Saving the Art of Dating

“Tradition isn’t worshipping the ashes, it’s guarding the flames.”

One of my favorite questions to ask college students, back in the day when I was a college-campus-Catholic-missionary, was, “Where did you learn how to date?”

The answer, for the first few years of my missionary career, was the 90s Disney show, Boy Meets World. Not a great answer, but not nothing, which I appreciated more a few years later when the answer stopped being Boy Meets World and started to be…nothing.

The men I asked didn’t have a TV show to point to, or a movie; they didn’t have a book or a series; they didn’t have the examples of their parents’ relationship or their other family members. Every man was trying to create, whole-cloth, a way to approach women and win one over to live a life with him, with no model, no instruction, and even more worrisome, no clear idea of what he ultimately was aiming for.

Ashes. Ashes were the foundation of his love life.

People are waking up to the enormity of the problem on our hands. Churches go for months without a single wedding. There are men and women who think they’re called to marriage who make it to their twenties or thirties without even going on one date. There are men and women who end up sleeping together or even living together without ever doing anything that prior generations would have considered “dating”.

And it’s not surprising. People can’t give what they don’t have, and most of the time, we don’t have what we haven’t been given. The culture around us gives us countless examples of what not to do. But we can’t build an authentic counter-culture, constantly reacting. We can only build an authentic culture, and that comes from a deep appreciation of principles that shape us practically.

As a culture, we’ve lost the thread of principles that made a coherent picture of what dating could look like. The landscape is strewn with ashes.

But…there are embers here and there. Some men and women have been on the receiving end of traditions that make sense of how the sexes relate to best discern marriage. Some pieces of tradition aren’t dead, but still fiery.

They might be in your community. They might be friends, or family, or fellow-parishioners. They’re the ones who enjoyed dating one another before marriage, and are joyfully married today. They’re the ones who experienced freedom and clarity on their wedding day that were borne of a healthy dating relationship.

One of the goals of Our Outpost is to gather together embers of tradition around marriage. A hot coal on its own quickly cools. A hot coal gathered with many other hot coals keeps its heat.

We’ll be experimenting with different ways to fan the flames with our ministry– workshops, talks, retreats, online programs, online communities. But whether you’re learning from us or someone else, let this article be a sign that if it feels like you don’t know what dating is supposed to look like, you’re probably right. Let this be a sign that you have permission to look to those who came before and learn from gathering around them. If it feels weird to ask a married person how their dating experiences went, know that if they enjoyed their dating and thought it worth sharing, they’ll share, and if they didn’t enjoy it or don’t think it worth sharing, that’ll be clear soon enough. And we hope you stick around with us, if you’re interested!

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