In times past, dating and courtship were closely linked to marriage in a clear sequence of relationship development. Dating was a low-commitment means of getting to know a person in their character. Once one individual was singled out for special attention, courtship followed and the unspoken assumption was that this was a time of discernment – should we marry?
There was a sense of purposefulness to the relationship as one didn’t court until one was ready for marriage. Once a couple entered this stage, exclusivity was expected and it was safe to let your guard down so that your courtship partner could get to know who you really were. Marriage followed when both were satisfied that they were in fact well matched.
These days, dating is still a low-commitment relationship but it is more often characterised by sexual experimentation than it is on evaluating the character of one’s potential life-partner. Similarly, courtship has also been redefined. By and large, courtship has been displaced by cohabitation – an ambiguous arrangement that can mean anything from a permanent life-commitment to a temporary ‘friends with benefits’ deal.
Once a couple cohabits, the sense of direction in their relationship seems to dissipate – after all, they could remain this way indefinitely. The discernment process slows right down until typically one or the other puts the heat on. At this point, the discernment is around ‘when’ to marry rather than ‘who’ to marry.The problem is that many couples begin cohabiting well before they have developed a deep appreciation of the other’s character and their suitability for marriage and raising a family. Now it’s harder to make that judgement; there’s just too much invested. No doubt times have changed. The problem is the human heart hasn’t; it’s still just as vulnerable as it ever was to being broken. In the new rules of 21st Century dating, the wise single won’t give their heart and soul to just anyone. They’ll wait until they find a person of character who is ready to love them ‘all the days of their life’.
Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children.
Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links.