commandment is not only counteracted in a fit of intemperance, but dismissed as just another part of this ununderstandable parental rulebook, the case is a lot worse.

    So, if we’d think it advisable to forbid certain dating, let’s first make sure that Society won’t allow them do it unofficially without being caught; and then, perhaps, use parental authority to forbid them do it officially.

  25. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Maybe Catholics who want to dedicate their lives to the loving and reverent service of God would do well to take a page from the Orthodox Jews’ playbook”

    The quiet New Jersey neighborhood of “Highland Park/Edison offers the best of what a large and small Jewish community has to offer. An *achdus* (Hebrew: oneness of mind; concord; community) that would ordinarily only be found in a small community, is palpable here with over 1,100 Shomer Shabbos (Hebrew: Sabbath-observant) families, across the hashkafic (Hebrew: religious and cultural outlook) spectrum. It is a community where friendships span across shuls, (Yiddish: synagogues) schools, and generations. A low-key, laid back way of life that emphasizes middos (Hebrew: personal character) over materialism.

    “At the same time, there are several excellent local yeshivas (Hebrew: educational institutions for school-aged students, devoted to the study of Jewish religious texts and Judaism generally); . . . ; 8 (synagogues), a kosher supermarket and restaurants, . . . , a mikvah (facility for the Jewish ritual bath), bikur cholim, (Hebrew: societies whose members visit the sick and homebound) Hatzolah, (Hebrew: volunteer emergency medical response unit staffed by Orthodox Jews) and a kollel (institution for adults dedicated to the advanced study of Jewish sacred texts) – all of which are hallmarks of a large, established community.

    “The abundance of parks and proximity to museums make Highland Park/Edison a wonderful place to raise a family. Adjacent New Brunswick boasts a number of theaters and a comedy club.

    “A variety of reasonably priced homes starting in low $300,000s and affordable rentals . . . . Easy commute to NYC, with two NJ Transit train stops, Amtrak, and direct bus service to Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Commutable to Princeton, South Jersey, and Philadelphia.

    “We are adjacent to Rutgers University and the headquarters of Johnson & Johnson. There are large pharmaceutical companies and corporations that have their headquarters in commutable distance. Its close proximity to three large hospitals, . . . , make it the ideal place for those in the medical field.

    Visit Highland Park/Edison and you will never want to leave!”

    Why can’t Catholic families re-form communities in various neighborhoods throughout the U.S. and pursue a 24/7/365 Catholic way of life, establishing our own Catholic institutions, as the Orthodox Jewish community have done?

    Highland Park is only one example of many, many Orthodox Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. According to the Pew research center in 2014, about 2 percent of Americans identified themselves as Jews; about 21 percent identified as Catholics. Of all these U.S. Catholics, 22% report that they attend Mass every Sunday. (Gallup, 2016). Of all U.S. Jews, between 10% – 25% are Orthodox. Based on these statistics, we should be able to come up with the numbers to form these kinds of Catholic communities, . . . *if we want to. *

    In that way, perhaps our Catholic young people might have a better opportunity to focus on socializing with other, like-minded young people, instead of constantly feeling pressured by the larger culture.

  26. KateD says:

    In our culture marriage is not possible until 18, and young people can’t hope to be prepared for a successful life without some post secondary education, so what’s the point of dating at 16?!?

    Talk about setting a kid up for failure!

    Can a hormonal teenager overcome the physiological response to pheromones exchanged during smooching? We’re not animals and anything is possible, but why play with fire? Better to keep away from the sexually explicit cultural influences and enourage our children to focus on what they are being called to in life by Our Lord. That is the primary relationship they should be concerned about. If they get that right, the rest will fall into place….That’s what I tell my kids, anyway.

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