In preparation for my new, first-ever-in-the-world online course for single adults (more info at www.hmsu.com), I've been doing a radio series on "single adult dating." It's a topic with which I have first-hand experience. And it's a topic that doesn't get a whole lot of attention as its own entity. Most discussions and advice on dating are aimed at teenagers – and that isn't much help to those of us who are full-fledged grownups. So I thought perhaps a few columns on the subject would be in order as well.
Today's radio topic was about standards and the temptation to "settle." I've had so many conversations will unmarried adults who say, "Well, I was hoping to marry someone who was X." (Algebra flashback: X = Catholic/ rich/respectful/whatever standard you wish to insert.) "But I haven't found that person, so apparently I was unrealistic to expect it. Maybe I should lower my standards."
Should they lower their standards? Which standards are worthy of keeping, and which should be tossed overboard? At what point does the dreaded "too picky" label begin to apply?
Obviously, there are a few "standards" that should be tossed out.
Appearance, for instance. Hollywood has given us impossible standards for physical appearance. And often, those who imbibe too freely of the milk of Hollywood culture begin to expect that standard of beauty in their personal life. Guess what? It ain't gonna happen. I frequently see otherwise well-intentioned single people pass by perfectly wonderful potential spouses because "She's not hot enough" or "I prefer guys with dark hair."
Obviously, chemistry is important. If, over time and increasing familiarity, a man doesn't find himself attracted to a woman, or vice versa, then marriage wouldn't be a good idea. But so many people don't even bother getting to know someone if that person doesn't meet their very high standard for physical attractiveness. And that's a mistake.
Then there's money. It's one thing to want to marry someone who is responsible and capable of holding down a job. Women who want to stay home and raise their children are particularly interested in knowing that a man can support a family. But I've spoken with women who won't even date a man unless his salary meets some ridiculous six-figure standard. That's just dumb.
Some standards, on the other hand, need to be held at all costs. Like religious faith, for instance. Far too many single Catholics conclude that it's "unrealistic" to expect to marry another Catholic – particularly one who takes those beliefs seriously. They just figure they'll find someone who meets the rest of their criterion and then "convert" that person, or that they'll ignore their spouse's lack of spirituality and take on all of the duties of creating a faith-based household alone. It's only after the wedding that they find out that their "plan" isn't going to work so well.
On today's radio show, psychotherapist Greg Popcak pointed out the issue of emotional health. So many people look for a spouse who fits their "list" of criterion, but don't take adequate time to look at the quality of the relationship – how well that person relates. Is this person capable of real intimacy? Is he or she willing to discuss feelings, to confront problems head-on? Without that intimacy, marriage becomes a mere partnership, a sort of soul-less quid pro quo, "I'll support you if you raise my children" arrangement.
Speaking of partnerships, I've even run across a few people who have given up on the idea of love all together. They believe, or they've been told, that it's unrealistic to expect to actually "fall in love" with a potential spouse – that after a certain age, they should be read to settle for a "companion" who will provide shelter and financial support.
And there's the question of eligibility to marry. As Catholic singles get older, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to find potential spouses who either have never married or have had their previous marriages annulled. As the pickins get slim, the temptation grows to attempt marriage to someone who is not free to marry in the Catholic Church. People say, "I just can't afford to be that picky. If I hold out for someone with an annulment, I may never get married."
Which is exactly the point. We need to ask the question: What is the ultimate goal here? If the ultimate goal is marriage, then anything that gets in the way of that is dispensable.
But the ultimate goal isn't marriage. The ultimate goal is God, Heaven, and eternal life. Marriage is just one more event along the way. If it helps, if it leads us closer to God, if it helps us to attain His will, it's good. If it distracts us or leads us further away from Him, it's bad.
In that context, the criterion becomes much easier to see. Marriage to a holy but poor man might lead me closer to God. Marriage outside the Church would definitely lead me away from Him.
It's really that simple.